Requiem For The 13 Coins

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By Larry & Melissa Vail Coffman

Everyone reading this requiem for the 13 Coins closure surely will have a treasure trove of memories to share. We’re talking about the one-of-a-kind 13 Coins on Boren, kitty-corner from the former Seattle Times bastion—both now victims of the Amazon-activated building boom.

I returned there for one last visit on Thursday, Jan. 4—bent on avoiding the crowds that were certain to overwhelm the place from Friday through the 6am Sunday shuttering. And also bent on taking home one last Joe’s Special from there. I know, I can get a Joe’s at the Bellevue or SeaTac or soon-to-be Pioneer Square Coins, but it won’t taste the same, just as they don’t/won’t feel the same.

Fortunately, the lounge was all but empty when I arrived about 4pm, ensuring that I wouldn’t be hogging space by occupying my favorite table in the center of the room, surrounded by four leather chairs that are so low and soft that it takes an Olympian to rise from them, once seated. A requiem calls for reflection, and that’s what ensued for the next two hours, abetted in my musings by a beer (or two)…

My most treasured memory is of being there on Day One in the Spring of ’67!  I was then a writer at The Times and attended the grand opening of The Coins after work that day, with a lot of my colleagues. Memories of five decades ago are bound to be fuzzy, but it I can recall with crystal clarity falling in love with the low-light ambience and the convenience of being able to visit my new—and forever favorite—spot 24/7.

Take a left from the cozy, U-shaped seating area and and you were looking down the long single aisle that constituted the main restaurant. On the right was the counter and a line of high-backed, swiveling captain’s chairs that overlooked the exhibition kitchen. Counter customers were entertained by chefs in tall white hats wielding spatulas as they prepared a variety of tempting dishes, often punctuated by flashes of flame from the grill or their frying pans. [Full disclosure: I ended my 50-year run as a devoted patron without once having sat at the counter.]

On the left of the aisle was the the row of ceiling-grazing booths, their tables all inlaid with a circle of the symbolic 13 Coins. The story goes that a young Peruvian man wished to marry a wealthy girl but had only 13 coins. He assured her skeptical father that he could pledge his undying love, care and concern—and the father agreed to the marriage. Thus,  “13 Coins” has come to symbolize unyielding love, care and concern—all apt descriptors of The Coins I knew.

Jeanne Boyce Jones took over the Seattle and SeaTac Coins in 1981 and became a regular advertiser when I launched MARKETING newspaper in the Fall of 1986. Jeanne was kind enough to reserve the first booth for me when I had an important business breakfast, which was often.  The number of ad sales I closed in that favorite booth over the years is incalculable, but I do know that no other locale, including my office down the hill at 217 9th Ave. N., even came close.

On occasion, a prospective client would fail to show for our breakfast date, for whatever reason. I soon came to look at being stood up as a plus, because invariably the offending party, out of guilt, would later buy a bigger ad and/or longer schedule than I had intended to offer them in the first place.

One big benefit of sitting at the head of that single aisle was seeing what local luminaries might be passing by, enroute to their seat. Back in the day, it could be anyone from the Sonics’ Lenny Wilkins to Mayor Wes Uhlman to Johnny O’Brien to a hundred others of that ilk. And rare was the morning when a friend or two didn’t pass by.

There to occupy your attention at the table, while waiting to order, was the huge, multifold menu containing a mouth-watering and seemingly endless number of classic dishes. And until recent years, a signature at both booth and counter was the complimentary nosh of sliced salami and veggies, arrayed in a small silver tray.

In recent years, the scene outside the large window adjacent to my booth featured a steady stream of millennials on their way to work at the new Amazon high-rise next door. I didn’t realize it at first, but they foreshadowed the shutdown to ensue. They shuffled by in ones and twos—each with heads bent, eyes focused on their smartphones and wearing a bulging backpack. [Every time I witnessed that parade, I couldn’t help but wish I’d been the Steve Jobs of backpacks.]

