Bush Backyard Restaurant (Seattle) – HistoryLink.org


Over its 65-year historical past, Bush Backyard has been many issues to many individuals — the second Japanese restaurant within the state of Washington; the primary American restaurant with a karaoke bar; a restaurant on a par with stylish Seattle eating places similar to Canlis, Dealer Vic’s and Rosellini’s; a spot the place celebrities passing by city would cease for sukiyaki ready by kimono-clad waitresses; a hangout for politicians and group leaders; and a beloved gathering place for a faithful crowd of regulars who appreciated to sing.

Based by Kaichi Seko

Bush Backyard started life in 1953 in Seattle’s Bush Resort on Jackson Avenue within the neighborhood then generally known as Chinatown, below the possession of Kaichi Seko. Seko had been born in 1896 in Japan’s Gifu Prefecture. The restaurant was quickly talked about within the society columns in native newspapers. Sukiyaki-and-cocktail gatherings have been held there by the Ballet Guild, alumnae of the St. Nicholas faculty for ladies, the Japanese consul, and worldwide commerce teams. When fewer than half of American properties had tv units, it made the Seattle papers when the restaurant was described to a nationwide viewers on the NBC Radio Community as a part of a documentary about life in Seattle.

It was each a festive gathering place for Seattle’s Japanese group and trendy amongst diners of different ethnicities who have been blissful to take away their sneakers and dine at flooring degree. Seko stated that Individuals from non-Japanese backgrounds weren’t actually in a position to sit comfortably on their legs on the ground, so he invented a system that put the tables into massive rectangular openings within the flooring. Diners gave the impression to be consuming Japanese type, however they have been really sitting on cushions on the ground on the fringe of the opening with their shoeless ft comfortably on the carpeted flooring under, all hidden by an artfully organized white tablecloth.

Enterprise was good and the house turned too small. In 1957, the restaurant moved to 614 Maynard Avenue South, a couple of blocks away. The constructing had apparently been the house of each The Maynard Membership, which served Chinese language and American meals and was often raided by the police for liquor license infractions, in addition to a playing spot known as the Tokyo Membership, which was stated to have been operated by a Japanese gangster who had lately left city in a rush.

Kaichi Seko requested his son Roy and Roy’s fiancée, Joan Morishima, in the event that they needed to develop into companions with him to function the restaurant on the new location. They stated sure. Roy and Joan had met once they have been with separate dates on the Palladium Ballroom at one hundred and twenty fifth and Aurora. Joan was a 1955 graduate of Garfield Excessive College who had additionally been a pupil on the College of Washington, the place Roy had studied structure and Far East Research. In 1950, when the U.S. navy turned a part of the Korean battle, Roy left faculty to hitch the U.S. Military and was given counter-intelligence coaching and despatched to Japan.

The Sekos remodeled the inside of the easy brick constructing right into a glamorous and unique (if not at all times utterly traditionally correct) re-creation of a picturesque Japanese village. The lavish décor included a Shinto temple-style gate, conventional carvings, bonsai bushes, rice-paper screens, curved roof tiles, tatami mat flooring coverings, and a working waterfall. The second flooring contained a banquet room. Roy Seko and his brother Bob, who had operated a shoji display manufacturing enterprise collectively, made furnishings for the restaurant. Rigorously crafted chairs have been put collectively not with metallic {hardware} however with wood pegs.

It is usually assumed that the identify Bush Backyard moved to the brand new restaurant from the resort the place it had first been positioned, however it stated to have really come from a kanji or Japanese character for the phrase bushi, which means warrior or samurai, acquainted to many English audio system within the time period bushido — method of the samurai.  

A Grand Reopening

The brand new restaurant opened on the day Roy and Joan have been married. Their marriage ceremony reception was the brand new location’s first celebration. Joan Seko stated the restaurant was meant to supply diners with “a bit little bit of Japan” (Vanishing Seattle). The Bush Backyard waitresses wore kimonos, and included Japanese Individuals in addition to Japanese-born wives of U.S. servicemen. Joan Seko did not just like the time period “struggle brides,” preferring to name them “worldwide brides.” Through the years, there have been additionally some Korean waitresses. Japanese-American youngsters from Franklin, Garfield, and Cleveland excessive faculties bussed tables for the prevailing minimal wage — 75 cents an hour — and the waitresses shared their suggestions with the bussers.

The Deluxe Household Dinner included beef sukiyaki cooked on the desk, with aspect dishes of tempura, sunomono, and rooster teriyaki, in addition to soup, rice, tea, dessert and a San Francisco invention — “Chinese language” fortune cookies — all for $4.25. The printed menu included a information headlined “Chopsticks are simple to make use of.” Illustrations of palms confirmed how you can maintain chopsticks, how you can manipulate them to come back collectively, and how you can “type a vise to choose up the meals.” 

