Way back in the mists of time (the 1990s), life and business partners Joe McDonnal and Virginia Wyman opened a private supper club they called the Ruins. They already ran a catering company called Market Place Caterers, and by putting together a list of people who attended their events, they found around 30 initial members in 1993. The buzz around the club was such that a couple years later, when the Seattle Times wrote about the Ruins, membership had ballooned to 780.
Seattle at the time was known for grunge and dampness, but the Ruins was lavish, over-the-top, almost circus-esque. Though the building it occupied in Queen Anne “looks like a dimly lit abandoned warehouse,” wrote the Times, once you entered it was like another world:
The exterior is a warm, monochromatic, nondescript brown. The interiors are a series of interconnecting dining, drinking and drawing rooms, almost operatic stage sets, decorated with towers of books, life-sized sculpted animals (including a gold-gilt horse covered with a Technicolor blizzard of appliqued paper blossoms), festoons of flowers, dozens of venerable pieces of period furniture (from Virginia’s late mother’s collection) and faded Oriental carpets. The ornate, almost theatrical spaces include the main dining room, the smaller Chocolate Room (where almost no one orders chocolate), the Library Bistro and the Ha Ha Ballroom.
The food was as acclaimed as the interior — McDonnal’s roster of former employees included chefs who would go on to start restaurants like Le Pichet, Tilikum Place Cafe, Cafe Presse, and the Pink Door (he also gave Ethan Stowell his first job). McDonnal died in 2011 and the lustre of the Ruins faded as supper clubs fell out of style; membership had dropped to 500 by the time Wyman decided to sell it in 2017. It was purchased by businessman Dhruv Agarwal, who bought not just the supper club but the building that housed it. The supper club was suspended during the pandemic, and today the Ruins is a venue for weddings and other events. But there’s never been a way for the public to get inside of a quirky, quasi-mythical Seattle venue — until last week, when Agarwal’s company quietly turned it into Seattle’s newest speakeasy.
The bar is called (unlisted), and true to its “speakeasy” status it’s not obvious how to get into it. The address is 570 Roy Street, where you can find a sign with an elephant on it. Walk down the alley, find the door with the quotation marks on it, and — there’s the elephant.
The elephant is from the 1931 Paris World Exhibition and we’re not totally sure what the deal is there — back then, people were just sort of like, “Hey let’s build an elephant!” And now it greets guests as if it were a maitre’d.
The bar takes up just one room of the Ruins, which is a bit disappointing if you wanted to see how the hoi polloi of the ‘90s partied. But the room is full of the kitschy luxury that the venue was known for back in the day— it feels like what a rich person in the ‘90s would have imagined what it was like to be a rich person in the ‘20s.
The cocktails and snacks menu is run by Herban Feast, a catering company owned by Landmark, and they lean heavily on the “party like its the 1920s” vibe, with custom drinks that are variations on sidecars and old fashioned. We opted for a mocktail that tasted like the last days of summer and looked like the University of Washington thanks to a layer of butterfly pea flower lemonade:
Anyway, it’s a pretty cool place.
(unlisted) is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. The elephant’s name is Ruby. Follow the Ruins on Instagram for more info.
Update 10/20 4:06 p.m.: This post has been updated to include more detail about when the supper club ceased operations.