Seattle Now & Then: The Door coffeehouse, 1959

(Click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN: Standing beside a KOMO-TV truck outside The Door during a remote broadcast showcasing jazz singer Teddy Ross on Nov. 14, 1961, are (from left) owner Ben Laigo, waiter Leroy Capili, Laigo’s brother and barista Mike Castillano and Laigo’s brother and business partner Ed. (Courtesy Ben Laigo)
NOW: Standing in front of the 24-floor 1700 Stewart building, completed in 2001, along the northeast side of Seventh Avenue, former site of The Door entrance, are Ben Laigo and three of his sisters who worked with him at the coffeehouse: (from left) Dorothy Laigo Cordova, Marya Castillano Bergstrom and Jeanette Castillano Tiffany. (Courtesy Ben Laigo)

Published in The Seattle Times online on April 23, 2023
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on April 20, 2023

To glimpse Seattle’s jazzy coffeehouse past, just enter The Door
By Clay Eals
Jack Lemmon, bongo-playing warlock, in the 1958 film “Bell Book and Candle.”

Seattle’s coffeehouse craze can ground itself pre-Starbucks in the late-1950s rise of anti-materialistic beatniks and their yen for jazz and steamy espresso. Whether its New York and San Francisco hubs were showcased in national publications or Hollywoodized by Jack Lemmon’s bongo-playing in “Bell Book and Candle,” the nervy subculture took rapid hold in the nation’s psyche.

It caught Seattle-born Ben Laigo as a 23-year-old Army recruit at Fort Ord near Monterey. From there, he and buddies surveyed San Francisco’s startling North Beach scene. “It was,” he recalls, “a different kind of weekend, instead of getting drunk in a cocktail lounge.”

THEN: The entrance of The Door at 1818 Seventh Ave., shown in June 1959, featured a gate that co-owner Ben Laigo rescued from a junk shop. The address was the site of rental rooms from the 1900s to mid-1920s, a furniture and appliance dealer and cleaning and dye works through the 1940s and the Tower Café in the early 1950s. (Courtesy Ben Laigo)

Raised in an enterprising Filipino family (his dad was a longtime Ivar’s chef), the O’Dea High School graduate and Frederick & Nelson window-dresser decided to import the espresso experience to his hometown. So Laigo and investors rented a downtown nook in June 1959 on Seventh Avenue between Stewart Street and Olive Way. Its name was the definition of hip: The Door.

He first booked folk music but quickly switched to jazz. “I was one of these wannabes,” Laigo, now 86, reflects. “I wanted to sit down and play the piano.” He settled for occasionally sitting in on bongo.

THEN: The busy interior of The Door coffeehouse. At right is a mural created by Ron Gregory, former Frederick & Nelson co-worker of Ben Laigo. (Courtesy Ben Laigo)

Open till midnight or 1 a.m. (3 a.m. Fridays), the no-alcohol eatery surpassed the beatnik niche, its crowds lining up to the now-razed Music Hall movie theater on Olive. Reflecting this, The Seattle Times’ Lenny Anderson was amused early on that when the music-loving Laigo asked a group of beatniks “several times for a little more quiet” and then to leave, one replied, “Time magazine says we belong in these places.”

In February 1962, as the Seattle World’s Fair neared, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer branded The Door “the largest late-hour espresso club in the state.”

THEN: Sponsored by The Door, the Dave Brubeck Quartet performs June 19-21, 1962, at Seattle’s Aqua Theater at Green Lake: (from left) Joe Morello on drums, Brubeck on piano, Gene Wright on bass and Paul Desmond on alto saxophone. (Courtesy Ben Laigo)

The Door perhaps hit its zenith by sponsoring mid-fair concerts June 19-21, 1962, headlined by the legendary Dave Brubeck Quartet at the city’s Green Lake Aqua Theater. But proceeds came up “a little short,” reported columnist Emmett Watson. Laigo soon sold The Door, which continued through the late 1960s.

Nov. 21, 1971, Seattle Post-Intelligencer ad announcing Laigo’s new game, p106.

Befitting his given first name of Buenaventura, Laigo later embraced a multiplicity of ventures. He hosted at the Space Needle restaurant, ran the Norton Building-based Harbor Club (370 members) and even invented a Seattle-centered, Monopoly-style board game called Main Entrée that sold thousands of sets.

His persona was sealed from the start. As he told the P-I in January 1960:

“If you want to do something, get it out of your system and go do it. If you fail at that, start over and do something else. But keep doing.”