I’d planned to share the trip down memory lane with my new friend Chuck Kusak, whose shop now supplies our special MARKETING awards, but he called to say he’d been unavoidably detained. The nostalgic meeting with Chuck at that favorite table in the lounge in May of 2016 became the subject of the second-most-favorite story I ever wrote for MARKETING newspaper in the three decades of its existence. [The first was a report of my day-long car trip around the Seattle area with the late, great Lester Smith two decades ago.]

The Coins always was a family affair for us (as you’ll learn more about from Melissa in a minute). My wife, Margaretha, and I made it a “must” stop for years, after attending events elsewhere downtown, before heading home to Kirkland.

When I stood to leave (Joe’s Special doggy-bag in hand), someone tapped me on the back. As I turned, a tall, well-dressed fellow stuck out his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Al.” And I quickly replied, “As in Al Moscatel?” “Right, but how did you know?” he asked.

[The backstory: I’d seen owner Al in The Coins on previous occasions, but never had met him. Melissa was in high school at Lake Washington in the early ‘80s when Al was a star basketball player on the perennial powerhouse from Mercer Island High. L Dub’s star at the time was Scott Rolfness.]

I said, “Do you remember Scott Rolfness?”  He nodded yes. “Well, I was in the stands watching you and Quinn Snyder play some exciting games against the Kangs,” I explained. “And I recall your father (who I had met earlier) always standing against the east wall of the gym the whole game.”

More amazement from Al— before he handed me a brown paper coaster, with writing that offered $10 off my first bill at the new Pioneer Square Coins, due to open on Saturday, Feb. 3. I promised him I’d redeem the freebie, as I headed out the door for the last time. And now,  some of Melissa’s memories…

One of the all-time favorite stocking-stuffers I received from my dad was my very own 13 Coins credit card… I know, a what?! Most people didn’t know they existed, I know I didn’t. It was fun to wow my friends when we’d stop by “The Coins” after a club show or concert in the early ‘90s, and I’d whip out my card to pick up a round of drinks or a late-night meal.

The 13 Coins also was the birthplace of many of our business-venture ideas. The first, but not the last, was The MARKETING Center, a brainchild of my dad. Back in the early ’90s, we met to discuss this new business that I would run—a conduit between our MARKETING advertisers and the clients who needed their services. Sadly, it was a short-lived venture, as publication of the annual ATLAS and my move into magazine publishing intervened.

In the mid-‘90s, my new boyfriend (now husband, Scott) and I sequestered ourselves at Snoqualmie Pass until we could make it down the hill on a snowboard without falling. A couple days later, feeling good about our new boarding abilities, we decided to celebrate with dinner and drinks at the 13 Coins. Sitting in the high-backed captain’s chairs at the counter, we decided to launch a snowboading, skateboarding, music ‘zine—Bored Magazine We designed the logo on a cocktail napkin and scribbled out the tagline, “Board news, not boring news.” The next day, we got busy planning and designing. We had an amazing, fun-filled five-year-or-so run, until all the small mom-and-pop snowboard companies got gobbled up by the industry giants. We both learned a lot, and it was the beginning of Scott’s design career. We always will remember that evening at The Coins as one of the best.

Now it’s your turn to share a memory or two in the Comment box below…

 

 

 

5 COMMENTS

  1. Great Article Larry & Melissa!
    By the way I remember Al M. & Scott Rolfness too. Scott dated one of the Lake Washington Cheerleaders in addition to being a basketball star!

  2. I just read your compelling story about the closure of the original 13 Coins up by the old Seattle Times Boren Avenue building. It recalled many, many memories. In the past several years I have often met a close friend from Fox Island for lunch at the SeaTac Coins, but it never evoked the persona, emotions, or associations that the old original place did. And in recent times it has also sadly diminished in food and service quality, so we have finally scratched it off our list in favor of Duke’s at SouthCenter (or whatever that particular mall is now called.

    Bob Murray’s The Dog House, Art Louie’s, Rosellini’s 610 and the Twin Teepees were also places that shared much the same charisma. They come and they go; but then so do we.

  3. I paid a visit to an old friend the other day. Not really a friend I guess but a place of fond memories that is closing, only to re-open in a brand new location. But it won’t be the same no matter what they do.

