When I speak of the Red Robin Tavern, I refer to the original funky old shack that clung to the hillside above Portage Bay. This bay, across from the University of Washington, links Lake Washington to Lake Union which then hooks up with the Locks and Puget Sound. Though this old ramshackle faded red building was small in size, it was large in the impact it had on so many lives. It was built in the early part of the century and catered to the public on this busy corner of Fuhrman Avenue and Eastlake Avenue, directly next to the University Bridge. Its heyday may well have been the 1960’s, Sam’s Red Robin, before it was partially torn down by its own regular patrons, furious at the coming destruction and reincarnation of their hangout into a huge national hamburger chain, at one time over 150 in number, some franchised and some owned by a Japanese corporation (as of this writing).
Sometime in the Fifties, the tavern was owned by Sam and Rachel Caston and operated for many years by Sam and his brother Saul, who at one time had been involved in some type of professional welterweight boxing, Saul the Boxer and Sam his Manager. They were tough, especially Saul, but both loved that Tavern and had a soft spot for its extremely wild and crazy clientele.
For many of us living in the houseboats below on Portage Bay or on Lake Union, this was our living room, a few quick paces from moorages up the dirt path to the front door and the loud and raucous music pouring out of the tavern’s juke box. Clientele was an incredible mix of Boeing 727 riveters, U of W professors, students and employees. There were lawyers, accountants, realtors, cpa’s, old beatniks, new hippies, poets, artists, merchant marine seamen and live aboard sailboat owners, loggers and fishermen. The Third Rail Harley Bike Club called this place its headquarters and guarded the tavern against any outside troublemakers.
Living below in one of the nearby houseboats, I often went up to hang out, but also to write term papers and study for exams. The unbelievable noise, chaos and overhead passing of airborne pitchers of beer provided the perfect atmosphere for me to concentrate. I should say, most of the time. There was almost always some nightly occurrence to break one’s concentration, especially with the ever present, incredibly talented painter from Mexico who was to become one of Seattle’s major artists. There was no escape if he narrowed in on you with wild explosions of dialogue, mostly in Spanish.
There was always someone who accepted the dare when University Bridge signaled a boat coming through the passage and started raising the ramparts. Often the daredevil ran out the front door, sprinted up onto the bridge as it rose up to allow the mast of the boat to pass and then would jump into the bay before the bridge began to close again. Swimming to shore and coming back into the Tavern, this waterlogged individual would be awarded a free pitcher of beer for his crazy, cold and dangerous escapade, presented before a wildly cheering crowd. The jukebox continued to belt out the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis and always Edith Piaf.
When I look back on almost all relationships that have become important in my life, locations I have moved to and various businesses started along the way, it is amazing to realize that the real origins to almost all my life events can be traced back to the “Days My Friend, I Thought They’d Never End”. The Old Red Robin, as we knew it, came to its final demise in 1969, but remains a main connection today for many who shared the love and laughter inside those walls. It bonded people together decades ago, creating lifelong friendships. Memorials for good friends have taken place over the years and bring many of us together again.
The totally amazing paradoxical ending to this story is that now, decades later, I am the grandmother of two, a 14 year old boy, Aidan, and at the end of July, my granddaughter Bella turned 12. I always go to Bellingham for any big celebrations and ask where I can take them out to eat, what is their favorite place? The answer has often been, The Red Robin, Grandma. If they only knew! If it wasn’t for that old Tavern, I would not have met their grandfather.
Celebrating Daughter’s 40th Birthday
PHOTOS: I have made a collage of the only photos I personally have at this time of writing. I am not a photographer and don’t think I owned a camera during “our” time at the Robin. If anyone has photos of the tavern, especially the inside, please post for all of us. Any photos of Sam and Saul would be fantastic. So many people are not pictured here, but can be!
Jan Jarvis has contributed photos that I have put in the collage. Jim King has been really helpful in this effort, providing the photo of the Robin in the center of collage. Jim also started a list of people who were often at the Robin during that era (The Glory Days he calls it) and think I will alphabetize it and get it more organized. Some people are no longer with us. I think it might be worthwhile for me to post Jim’s list of names. John Caldbick, Steve Hudjiak and Elray, Jim and I met on Whidbey a few months ago and enlarged the list. It is amazing! I would be willing to organize and post it and maybe we can share information and even find some long lost friends.
MUSIC: Whenever I think of the Red Robin, the song that pops into my mind is “Those Were the Days My Friend.” I have had a great time on You Tube searching for different versions. It is a Russian folk song to begin with: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiL0EnvXlP8
I swear Edith Piaf sang it on the Red Robin juke box, but I cannot find this on any of her recordings in the English version. If you know where this might exist, please send info.
Here is the woman who is most known for singing the song in English and popularizing it in the UK and US and maybe she was the one on the jukebox? Mary Hopkins was a Welsh singer and her version was produced by Paul McCartney. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3KEhWTnWvE
And the Beatles with Cynthia Lennon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDmijKZZ4bc
How about the Three Tenors? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfT9W80_W0Q
Can’t leave out the Limeliters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_T9Si8eKYHU
A jazzy version with Dexter Gordon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQ4EWeCPkCM
At last I find Edith live, speaking and singing in French on the Ed Sullivan show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oromrP0iu3E&index=3&list=PLE396184CBADBA45F
There are so many musicians who perform this song from so many countries, it is often referred to as “gypsy” music. I am so glad it was a part of our time together.
There were other amazing songs on that juke box. We had Dylan, The Stones for starters but so much more. Please send your favorite music memories.
Story of A Major Connection
It was from a friendship made at the old Robin that I eventually found my way to the town of Roslyn, WA and the startup of the Roslyn Café years later in the late 70’s. There was a fellow who came into the Robin almost every night, a Harley biker who wore no particular biker colors and was not from any club. Very quiet, he sat in the same place nightly, the corner booth by the jukebox. I didn’t get to know him well, but found him very attractive, long coal dark hair, deep brown eyes and an amazing Fu Man Chu mustache, drooping down and curling back up. He had a wonderful smile. His name was John Collins or JC for short. He just up and disappeared after the Tavern’s demise (not to be confused with JC Young).
Sometime later, my good friend and houseboat roommate and I, decided on a trip to Eastern Washington via Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass. There had been rumor of an old mining town, Roslyn, from patrons of the Tavern. It sat about 30 miles east of the top of the Pass. We decided to take a break from the freeway and see if it really existed, some kind of ghost town, maybe not there anymore. We drove off the freeway a mile or two. There was no traffic, but as we approached some buildings ahead, we grew more curious. The town appeared quite empty, pretty small, although some homes up on the hills were lit and smoke rose from chimneys in the dusk. We saw lights ahead, a tavern, a few shadowy figures moseying down the wooden planked sidewalks.
I braked the car quickly as a man appeared in the middle of the road, astride a Harley, waving his arms like a semaphore, motioning us to follow him. Unbelievable! It is JC from the Robin and it is as if he knows we were coming and is waiting for us. He turns, guns the motor, beckons, bolts down the street and jumps the concrete stairs, riding into the Brick Tavern. Of course, we follow.
I end up moving there and we became great friends. I watched him start a band playing standup bass and guitar, receive his PHD in physics to study black holes, start flying a plane, and then, horribly crashing in a plane piloted by another individual down in Texas. I will always feel very lucky to have found him again.