Serious Fallout

Tom Douglas Shutters Cuoco and Brave Horse Tavern: What Does It All Mean?

Right now the fate of so many restaurants lies with their landlords—and the deeply unsexy yet critical terms of their leases.

By Allecia Vermillion July 7, 2020

Cuoco, back in the day. It really is a lovely patio.

As Seattle slipped into a holiday weekend on Friday, Tom Douglas’s camp put out the news that at least two of the seminal restaurateur’s spots will remain permanently closed.

In some ways, the shuttering of Brave Horse Tavern and Cuoco isn’t all that surprising. Both of them are nearing the natural end of their 10-year leases, and both occupy two levels of a handsomely restored brick building on the Amazon campus, which no longer teems with badged masses in need of Brave Horse's beer and pretzels and shuffleboard. Douglas has always been fairly forthright that Cuoco wasn’t profitable, though I always thought it deserved more credit for its northern Italian menu and setting (and, often, the bar program).

But if Douglas’s 13 restaurants were growth rings of a tree, these two restaurants would signal a momentous shift. In 2011, their presence in a historic warehouse now surrounded by office towers heralded the first flickers of what is now (err, well, up until a few months ago) an assertive restaurant scene on the Amazon campus. A third restaurant, Ting Momo, occupied a sliver of the upper level until it closed in 2012.

Before Brave Horse and Cuoco, Douglas built his reputation mostly in a concentrated series of blocks along Fourth Avenue and near Pike Place Market. Just a few months before he debuted the Terry Avenue complex, he also opened what was then known as Seatown Seabar in his stomping grounds at the foot of Pike Place Market, and a second Serious Pie location on Westlake, his first foray into South Lake Union. The next year, he’d win a James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurateur.

Five restaurants in seven months. Douglas was a bellwether, his surge of restaurants an indicator of the wealth of opportunities this burgeoning part of town could offer a chef with an established following. He was a bellwether again when he shuttered all of his restaurants in advance of our coronavirus-induced shutdown, and has continued to sound the alarm: when our city does manage to reopen fully, a lot of places we love won’t be here. Right now the fates of so many restaurants lie with their landlords, and the deeply unsexy yet critical terms of their leases.

Douglas spokeswoman Madeline Dow Pennington says the company will soon have reopening details regarding some of its spots “downtown.” I hope that portends good news for some of the chef’s earlier tree rings, like Dahlia Lounge and Palace Kitchen. And Serious Pie. And the Carlile Room. Meanwhile, the Serious TakeOut program Team Douglas set up out of its commissary kitchen in Ballard continues to dispense pizza, starters, and salads for the foreseeable future, and could add some outdoor seating as early as this week. 

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