Thanks to Ben Laigo for his invaluable 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 14 additional photos, a history of The Door by Ben Laigo (pdf file) and, in chronological order, 66 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.

BONUS: Scroll to the bottom for a special section on “Main Entree,” the board game invented by Ben Laigo!

In this rare color photo from The Door, friends (from left) Naomi Dow, Kaaren Ytterdal and Linda Anderson (now Harris) gather to celebrate Anderson’s 20th birthday in 1961. (courtesy Linda Harris)
Click this image to download a history of The Door, written by its founder, Ben Laigo.
Just south of The Door site was the Music Hall theater, looking north at 7th Avenue and Olive Way, shown about 1937. It was demolished in 1992. Bob Carney, our automotive informant, says a 1934 Chevrolet is parked at far left and a 1937 Dodge pickup sits to its right. (Puget Sound Branch, Washington State Archives)
Around the corner from The Door site was this section of Stewart Street north of Seventh Avenue, shown in about 1937. Bob Carney, our automotive informant, identifies these vehicles (from left) 1936 Ford four-door, 1936 LaFayette four-door, 1934 Dodge coupe, 1936 Plymouth foor-door, 1935 Hudson four-door and 1936 Packard “120” coupe. (Puget Sound Branch, Washington State Archives)
THEN: The Pete DeLaurenti Trio, with DeLaurenti on piano, an unidentified bass player and Al Capps on flute, play The Door in 1959. (Courtesy Ben Laigo)
THEN: The vintage espresso machine of The Door coffeehouse. (Courtesy Ben Laigo)
THEN: Customers sit beneath the mural created by Ron Gregory, former Frederick & Nelson co-worker of Ben Laigo, inside The Door coffeehouse. (Courtesy Ben Laigo)
THEN: Santa Claus was a regular for yearly Christmas parties at The Door for 300 children from the Holly Park, Rainier Vista and Yesler Terrace communities. (Courtesy Ben Laigo)
THEN: Another view of The Door entrance at 1818 Seventh Ave. The sign specifies business hours and a prohibition on alcohol on the premises. (Courtesy Ben Laigo)
THEN: The eclectic menu of The Door coffeehouse, June 1960. (Courtesy Ben Laigo)
THEN: Ben Laigo’s three sisters, late 1950s, (from left) Dorothy Laigo Cordova, who made lumpia at The Door and who later founded the Seattle-based Filipino American National Historical Society; and The Door cashiers/hosts Marya Castillano Bergstrom, later a Seattle City Light manager, and Jeanette Castillano Tiffany, later a Seattle Central Community College artist. (Courtesy Ben Laigo)
THEN: Ben (left) and Ed Laigo, brothers and partners in The Door, work at the coffeehouse’s cash register, July 1959. (Courtesy Ben Laigo)
THEN: Working the kitchen at The Door are (from left) Ben Laigo’s brother Jerry, later on King County property management staff; cousin Al Mendoza, later bartender at the Harbor Club; and brother Mike Castillano, later University of Washington administrator. (Courtesy Ben Laigo)
NOW: In this south-facing view, matching the composition of the Nov. 14, 1961, photo with the KOMO-TV truck, are Ben Laigo and three of his sisters who worked with him at the coffeehouse: (from left) Dorothy Laigo Cordova, Marya Castillano Bergstrom and Jeanette Castillano Tiffany. (Courtesy Ben Laigo)
Dec. 10, 1909, Seattle Times, p27.
Oct. 14, 1911, Seattle Times, p11.
Nov. 25, 1923, Seattle Times, p61.
April 9, 1924, Seattle Times, p25.
Nov. 21, 1926, Seattle Times, p53.
Nov. 28, 1926, Seattle Times, p54.
Jan. 20, 1927, Seattle Times, p23.
Sept. 11, 1927, Seattle Times, p18.
June 15, 1932, Seattle Times, p24.
Sept. 19, 1951, Seattle Times, p36.
Feb. 8, 1952, Seattle Times, p34.
Oct. 26, 1953, Seattle Times, p26.
Sept. 8, 1955, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p27.
Nov. 2, 1955, Seattle Times, p38.
Dec. 8, 1955, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p18.
June 8, 1959, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p13, Emmett Watson.
July 2, 1959, Seattle Times, p1.
July 7, 1959, Seattle Times, p18, Lenny Anderson.
Aug. 9, 1959, Seattle Times, p84.
Sept. 1, 1959, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p35.
Sept. 11, 1959, Seattle Times, p42.
Oct. 9, 1959, Seattle Times, p16.
Oct. 12, 1959, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p9, Emmett Watson.
Dec. 28, 1959, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p7, Emmett Watson.
Jan. 31, 1960, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p54.
Aug. 23, 1961, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p12.
Sept. 27, 1961, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p12.
Nov. 15, 1961, Seattle Times, p52.
Feb. 10, 1962, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p41.
Feb. 27, 1962, Seattle Times, p18.
April 20, 1962, Seattle Times, p39.
May 4, 1962, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p14.
June 15, 1962, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p12, Emmett Watson.
June 15, 1962, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p14.
June 19, 1962, Seattle Times, p21.
June 20, 1962, Seattle Times, p34.
July 11, 1962, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p19, Emmett Watson.
Dec. 19, 1962, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p27, Emmett Watson.
April 11, 1963, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p31.
Aug. 9, 1963, Seattle Times, p22.
Dec. 20, 1963, Seattle Times, p48.
Jan. 17, 1964, Seattle Times, p24.
July 11, 1964, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p18.
Dec. 28, 1964, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p10.
March 26, 1965, Seattle Times, p38.
April 21, 1965, Seattle Times, p2.
May 21, 1965, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p26.
Nov. 19, 1965, Seattle Times, p26.
Dec. 4, 1965, Seattle Times, p13.
Dec. 10, 1965, Seattle Times, p24, Hardwick.
Dec. 10, 1965, Seattle Times, p24.
March 15, 1968, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p77.
Dec. 17, 1971, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p20.
Dec. 20, 1971, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p11, Emmett Watson.
July 20, 1972, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p16.
July 21, 1972, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p5, Emmett Watson.
Dec. 14, 1976, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p8.
Dec. 12, 1977, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p3.
Jan. 14, 1978, Seattle Times, p47.
March 5, 1979, Seattle Times, p10.
July 14, 1981, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p5, Emmett Watson.
June 2, 1983, Seattle Times, p32.
July 8, 1985, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p21.
July 8, 1985, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p23.
April 22, 1990, Seattle Times, p159.
April 22, 1990, Seattle Times, p161.
April 9, 1992, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p20.
Jean Sherrard often gets to lofty photographic heights with his 21-foot pole, but sometimes he ends up in the gutter, as in shooting this column’s “Now” photo. (Clay Eals)


