Seattle Now & Then: The Jules Maes Saloon, 1936

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN1: The brick building at 5919 Airport Way S. was erected in 1898 and operated as a restaurant, grocery and hardware store until 1936, when this King County tax photo was taken. (Courtesy Puget Sound Regional Branch, Wash. State Archives)
NOW1: Kevin Finney (green T-shirt), artistic director of Drunken Owl Theatre, surrounds himself with cast members after a recent summer production. Plays submitted for the Sept. 16-17 Jules Maes-themed performances must include three prompts: Jules Maes as central character, the words “the oldest bar in Seattle” and the saloon’s original serving tray. (Jean Sherrard)

Published in The Seattle Times online on Sept. 7, 2023
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Sept. 10, 2023

Sudsy stories flow from a rowdy Georgetown saloon
By Jean Sherrard

Belgian-born Jules Maes (1867-1939), whose namesake saloon we feature this week, arrived in rambunctious Georgetown in the early 1900s and felt right at home.

Then unincorporated, Georgetown could claim a slightly longer history than Seattle, its northern neighbor. Homesteaders Henry Van Asselt, Jacob Maple and Luther Collins and their families had settled along the next-door banks of the winding Duwamish River on Sept. 16, 1851, almost two months before the Denny Party arrived at Alki Point.

Within 50 years, the settlers’ farmland transformed into a one-company town, housing the Seattle Brewing & Malting Company, largest brewery west of the Mississippi, whose famed Rainier Beer was wildly popular throughout the country.

Hundreds of brewery workers, including many recent immigrants, lived in nearby company-owned houses. In contrast to strait-laced Seattle, where suds stopped flowing at 2 a.m. and never on Sundays, Georgetown’s unregulated taverns, eateries and roadhouses were open round-the-clock, serving laborers the hoppy product of their labors. Visiting rowdies looking for trouble often found it here.

THEN2: A turn-of-the-20th-century portrait of handlebar-mustachioed Jules Maes in his prime. (Courtesy Rache Purcell)

Confident, shrewd and tenacious, Maes (pronounced MAZE) thrived in the lawless town, first as a scrappy bartender. Soon he took over the notorious Maple Leaf Saloon (one of several he managed) described in the Seattle Times as “one of the toughest dives in King County.” Gunplay and knife fights were common.

While reputedly generous to a fault, Maes was no saint, repeatedly facing arrest and fines for running illegal gambling operations and slot machines. Following Washington state’s early adoption of Prohibition in 1916, he often was charged with selling spiked “soft drinks” and ciders from his former taverns.

After repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Maes promptly resumed selling beer to loyal customers who christened him Georgetown’s unofficial mayor. Noted for his largess, he helped relieve Depression hard times with rarely repaid loans. In 1936, he opened the Jules Maes Saloon at 5919 Airport Way S., slyly backdating its founding to 1888.

The enigmatic chameleon begs a question: Was he a community pillar or lovable rogue? Modern-day Robin Hood or scheming Soapy Smith?

NOW2: Drunken Owl Theatre’s house band members (from left) Kevin Finney, Phil Kelley, Brett Sindelar, Jerry Stein and David Sorey offer a musical segue during a show in July. (Jean Sherrard)

Enter West Seattle impresario Kevin Finney, who will probe this mystery in a program of drama and song. His Drunken Owl Theatre operates on a shoestring while mounting exuberant variety shows in the Jules Maes Saloon’s tiny performance space, where earlier patrons once played backroom poker.

NOW3: Actors Peter Murray and Kirsten McCory perform a one-act comedy in July. (Jean Sherrard)

The troupe’s Sept. 16-17, 2023, performances will feature original plays, poetry and musical interludes playfully examining the life and times of Jules Maes, who reportedly never let truth get in the way of a good story. For more info and reservations, visit


For our on-site video 360, recorded in July, click here.

To see Clay Eals’ video of T.J. O’Brien, grand-nephew of Jules Maes, recalling family stories about his great uncle before the June 24, 2023, Drunken Owl audience, along with other videotaped segments from that show, visit the YouTube links below.

And scroll down further for more photos by Jean of the Drunken Owl Theatre in performance in July.


Here are more photos by Jean of the Drunken Owl Theater in performance in July:


2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Jules Maes Saloon, 1936”

  1. My dad worked for Darigold at the old Rainier Ice building. He ran a feed business to manufacture milk replacer for calves. This was a little known industry but he often frequented Jules Maes waiting for a delivery. He loved the characters he met there.

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