For extra intimate eating, 40 personal tatami rooms with sliding screens have been obtainable. Sometimes, waitresses entered a tatami room with a tray of meals solely to discover a couple partaking in what a laughing Joan Seko in a filmed interview later known as “loads of hanky panky” (Vanishing Seattle). When one couple was found below the desk because the sukiyaki boiled above all by itself, the flustered waitress withdrew and requested Joan Seko what to do. She got here up with a coverage for waitresses to depart as discreetly as potential. However a minimum of one responsible celebration, caught in flagrante together with his date, later reported he was severely scolded by an indignant waitress as she departed. The tatami rooms additionally had telephones, a necessity for the midcentury on-the-go businessman.

The brand new location was a success. Reservations have been required, and wait occasions have been generally lengthy, regardless of the restaurant’s 450-person capability. Girls wore attire and heels; males, enterprise fits and ties. A photographer was employed to take Polaroid photos of the diners. The restaurant was a favourite of the Japanese group, particularly for essential events similar to weddings and funerals, gatherings of civic organizations, receptions, and banquets. Highschool youngsters on promenade dates went to Bush Backyard.

Within the early years, the Sekos had hassle getting cooks, U.S. Immigration officers explaining that Japanese cooks can be taking jobs from Individuals. Joan Seko requested them what number of Individuals they thought knew how you can put together sushi.

Bush Backyard attracted visiting celebrities, together with baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, film star and rat pack sidekick Shirley MacLaine, and baritone crooner Vic Damone. When President Richard Nixon deliberate a go to there whereas passing by Seattle, his Secret Service element vetoed the thought. The décor included too many hidden nooks and crannies to permit for presidential-level safety. When Princess Michiko of Japan and members of her household ate there, the restaurant was cleared of different diners for safety causes.

Enterprise was good. The Sekos added partnerships with spinoff Bush Backyard eating places in Portland on SW 4th Avenue run by Corky Kawasaki, and at 598 Bush Avenue in San Francisco operated by Mitsuo Hosaka. The Sekos purchased the constructing and the car parking zone throughout the road. The couple lived in an house over the restaurant for 10 years, beginning a household that might finally embrace 5 kids.

After the loss of life of Kaichi Seko in 1966, Roy and Joan moved to suburban Bellevue close to Phantom Lake to stay with Kaichi’s widow, Suye. Roy and Joan additionally took on the duty of sustaining the beautiful four-acre classical Japanese backyard on the property.

The Beginning of Karaoke

Within the Seventies, the Sekos added karaoke to the Bush Backyard bar with videotapes from Japan and lyrics printed on paper in Japanese. Bush Backyard was residence to the primary karaoke bar in America. (Dimples, a now-defunct bar in Burbank, California, has claimed to have been the primary karaoke bar within the U.S., however it did not open till 1982.) Finally Bush Backyard would add songs in English in addition to some in Hawaiian and Spanish.

In 1983, Bush Backyard launched its new thousand-square-foot Sushi Backyard room, with a black marble bar, stay tanks with ocean fish, vintage artwork objects, and pure wooden. A particular menu, other than the common dining-room menu, included sashimi, tonkatsu, salmon, black cod, oysters, and king crab.

By the Nineteen Nineties, Individuals had develop into extra world of their eating habits and the variety of Japanese eating places within the Seattle space, some owned by former Bush Backyard cooks, had grown. The colourful historic neighborhood that turned generally known as the Chinatown Worldwide District had suffered ever for the reason that Sixties when the I-5 freeway was constructed by it.

When Roy and Joan retired in 1996, the Seko kids stated they weren’t considering working the restaurant. In 1997, it was bought to Japanese native and sushi chef Masahuru “Masa” Sakata and his spouse Karen, who’d first labored there bussing tables again when she had been a Cleveland Excessive College pupil.

After they retired, Roy and Joan typically met associates at their outdated restaurant. Roy went on to work with Masaharu at Bush Catering, which ready airline meals for Japan, Northwest, United and Thai airways. Roy Seko died of most cancers in 2004. Within the final 10 days of his life, greater than 200 individuals got here to say goodbye to him at his residence on Phantom Lake, and dozens of others had deliberate to cease by within the following week.

In 2016, Masa and Karen Sakata introduced that the restaurant’s bar would stay open with drinks and Japanese appetizers, however the restaurant itself would shut. Like different elegant Seattle midcentury eating places, it lived on in fond reminiscence.

However Bush Backyard had a second incarnation for a brand new era. Whereas it was now described as a dive bar, there was no query that it was a beloved dive bar and karaoke was the central focus. Karen Sakata stated, “As we transitioned into English karaoke, it was actually a spot for lots of AAPI [Asian American-Pacific Islander] younger individuals. That was just like the place to be. It was at all times crowded … it was only a place for lots of the group to collect and join with one another and hang around” (KEXP). 

