When a restaurant closes, it's not uncommon for owners to vow that you'll see them resurface again, in another location. Too often it just doesn't happen. So it's exciting to learn that Babirusa, the bar that grew out of the erstwhile Blind Pig Bistro in Eastlake, has locked down new digs in Belltown. Even more exciting—it's the former Kushibar space at 2319 Second Ave.
Obviously the rambling izakaya space is a smidge larger than tiny Babirusa. The indoor patio alone seats about 60. Babirusa co-owner Rene Gutierrez says this newer, roomier iteration will also revive Blind Pig Bistro, the restaurant that spawned Babirusa and closed far too soon in the space next door.
Gutierrez and his business partner, chef Charles Walpole, opened Blind Pig Bistro in 2011; its inventive, intimate vibe continued the unlikely success of the Eastlake strip mall address that was the original home of Matt Dillon's Sitka and Spruce, then Christina Choi's Nettletown. Eventually the guys opened a bar, Babirusa, in the space next door; they intended to merge the two rooms into one larger restaurant layout one day—Walpole's off-the-cuff tasting menus on one side, casual plates and cocktails on the other. But the guys eventually learned that tasting menus were a struggle in their original location. So was foot traffic. Blind Pig closed in 2016 and Babirusa's owners started looking around town for other spaces.
Gutierrez says they were hesitant when Kushibar owner Steve Han suggested his loungey spot in the thick of Belltown nightlife. But one Friday night after service slowed down at Babirusa, they went to check out the scene. "Practically every restaurant on Second Avenue was full," marvels Gutierrez. "And it was 9:30 or 10." He and Walpole noted the big booths where six people might pile in to share the entire menu, like in the Blind Pig days of yore, the semi-private dining space, and the refrigerated seafood display case that would be perfect for Walpole, whose way with crudo built him a following back in his days at Anchovies and Olives (RIP).
The move to Belltown also harkens back to an even earlier chapter in the partners' careers, when they met while working at the original Mistral. Gutierrez remembers thumping bass coming through the walls as diners ate coursed fine-dining meals. Now, he and Walpole see places like No Anchor and Navy Strength and Rocco's—"places doing good food, but also elevating that cocktail atmosphere."
The gents chose to keep the more recent Babirusa name rather than resurrect Blind Pig Bistro, but Walpole's tasting menus from the original restaurant will return, alongside the cocktails and a la carte plates of Babirusa. After a quick interior refresh, Gutierrez hopes Babirusa will open by the end of March (especially with enough GoFundMe contributions). Most of the old staff will come with them to the new space, says Gutierrez.