Seattle Now & Then: Kuehnoel’s Triple XXX Drive-In, 1936

(click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN1: Facing southwest, Otto A. Kuehnoel poses in 1936 with five female staff in front of his Triple XXX Drive-In Lunch Station at 2822 Rainier Ave. S. Two years later, Sick’s Stadium opened behind the eatery. Parked at right, says automotive informant Bob Carney, is a 1930 or 1931 Ford Model A roadster. (Courtesy Bob Kuehnoel)
NOW: Standing at the Kuehnoel’s site, now the Mount Baker Transit Center for King County Metro, are (left) Bainbridge Island’s Chuck Flood, author of “Lost Restaurants of Seattle,” pnwhighwayhistory.com, and North Bend’s Greg Kuehnoel, grandson of Otto Kuehnoel. Greg holds a colorized 1940 photo of another Triple XXX stand on Fourth Avenue South, in which his grandpa was partnered. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on June 18, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on June 21, 2020)

Five-cent Triple XXX took root here as a popular 1930s brew
By Clay Eals

Before Google, there was “Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.” My aunt Dorothy Johnson, sensing my pending writing career, presented 17-year-old me with the red-covered, 970-page reference treasury for Christmas in 1969.

Today I reach for Brewer’s to seek the origin of the term “XXX.” The sober tome has a coherent answer:

“X on beer casks formerly indicated beer which had paid the old 10s (shilling) duty, and hence it came to mean beer of a given quality. Two or three crosses are mere trademarks intended to convey the impression that the beer so marked was twice or thrice as strong as that which paid this duty.”

Thus, in 1920, when Prohibition took effect nationally, a Texas firm took note, appropriating the term by marketing a new, non-alcoholic beverage by the name of Triple XXX root beer. Soon, capitalizing on the automotive craze, the soft drink spread throughout the South via sales at barrel-shaped drive-ins.

The brand expanded west in the late 1920s, and the first of more than a dozen stands in our state took root along busy arterials. A Seattle Times ad called such franchises “a gold mine.”

The Triple XXX in our “Then” image opened in 1931. Owner Otto A. Kuehnoel (pronounced “KEE-no,” with a silent “L”) claimed a fortuitous site across McClellan Street from the Seattle Indians’ Dugdale Field and two blocks northwest of stately Franklin High School. The double-barreled drive-in drew droves of minor-league baseball fans and local teens to quaff 5-cent mugs of innocent brew.

Bob Kuehnoel in his late 50s in the early 1980s. (Courtesy Greg Kuehnoel)

Dugdale burned in 1932, but from its ashes Sick’s Stadium (later renamed Sicks’ Stadium) and the Seattle Rainiers arose in 1938, when Franklin phenom and future major-leaguer Fred Hutchinson became a draw. The late Bob Kuehnoel (Otto’s son) told me in a 2000 interview that “Hutch” and other players were mainstays at Triple XXX.

“That’s where all the action was,” said Kuehnoel, who washed dishes and swept the parking lot after school. “So many of these ballplayers practically adopted my mom and dad. It was like home to them.”

Intriguingly, the twin barrels were not a mere advertising shell. “One barrel was my parents’ bedroom, the other was mine, and my brother slept in the middle,” Bob said. “My bedroom was right over the pinball machines and the jukebox, so I learned at an early age to sleep through anything.”

Triple XXX barrels faded from the local scene by the 1960s. (A former barrel still operates as a Chinese restaurant on Lake City Way, and a Triple XXX thrives in Issaquah, though its barrel is flat, not three-dimensional.)

In these coronavirus days, all manner of take-out – and root beer – endure, and a fun mystery remains. Why the redundancy in “Triple XXX”? Not even the aptly named Brewer’s can say.

WEB EXTRAS

To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!

