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Published in The Seattle Times online on Aug. 18, 2022
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Aug. 21, 2022
Scandals and soul fueled ‘Lost Roadhouses’ at Seattle’s outskirts
By Clay Eals
A new book by historians Peter Blecha and Brad Holden, “Lost Roadhouses of Seattle,” showcases more than 60 dance halls and speakeasies on the city’s outskirts whose heyday foamed in the Prohibition and repeal days of the 1930s and 1940s.
“It’s a nod to Seattle’s naughty past,” Holden says.
Blecha adds, “It’s almost like a lost civilization.”
So it brings a smile that the book also profiles something easily found — the last roadhouse still operating on a local highway, the Shanty Tavern at 90th and Lake City Way. On Fridays from 4:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., the Shanty rocks with live music and conversational buzz, moderated by 91-year-old John Spaccarotelli and his daughter Dayna.
“I like the music, I like the people. I like to talk with people especially,” says the elder owner, who leased the place 61 years ago and bought it two years later. “It’s just a fantastic thing to have a business and not only love it but live it.”
Built by Doris McLeod in 1932 on 22nd Avenue Northeast, the Shanty building moved twice before settling at its current site in 1948. The “Mack” nickname of Doris’ son Bill adorned the nightspot until Spaccarotelli took its reins in 1961.
Over the years, it’s drawn celebrities from actor David Arquette to hydroplane racer Chip Hanauer, who have mixed with neighbors and motorists spotting the tavern’s unpretentious sign in the shape of a shack, complete with off-kilter stovepipe.
The sign is an uncanny cue to the devil-may-care spirit of the book’s neon-lit dine-and-dance establishments, where chicken dinners and musical spectacle consorted with headline-grabbing liquor and gambling scandals. All of this was fueled by car culture and a desire to flee the city limits via Highway 99 and the Bothell Highway to find, as the book asserts, “the sordid underbelly of Seattle’s peripheral nightlife.”
With Arcadia as their publisher, the authors sprinkle the book with 93 photos, ads and news clippings, but its text also covers a broad swath, from the countless musicians who played the roadside “joints” to cleanup efforts by Snohomish County prosecutor (and later U.S. senator) Henry “Scoop” Jackson. Showing up throughout are the detailed legal travails of infamous impresario John H. “Doc” Hamilton.
Page by page, from the north-end Duffy’s Roadhouse to the south-end Spanish Castle, it’s like the old Lay’s potato-chip commercial: You can’t read about just one. And the vignettes reveal that behind the roadhouses’ notoriety lay a lot of soul.
Dayna Spaccarotelli would agree. The Shanty means “everything” to her. “This is my life,” she says. “It’s like a second home.”
Thanks to Bob Carney for his help with this installment!
To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.
Below are two videos and 10 historical clips from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and Washington Digital Newspapers, that were helpful in the preparation of this column.