Finish of an Period

In 2016, the constructing was bought to Seattle developer James Wong. He was initially obscure about his plans for the constructing, and for some time moved into workplace house above the restaurant and continued to hire to the Sakatas. In 2018, Wong spoke at a group assembly describing his plans for the property. He stated he needed to “preserve and assist the wealthy cultural historical past” (Cruz) of the neighborhood, and stated Bush Backyard can be welcome in a brand new constructing, to be known as Jasmine Tower, on the location.

Wong was an immigrant who got here to Seattle from Hong Kong together with his mother and father, and was raised on Beacon Hill. He graduated from Cleveland Excessive College and the College of Washington. Wong and his father had each labored in Chinatown eating places. 

Members of the group who had fond reminiscences of the restaurant in its glory days, historical past buffs, and regulars on the karaoke bar tried to save lots of the Bush and hold it the place it had been since 1957. On Could 28, 2019, they went to battle with Wong’s firm, Vibrant Cities, at a gathering of the CID’s Worldwide Particular Assessment Board (ISRD). The board was charged with preserving the district’s distinctive Asian American character and supporting efforts to rehabilitate rundown areas for housing and pedestrian-oriented enterprise.

Opponents of the Jasmine Tower challenge have been involved about affordability, as the brand new models would entice more-affluent residents. They did not need to see the unique constructing torn down. Eugenia Woo of the Historic Seattle group stated the constructing had historic and cultural worth, and the challenge was “out of scale and never suitable with the district” (Ng, Neighborhood Battles …). Woo stated the constructing may very well be rehabilitated, whereas an engineer employed by Vibrant Cities stated the 109-year outdated constructing was unsafe. Two tales had been added to the unique one-story constructing over a shaky basis. Loads of the wooden was rotting, and the entire thing was sitting on Duwamish mud and fill. Just one wall was secure and the entire thing was seismically unsound.

Many CID leaders had already met to prepare assist for the tower challenge, which would come with residences within the tower and retail areas in a terraced space at floor degree. They’d gathered letters endorsing the event from greater than 25 Chinatown organizations and stated a mixed-income neighborhood was good for the CID. In addition they stated the proposed growth was culturally acceptable for the realm.

A gaggle of greater than 30 seniors attended, sporting matching T-shirts that stated “Sure Jasmine.” Their spokesperson was 87-year-old Pang Qiu Fang. Talking in Cantonese, he stated seniors prevented the realm due to concern of avenue crime, and that the placement was soiled and harmful. Joan Seko introduced the board with a letter saying, “Bush Backyard Restaurant and the constructing has served our household and group nicely for a lot of many years.” However she stated she believed the constructing was unsafe and that Jasmine can be good for the neighborhood. “We have to honor our previous and embrace our future with infinite potentialities” (Ng, Neighborhood Battles …).

The ISRD gave Jasmine the inexperienced gentle. It was emotionally tough for the regulars and for historic preservationists already overwhelmed by fast change within the Seattle panorama.

In August 2021, Vibrant Metropolis unveiled the design for its new growth. Bush Backyard would get replaced by a 17-story house tower with market-rate rents, underground parking, and retail house, collectively to be known as Jasmine. The design included a nod to the previous. A nook of the terraces surrounding the constructing can be clad in masonry just like the Bush Backyard brick facade, and be positioned over the footprint of the restaurant and an adjoining brick constructing that might be torn down.

Karen Sakata had already ended her lease on January 31 of 2021 and turned within the keys. The pandemic had taken its toll. The restaurant had been closed for months.

A Nod to Uncle Bob

Lots of its patrons and karaoke regulars, who now known as it “the Bush,” had develop into like a household. And for the reason that Nineteen Eighties, the Bush household’s favourite uncle had been Uncle Bob.

Robert “Uncle Bob” Santos (1934-2016) was an activist, a politician, a Filipino group chief, and a tireless advocate for the CID and people who lived there. Folks had nicknamed him the Mayor of the Worldwide District. He was additionally an everyday on the Bush, conducting loads of political enterprise there over time, and crooning into the mike regularly.

In his autobiography, Humbows, Not Hotdogs! Santos described a younger group activist vouching for him in 1999 to a skeptical and rowdy group of anarchists concerned in World Commerce Middle unrest, by telling them Santos “does a imply Frank Sinatra on the Bush Backyard karaoke bar.” So it was greater than becoming that when the Bush lastly discovered a brand new residence, it was at Uncle Bob’s Place. That was the official identify of the inexpensive, subsidized-housing growth scheduled for completion in 2023 within the coronary heart of the CID neighborhood, on the intersection of South King Avenue and eighth Avenue South. The Bush regulars seemed ahead to starting another time.


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