Below are three additional photos, four vintage Triple XXX menus (including two from Kuehnoel’s Triple XXX) and one Kuehnoel’s Triple XXX calendar, as well as 14 clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

The 1969 edition of “Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable” given to Clay Eals by his aunt, Dorothy Johnson, in 1969. (Clay Eals)
The cover of Chuck Flood’s book “Lost Restaurants of Seattle,” available at pnwhighwayhistory.com. Five pages of the book are devoted to local Triple XXX Barrels.
AUDIO INTERVIEW: Click the photo to hear Clay Eals’ interview of Bob Kuehnoel on Sept. 30, 2000, at his Bainbridge Island home. The early part of the 54-minute interview covers the Triple XXX restaurant, and the rest focuses on Fred Hutchinson. (Photo courtesy Greg Kuehnoel)
1941 Kuehnoel’s Triple XXX menu, outside, orange. (Courtesy Charles Kapner)
1941 Kuehnoel’s Triple XXX menu, inside, orange. (Courtesy Charles Kapner)
1941 Kuehnoel’s Triple XXX menu, back, orange. (Courtesy Charles Kapner)
1953 Kuehnoel’s Triple XXX calendar, outside. (Courtesy Charles Kapner)
1953 Kuehnoel’s Triple XXX calendar, inside, with Seattle Rainiers schedule. (Courtesy Charles Kapner)
Undated Kuehnoel’s Triple XXX menu, outside, tan. (Courtesy Charles Kapner)
Undated Kuehnoel’s Triple XXX menu, inside, tan. (Courtesy Charles Kapner)
One side of a 1941 menu from the Triple XXX Barrel in Ballard. (Courtesy Ron Edge)
The other side of a 1941 menu from the Triple XXX Barrel in Ballard. (Courtesy Ron Edge)
One side of the 1951 menu of the Triple XXX Barrel on Fourth Avenue South. (Ron Edge)
The other side of the 1951 menu from the Triple XXX Barrel on Fourth Avenue South. (Courtesy Ron Edge)
An insert of specials from the 1951 menu of the Triple XXX Barrell on Fourth Avenue South. (Courtesy Ron Edge)
July 21, 1955, Kuehnoel’s Triple XXX. (Puget Sound Regional Archives, courtesy Rainier Valley Historical Society)
Feb. 14, 1958, Kuehnoel’s Triple XXX. (Puget Sound Regional Archives, courtesy Rainier Valley Historical Society)
The Triple XXX Barrell at Fourth Avenue South. (Courtesy Chuck Flood and Ron Edge)
June 20, 1930, Seattle Times, page 39.
July 13, 1934, Seattle Times, page 26.
April 17, 1940, Seattle Times, page 19.
May 1, 1940, Seattle Times, page 11.
May 1, 1940, Seattle Times, page 30.
Aug. 21, 1940, Seattle Times, page 15.
Sept. 29, 1940, Seattle Times, page 32.
Oct. 15, 1940, Seattle Times, page 12.
Sept. 27, 1942, Seattle Times, page 25.
June 18, 1945, Seattle Times, page 11.
Sept. 14, 1949, Seattle Times, page 27.
Feb. 13, 1955, Seattle Times, page 24.
April 28, 1955, Seattle Times, page 19.
Feb. 5, 1958, Seattle Times, page 14.

6 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Kuehnoel’s Triple XXX Drive-In, 1936”

  1. What about the Triple XXX in Ballard off of Market? I think it was owned by the Jolin’s that lived in Madison Park?

    1. Thanks, Sheila. There were many Triple XXX drive-ins in Washington. You can find reference to the Ballard one by scrolling through the web extras. –Clay

  2. I remember going to the XXX Barrel on 1st Avenue South at S 112th St in Top Hat (between White Center and Burien) in the late 1960s. You park your car and order from menu hanging down with two-way telephone. Great burgers and root beer while listening to “Judy in Disguise” by the John Fred band (amplified from jukebox).

    Here’s a Google street view showing the building from 2011, https://www.google.com/maps/@47.5037105,-122.3337343,3a,75y,230.8h,72.86t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sX4U6pUVchRSfSppivSwrOA!2e0!5s20110801T000000!7i13312!8i6656

    The building and lot recently razed. Goodbye Triple X!

  3. I believe the barrel building you were referring to on Lake City Way is at 7845 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 9811. Currently Chiang’s Gourmet restaurant. Street view here: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Chiang's+Gourmet,+7845+Lake+City+Way+NE,+Seattle,+WA+98115/@47.6864329,-122.3141896,3a,75y,209.14h,90t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1s582LEGEEkHS4p3R3hpLyew!2e0!4m6!1m3!11m2!2scTPwEbMd_nusi_J9jIvNcBGSDzQ_dg!3e2!3m1!1s0x5490140b2773e5ff:0x9a28844bf575fa83

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