When I heard the news, I immediately knew I had to visit the place just one more time.
Down in the U-District, not far from Terry Hall, the dorm where I lived during my first three years at the University of Washington, was a pizza place called the Northlake Tavern. Yes, it was a tavern, but their pizza was legendary. Thick, greasy, loaded with toppings, a college student’s dream. Well, at least back in the 1970s.
Because it was a tavern, I didn’t go there very much my first couple of years. But by my junior year, my confidence had grown and I had accessed a fake I.D., so we would occasionally stumble down the hill and order one of those amazing pizzas. However, when I graduated, I headed east of the mountains and just didn’t have the opportunity to swing by there.
When I did move back to the area three years later, I lived in the burbs and just never seemed to make it that way. Over the next 40 years or so, I think I got back there maybe twice, for old times’ sake.
At the same time I had moved on and the Northlake Tavern became just another college memory, a fellow I had worked with in the dorms, Abdoullah, had gone to work at the Tavern, where the owner took him under his wing, taught him the tricks of the trade and eventually, Abdoullah bought the place! He was one of three brothers who had come over from the Middle East, each scattering into their field of specialty and reaching success. In Abdoullah’s case, he kept the Northlake alive and thriving.
But time marches on and now, in the year 2023, the time has come for Abdoullah to call it quits. Sadly, he’s been battling Parkinson’s, so after all that hard work, retirement is probably not going to be as he had hoped. The good news is that he found a buyer, the local pizza chain Mario’s, who will close the restaurant for a couple of months to refurbish it, then re-open it as a Mario’s.
The official closing date was Tuesday, January 31st. When that was first announced, the line began to form. After all, when you’ve been doing what the Northlake Tavern has been doing for 68 years, a lot of people have memories attached to the place.
Including yours truly.
So, a couple of weeks out, my friends Tank, Steve and I agreed to meet for lunch there at noon on Thursday, January 26th. But as that date approached, pictures on social media kept showing up with people saying they had to wait an hour to get in. Then 90 minutes. We adjusted our plan to meet there at 11am, when Northlake opened, so hopefully we could be eating by noon.
Now, quick side bar. Each of my Monday through Friday workdays are a carefully plotted out collection of various jobs, scattered out through a series of 12-hour days. It’s just how I roll. I try to top-heavy the week so that by Thursday and Friday, I may only work 10 hours. Maybe.
When the big day arrived, I completed most of my radio show prep duties and a couple of projects, and just figured when I got home after lunch, I’d crank out my radio show. Perfect plan.
After a 10:30am Zoom at home, I dashed to the car and drove to Northlake. Not a parking spot to be found. For blocks. For a half-mile, where I finally a 2-hour parking spot and began the walk to the restaurant.
When I arrived, I found Tank & Steve around the corner at the end of a line of about 60 people. That shouldn’t be too bad. Over time, a couple of people were allowed in the restaurant, and the line would move up just a little more.
But inside, the kitchen was overwhelmed. Not only making pizzas for those in the restaurants, who were ordering two pizzas each–one for now, and the other to toss in the freezer when they got home. But there were also to-go orders being phoned in. You can see where this is going.
Sadly, while we waited in line, a woman came up to the restaurant with a printed receipt for some pizzas she had purchased online. It turned out, she had been swindled. The restaurant wasn’t selling them online. Those scamsters work fast.
Meanwhile, back in line, I faced a dilemma. At which point do I decide, “Oh, this is ridiculous!” and just go home. Or, because I’ve already invested an hour, it could be just a few more minutes.
I had lots of time to think about my decision because were not seated until 1:46m. Yes, 2-hours and 46-minutes just to be seated. When a waitress finally made it to our table, she apologized for the wait, said she could take drink orders but that the kitchen was so backed up, it may be a while until we would see a pizza. Beer was ordered, and we went into a new waiting mode.
On the positive side, I had some quality time with a couple of guys who have been like brothers to me over the years. We have been through a friggin’ lot—marriages, health scares, tragedies, life moments, so to that end, I was grateful for the FIVE HOURS we got to share together.
Yep, it was an hour and 16 minutes until a couple of delicious pizzas came our way. We were allowed two per person, but just settled for two of their $31 medium pizzas–a Combo and a Meat Lovers.
I’ll be honest, I had reached out to Abdoullah to see if he might remember us and was secretly hoping for him to say, “Oh, you guys are coming in? We’ll save you a table!” He said he did remember us, but no table offer was made.
Meanwhile, as we sat there in the pizza-ready position, waiting our beer, Abdoullah walked into his restaurant. He looked frail, needed a cane to walk and apparently just can’t verbally communicate well anymore. When I saw him, I yelled out, “Abdoullah!” He turned. I pointed to each of the characters. “Tank! Steve! Tim!”
His eyes widened and he smiled. We said some other things to him, which I don’t remember, but it was how his eyes lit up that will be the moment I cherish from that day.
Yes, that’s a big slice out of a workday. Leaving the house at 10:40am, getting back home at 4:34pm. However, I got to revisit an old haunt from my college days one more time, hang with old friends, see someone I hadn’t seen in almost 50 years and get a smile out of him. Yes, it made for a tough rest of the workday.
But it was all worth it.