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…