Iconic Georgetown bar Jules Maes Saloon — whose history dates back 1888 — is closing permanently. It had been shuttered since early March due to COVID-19 measures, but there was a leasing issue with the current owner that never got resolved.
Co-owner John LeMaster, who has run the bar with his wife for the past 15 years, alleges that the landlord “jacked up the rent 27 percent” and it was unsustainable to stay at the current location. He adds that it’s possible there could be a revival down the line in White Center, but nothing is set in stone.
On Tuesday, landlord John Bennett Properties released the following statement in response to Eater Seattle:
Jules Maes business has been for sale for two years. Last fall we were in contact with the owner to negotiate a new lease extension. I highly suggested that he get a new lease as his current one was expiring soon. I also thought that the business would be hard for him to sell with no lease. We tried to encourage him to come in and negotiate a new lease but were unsuccessful. He was aware that the lease rate would go up as it had the last two extensions. As he is on a gross lease, his rent had been the same amount for five years. Holding costs have gone up a lot in five years and the new rent rate (not 27%) would cover the increase. When his lease was about to expire I contacted him and he said that he did not want to renew the lease and that he was moving out. Keep in mind that the square foot price on the Jules Maes building is the lowest on the Airport way strip. I also want to say that we allowed him to defer rent during the Covid shut down. Jules Maes is also the only Georgetown restaurant to immediately shut down during the crisis and stay closed even after phase 2 reopening. Jules Maes building will get a new tenant soon and will be a great new addition to our already amazing neighborhood.
Once known as “The Brick Store,” the Jules Maes building had undergone several changes over the years (including spending a brief time as a door store and grocer), but it was mostly known as a beer and pool hall. The business was acquired by a Belgium-born bartender named Jules Gustaf Maes and moved locations once: from 5953 to 5919 Airport Way South, according to the city’s historical records. The bar business has also changed hands multiple times over the decades.
The Stranger once called Jules Maes “The Bar That Won’t Go Away,” and referred to it as the “oldest bar in Seattle,” although that designation may be up for debate. Many date the origins of the business back to 1888, but a few others have laid stake to the claim of Seattle’s oldest bar and were open around that same time period, including J&M Cafe and Merchant’s Cafe in Pioneer Square.
No matter what, Jules Maes is a part of Seattle history, and maintained its nostalgically divey atmosphere up until the present. It once served mostly dock workers, fishermen, and lumberjacks, many years before the neighborhood turned into a beer destination and a hipster enclave. In its more modern incarnation, it had some craft beer, surprisingly solid bar bites (including rabbit-stuffed ravioli and cochinita pibil), pinball, and live music.
The bar had been closed since Washington’s stay-at-home order was implemented in March. With bar seating completely banned through phase three of the state’s “Safe Start” reopening plan, and Seattle still stuck in phase two (where taverns and saloons can only operate at limited capacity if they have table seating), the outlook for Jules Maes looked uncertain during the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, LeMaster insists closing “was avoidable.”
According to the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, the building itself is not a designated city landmark, and it’s unclear what will go in the space next. On Monday afternoon, LeMaster and other helpers were moving some things out.
UPDATED, July 14, 2020, 3:48 p.m.: This piece was updated to include a statement from John Bennett Properties on the leasing situation.