The 1929 building that's long been home to tiki-themed bar Hula Hula and comfortable cocktail lounge Tini Bigs is under contract, the new owner scheduled to close on the property in April. Keith Robbins, who owns these two longstanding bars at the corner of First and Denny, doesn't know exactly what's going to happen to the space he's occupied in some form for 25 years. But he knows his time is nearly up; there's a proposal before the city to build something new on the lot.
"We've got a year left, hopefully," he says.
Tini Bigs opened on December 2, 1996, in a Seattle where craft beer had taken root, but cocktail culture was still pretty abysmal. The bar served ambitious, carefully crafted drinks—in the honking martini glasses de rigueur back then—became a proving ground for some of the city's most talented bartenders, and was seminal in Seattle's identity as a serious cocktail city.
Hula Hula joined Tini Bigs in December 2006. Now construction surrounds the bars on all sides and Robbins hardly recognizes the neighborhood.
He's looking for new locations for his bars—"either together or separate." He's hoping Tini Bigs can last until December 3 of next year, its 20th anniversary. It would also be nice to have the bars known for airing all the presidential debates live to see one last election cycle.
Robbins is partiularly proud of Tini's record of never being closed a single day in its existence (6,954 days as of today, he says), weathering the 1999 World Trade Organization protests just outside and the departure of the Seattle Supersonics, and with it a major loss of customers.
The proposal currently before the city is a six-story, 160-unit apartment building with ground floor retail and parking below ground—you know the drill. It's certainly a different look than the 1929 brick building, also currently home to Morfey's Cakes and Champion Wine Cellars.
The redevelopment is obviously in early stages (a public meeting on the proposed project happened earlier this week). When a similar fate befell the Belltown building that's home to Shorty's, the public launched a campaign to earn it historical status, but it looks like the city has already reviewed the historical merits of this building.
Thus a disappointed Robbins is already looking for new homes for his two bars. Preferably not some mixed-use midrise like the one proposed for this site, he says. "I'd like to find something that's got some character to it." Meanwhile the bar will celebrate Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday on December 2 with music and a special menu and the bar's own 19th birthday on December 10.