Stepping into the dimly lit, subterranean hideaway of the Can Can, the modern world above fades into vintage Seattle. The "burlesque on steroids" venue, as manager Jeff Ramsey describes it, is carved out of the bowels of Pike Place Market's Corner Market building and is reminiscent of Seattle pre-1889 fire, when the city had a certain grit and grime and downtown pulsed one level lower than it does today.
The miniscule venue has a big personality: the ceiling isn't square, but rather follows the slant of the street above it; a vintage skylight near the bar looks up towards pedestrians scurrying at street level. Throwback velvet and brocade accents add a vintage Parisian feel.
Five nights a week, the in-house dance troupe puts on a stellar performance, high-kicking and twirling within inches of audience members, all in a space barely bigger than the average Seattle studio apartment.
And amidst it all, servers are adeptly navigating the crowded room to serve a meal that is as captivating as the scantily-clad burlesque performers gyrating a few feet away.
Chef Kelly Connor heads the kitchen, a job he's held since July. Conner worked his way up in area restaurants like Earls Restaurant, Local 360, Stopsky's Delicatessen, and 13 Coins.
Connor revamped the menu within his first week, coming in on his days off to put his stamp on the experience. He hired identical twin his brother, Kyle, as sous chef a few months later. Together, the brothers run a well-oiled machine, out of sight of the bright lights of the stage -- and they do it all, every night, without any additional kitchen staff.
"We don't need to talk to each other," Kelly says. "We can pretty much read each other's minds. The communication, the kitchen talk between the two of us, it's easy. It can get a little heated in the kitchen every once in a while, but we'll hug it out."
Apart from the fact that you're eating a meal during a burlesque performance, there are other aspects of dining at the Can Can that set it apart from a typical restaurant.
"It's totally different from your classic restaurant, where you walk in and a hostess seats you. If 100 people walk in a restaurant at one time, a normal restaurant isn't going to seat them all at once," Kelly says. "They're going to stagger it so the kitchen and the bar don't get bogged down. What's really tricky about the Can Can is since a show starts at 7:30, seating starts at 6:30, and we can't control that too much. It's always going to be 65 people ordering at one time."
Kelly and Kyle work in such a small kitchen -- it's about the size of a food truck's interior -- that there's no room for frivolity or surplus. Kelly sources much of his meat and produce from the market, but limited storage means he must shop every day.
"I literally go shopping two hours a day in the market and grab what I need for the day," he says. "Then I prep it for that night's service and we'll run through it. There's not a lot of produce sitting around."
Buying from market vendors means navigating the throngs of tourists on daily basis. "I've gotten really, really good at maneuvering between people and I've got a good system down with the vendors," Kelly says.
Kelly is continually tweaking the menu based on what inspires him from the market vendors upstairs -- all with an eye towards complementing the performers on stage. "Our motto is to keep everything sexy. It's burlesque so the food should match that. I also don't want to do huge portions of food because I don't want people to leave the show bloated. I want them to be able to go out with their date after, not say, 'I need to go home and go to bed.'"
When the glitter settles, Kelly says he can almost picture the ghosts of performers past, people who held court long ago in the over 100-year-old space. "When I'm down there by myself, I can hear the creaking and crackling of the old building. I can't say I believe in ghosts but there's been hundreds of musicians through there and it has a different vibe. It's Seattle's underground, still in operation. It's not like anything else you've ever been to."