On Friday, March 12, famed Seattle restaurateur Tom Douglas announced that his 32 year-old classic, Dahlia Lounge, will not reopen for business after being closed for a full year. His next door pizzeria Serious Pie and sibling shop Dahlia Bakery will take over the space — but the legacy will be difficult to replicate.
Opened in 1989 (originally at 1904 Fourth Avenue), Dahlia Lounge was the restaurant that launched Douglas’s culinary empire. Its inventive approach to Pacific Northwest fare and mix of global influences marked a touchstone for Seattle’s growing downtown dining scene in the 90s, and helped Douglas earn a James Beard Awards in 1994, among other accolades. Menu favorites changed over the decades, but one unforgettable mainstay was the restaurant’s triple coconut cream pie, which remains a Seattle dessert icon.
Dahlia Lounge eventually moved locations to the corner of Fourth Avenue and Virginia, with its playful neon chef sign becoming one of the city’s most recognizable beacons. After Amazon and others descended into the area, the blocks around the restaurant developed rapidly, but Douglas’s flagship was a steady presence.
“Dahlia Lounge put Seattle on the national culinary radar in the early 1990s. It was a joyous, raucous restaurant at a time when many were sedate, but serious cooking happened there, always putting PNW ingredients in the spotlight,” says former Seattle Times critic Providence Cicero (who revisited the spot in 2015 for a review). “Since the news broke of its closing, everyone I’ve talked to has shared an indelible memory of a Dahlia experience. It was the kind of place that made a lasting impression.”
Dahlia Lounge was the crown jewel of the Tom Douglas Seattle Kitchen group, which grew to 20 different businesses at its peak, from catering to cooking classes, and included new restaurants geared toward an after-work happy hour crowd. But there were hints before the pandemic that Douglas was scaling back his imprint. In early 2020, the restaurateur closed three of his properties inside the Via6 apartment across from the Amazon Spheres. In February 2020, Dahlia Lounge ended its popular brunch service and reduced hours.
When the pandemic began to severely impact the region in March 2020, Tom Douglas Seattle Kitchen was among the first major restaurant groups to close down just about all of its locations, even before Gov. Jay Insee issued a stay-at-home order. At the time, Douglas hoped the closures would be temporary, but the shakeup would augur much of what was to come of the local hospitality industry, particularly in the downtown area.
In July 2020, Douglas started to make a few temporary closures more permanent, shuttering his two South Lake Union restaurants — gastropub Brave Horse Tavern and pasta spot Trattoria Cuoco — at Amazon’s Terry Avenue building. They were both in the heart of the tech company’s campus, which emptied out after the company urged its employees in the corporate Seattle offices to work from home.
Dahlia Lounge is now the third restaurant out of Douglas’s restaurant group to close for good within the past twelve months. “It’s a loss that such an iconic spot didn’t think the neighborhood was viable anymore,” says restaurateur Ethan Stowell. “It makes me worry about the health of downtown.”
Chef-owner Renee Erickson of the Walrus and the Carpenter, Bateau, and other acclaimed spots, adds, “Tom opened up all our eyes to fresh local seafood, prepared precisely with bold flavors. Having closed a restaurant, I know the rollercoaster of emotions you go through, but Tom is someone who is always moving forward.”
Over the past year, Douglas continues to lean into more casual offerings that offer sit-down service, but also seem better suited to a takeout-driven environment. Serious Pie downtown eventually reopened (and has a newer sibling in Ballard’s Serious Takeout). Douglas’s Pike Place Market-adjacent spot Seatown Market Diner came back as Seatown Market & Fishfry, emphasizing fried seafood, such as Blue North cod, yearling oysters, calamari, and wild Gulf shrimp. As the Dahlia Lounge space gets an overhaul, the old Serious Pie location will be used to host private parties and pizza classes. Dahlia Bakery will continue to serve that beloved coconut cream pie.
Other downtown spots in the Douglas universe — such as Lola, Cantina Leña, Palace Kitchen, and the Carlile Room — remain dormant. But the restaurateur tells Eater Seattle the group is “excited to contemplate the future” of those restaurants now that the city is “beginning to open up,” even as he expressed some frustrations over issues associated with downtown development and the hindrances to expanded outdoor dining.
“The city has given a permit to the contractors building the 50 story condo behind our building to take our entire Serious Pie street presence and parking away on Virginia Street,” he says. “The noise and dust are relentless. We feel Fourth Avenue is a better alternative for outdoor dining, so we are adding some parklets on Fourth Ave.”
At the same time, Douglas expressed gratitude for the restaurant that put him on the map. Though Dahlia Lounge’s ending was a quiet one, its memories will endure for many Seattleites. “I am so proud of the many hundreds of people who consistently delivered deliciousness with graciousness for 32 years at the Dahlia,” he says. “We had a great run.”