    The Thirteen Coins restaurant was a place in the late1960’s and 70’s that was uniquely kind of east coast in that it offered intimate, high quality dining 24 hours a day. The original is located at 125 Boren Ave. N. but will close in couple of weeks, then reopen in Pioneer Square. It’s the victim of new development like so much in Seattle now. From the windows, at least for now, you can still read the engraved letters of the former home of the Seattle Times, now just a shell where a new building is going up. There’s another one out by the airport but it’s mostly for tourists or travelers and one in Bellevue now too.

    When I was dating it was in the top 3 places to go in Seattle if you were trying to treat a girl to a special dinner. It introduced me to the idea of the Chef as entertainment since the long narrow space had high backed Captains chairs at the bar. The chefs displayed their wizardry right in front of you, with the occasional flambe for excitement. They featured dishes like Steak Sinatra Ala Mia (so named from the marriage of Frank Sinatra and actress Mia Farrow), and the place where I first heard of something called a Frittata. I gained about 10 points of sophistication every time I went there (I am approaching 150 now which sounds good but that’s out of 1000). It was the kind of place where you could order the Hangtown Fry (an assortment of fried seafood) or something they call “The Believer” which is their incredibly rich version of Chicken Parmigiana.

    The tables from the beginning had 13 actual coins under plastic resin on each table top from all over the world.

    One night I had asked a beautiful girl named Nancy out on a date. I had tickets to see the famous Johnny Carson, Host of the Tonight Show, LIVE in Seattle at the Coliseum (now the Key Arena). Yes, he actually went on tour one year, and he was hilarious. We had good seats and he did some stand up, a lot of slapstick style humor and the audience loved it all.

    Then it was time for dinner. So we drove up to the Thirteen Coins. We waited a bit but were finally seated in one of the booths and ordered dinner. I got up to visit the men’s room and I noticed there was a bit of commotion near the back of the restaurant. I didn’t think much about it, but I asked a waiter, “What’s going on?” He whispered quietly, “Johnny Carson is here.” I was dumbstruck (not hard for me). One of my heroes was eating the same place I was!

    I slowly walked back toward the men’s room and casually glanced over. Incredible. It was him! Too shy (and honestly out of respect) I lifted my hand in a short wave. He looked up and smiled. I think he knew I was letting him keep his privacy.

    That’s one of the things the old 13 Coins was so good at, even with a full house the space was so intimate that you could have a private conversation, and spend time just being yourself. Maybe that’s all unimportant in a time when it feels like every thought gets tweeted or shared, every meal gets photographed and posted, when every experience becomes part of a river of social media.

    But I have to say. I’m going to miss it.

    There’s still a little time left to visit the old place but you better hurry. If you do, try one of the classics. And say hello to the ghost of Johnny Carson for me, or better yet, just wave. He’d appreciate it.

  4. Ralph Hayward, another local basketball star (Seattle U), introduced me to the Coins when I was fresh out of the UW and writing radio spots for David Stern’s great list of clients. Ralph was at KING AM at the time. Two lasting friendships ensued. Me and Ralph. And me and Joe’s Special. A few years later I lived across the street from the late founder of the coins on Magnolia Bluff.

  5. My first time at “Coins” was in the spring of 1968. A certain little UW visit. I had the pan fried oysters and to the last day the place was open, they had the best pan fried “O’s” in the city, bar none.
    Coins was home to late night dinners with my partner Dennis Burns as we worked like mad men for Desperado Jeans and others in the mid to late 70’s. And it was a must stop for nearly 30 years as a place to pre-function before Husky football games with my pals Hal Calbom, Steve Hawes and many others, back when kick-offs were always at 12:30. Several Bloody Marys and Eggs Benedict, hold the stupid olives. Just like so many other iconic Seattle places like the Dog House, Daley’s, Twin Tepees, Rosellini’s 410 (God I’m old) and so many more, it’s closing is a kick in the gut. No matter how good the Pioneer Square version, it will never have the soul the old place owned. Alas …

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