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Private Firm Buys Iconic Pioneer Square Restaurant Merchant’s Cafe

The historic spot has been around since the 1800s

A black-and-white photo of the exterior of Merchant’s Cafe, with the restaurant’s iconic sign lit up at night.
Merchant’s Cafe has been open since 1890.
Merchant’s Cafe/Facebook

Are changes coming to a longtime Seattle landmark? The Pioneer Square building that houses Merchant’s Cafe — which opened in 1890 and is believed to be Seattle’s oldest standing restaurant and bar — was just sold to a local private real estate firm called Unico. It’s unclear what the transaction means for the future of the establishment, but Unico has been quietly snapping up buildings in the neighborhood along Occidental Avenue South for the past two months, and one of the sellers told the Puget Sound Business Journal that the firm wants to “rehab” the properties.

Merchant’s has a colorful history. Built after the Great Seattle Fire of 1889 and designed by a direct descendent of the frontiersman Daniel Boone, the saloon has been everything from a brothel to a pit stop for gold rushers to a speakeasy to part of a boutique hotel. It’s now a tourist attraction, in addition to an active restaurant and bar, with some possible supernatural elements (if you believe in that sort of thing). The place has also remained mostly intact for over a century, although did have to fix some major damage after a car crashed through its window earlier this summer.

Unico is still keeping mum on what (if anything) it plans for the place. The Seattle-based company’s past development and maintenance projects have included Smith Tower, Puget Sound Plaza, and the IBM building (it has also recently purchased Westlake Tower). When asked specifically about Merchant’s Cafe, a rep for Unico told Eater Seattle, “We don’t have any information to comment at this time.”