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Most Interesting Bars

The Coon Chicken Inn, 1930-1949

Although it was primarily a restaurant and was not officially within the Seattle city limits at the time, Seattle's Coon Chicken Inn, across from the Jolly Roger, added the Cotton Club, a popular liquor and dance club shortly after Prohibition. By the early 40s this appears to have dwindled to simply a coffee shop with a jukebox, but in any case, it was far too remarkable to go without mention in my list of interesting old Seattle bars and nightclubs. Lake City's version, which opened in either 1929 or 1930 in the current location of Ying's Drive-In Chinese food, was part of a four-restaurant chain started in 1925 in Salt Lake City, with additional inns in Portland (in the current location of Clyde's Prime RIb on Sandy Blvd) and Spokane.

Of course the most striking feature is the absurdly racist "coon" logo, which was featured on virtually every artifact of the inn, including menus, dishes, silverware, matches, toothpicks, coasters, fans for children, and, most strikingly, in a 12-foot version with a mouth through which patrons would enter the restaurant. (Coonskin Inn artifacts are virtually always available on eBay, but the majority of items, whether acknowledged or not, are facsimiles.)

The skin color in some of the coon logos were changed from brown to purple, as a means for the owner to evade an agreement reached after a lawsuit by the NAACP. A search of eBay today will generally turn up several facsimiles of Coon Chicken Inn items, and a few vintage ones.

Although a stream of black GIs, war industry workers, and jazz musicians settled in Seattle in the 40s in part because of its relatively benign racial climate, we may be reminded of the day-to-day racism by the reprinting of this Lake City neighborhood convenant by the Lest we forget the racial climate of the times, a UW Civil Rights Project article:

    “Said lot or lots shall not be sold, conveyed, or rented nor leased, in whole or in part, to any person not of the White race; nor shall any person not of the White race be permitted to occupy any portion of said lot or lots or of any building thereon, except a domestic servant actually employed by a White occupant of such building.”

But of course it would be difficult to find a more blatant reminder than the photographs and artifacts from this inn which fourished on the outskirts of Seattle for two decades before the owner quietly disassembled it, in late 1949.

The restaurant added a dance club and bar, "Club Cotton," on Feb 22, 1934. "The Club Cotton is built in a rather meandering style, including several rooms, dance floor and bar. Walls and ceilings are finished in natural, knotty cedar. Floors are composition, pleasant to look upon with their flagstone construction, more than smooth enough for dancing, and decidedly durable. Table tops and bar are constructed of beautiful Eastern birch, highly polished." (Western Restaurant, April 1934) The club was quite substantial, able to hold over 250 people, and catered to (white) college students. Music was provided by groups like [all white] Johnny Maxon’s Orchestra and [all black] Edythe Turnham and her Knights of Syncopation. ( Paul de Barros)

Further References:
UW Civil Rights Project
Paul Dorpat - When Chicken was King
owners' grandson's account
Personal account from Stan Stapp