Jen Gonyer has some fond, if hazy, memories of what the College Inn Pub was like back when she was a regular 30 years ago. “Heavy, heavy, heavy blankets of smoke in the top probably four feet [of the bar],” she says. “I mean, it was the 90s. And it was a great time, right? That’s when we were all really excited about drinking Red Hook. And all of our friends in bands were getting famous.”
Gonyer is now among the new stewards of the historic U District haunt, which reopened in July after staying dormant for over a year. As reported last fall by UW publication The Daily, Gonyer joined her husband Al Donohue and friend Seth Howard (owner of the Collins Pub and Last Drop Bottle Shop) in taking over the lease and name for the space after the College Inn Pub’s previous owners closed it down in July 2020. All three were longtime fans of the dive, and Gonyer even worked there as a server in the 90s — and wrote part of her UW grad school dissertation in the place. Soon, the trio set about planning the pub’s revival for a debut this summer.
“Besides painting, cleaning, and the woodwork, there aren’t many significant changes visible to the guest,” says Gonyer who notes that the building is over a hundred years old, and the bar itself used to be a storage space back in the day. “Almost all of the major renovation has been to systems that aren’t really seen — updated and safer electrical, updated much of the plumbing to code, more modern kitchen equipment, a computer system, better bar equipment. Except for the feedback that the pub is ‘brighter’ — thanks to 35-plus years of indoor tobacco use finally painted over — the space is still the well-loved pub it has always been.”
The menu also hasn’t gotten much of an overhaul, and includes mainstays like nachos and grinders, but there’s now a new meatball sandwich which the Gonyer says has proved popular of late. There’s no longer any microwave, but space is still limited in the kitchen (there’s no fryer or grill), so the pub will likely stick to the basics. On draft are a selection of beers from local breweries such as Cloudburst, Skookum, and Ravenna, in addition to PBR for older school patrons. While beer is the focus just as its been in the past, there’s a full bar serving classic cocktails with freshly made juice.
The College Inn Pub’s new iteration has been open for about a full month for indoor service, with no vaccine requirement for entry (although, like everywhere else in Washington, masks are required starting August 23). And the owners are working on creating an outdoor deck In the lot across from the main entrance.
Mainly, though, the goal is to try to recapture the vibes that made the bar so appealing over the years. “With all the heritage businesses in Seattle closing at a rapid rate, it was really important to us that we sort of maintain the history and keep it looking as close to what it’s always been,” says Gonyer. “I don’t really feel like it’s mine. It belongs to the community, you know — this is everyone’s place.”
- The College Inn Pub [Official]
- The College Inn Pub: 46 Years Down, Many More to Go [The Daily]