Here is a special section focused on Main Entree,” the Seattle-based, Monopoly-styled board game that Ben Laigo invented in 1971. First is a video in which Laigo discusses the game with Donna Driver-Kummen, who received the game as a gift when it was released. Afterward, you will find scans and pdf files of all of the game’s elements. Click and click again to enlarge them. Enjoy!

The box cover for Main Entree.
The board of Main Entree
Click this image to download a pdf of the dining cards for Main Entree.
Click this image to download a pdf of the tip/situation cards for Main Entree.
Click the image above to download a pdf of the rules for Main Entree.
Order pad for Main Entree
Game pieces for Main Entree
“Cash” for Main Entree
Promotional flier for Main Entree


3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Door coffeehouse, 1959”

  1. Thank you for the wonderful article about Ben Laigo and The Door. He hired me as a dishwasher for the Club. I worked there for about a month and a half, before Ben encouraged me to apply for a busboy and eventually a waiter position at the Harbor Club. Working these jobs help me develop and appreciate hard work and creativity. I’m forever thankful for the impact it and the Laigo family made on my life.

  2. Loved your piece on The Door and Ben Laigo’s contribution to Seattle entertainment. It brought back wonderful memories of times at The Door where the Laigo brothers introduced me to espresso and provided a venue for great local jazz. Because it didn’t serve alcohol, The Door became an “after hours” place when the blue laws required bars to close at midnight on Saturday. Local musicians like Teddy Ross, Ernestine Anderson and Patti Hart would show up around 12:30 and jam with whomever was playing, frequently Paul West or Bud Schultz. A wonderful piece of Seattle history.

  3. I enjoyed your article on The Door coffeehouse. A couple friends and I went there to listen to folk music several times in about 1964. I particularly enjoyed The Bob Lamone Trio, who sang a wonderful folk song called “Hiroshima” about a young girl killed by our first atomic bomb. The article also mentions Steve Lolar, and while I didn’t see him at The Door, I knew him from The Pamir House, a coffeehouse in the University District. This period was really the end of the “beatnik” era, soon replaced by the “hippies.” Both groups sang folk music, and those days were extremely enjoyable. I miss that era, and would love to find a place today with folk songs and acoustic guitars. Thanks for bring back some wonderful memories.

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