On June 26, 1976, Oliver's Lounge opens in the Mayflower Park Hotel in downtown Seattle. Taking advantage of a change in regulations, Oliver's is the city's first "daylight bar," meaning passersby can look in from the street and see bartenders mixing and serving cocktails. A Seattle Weekly article written later that summer identifies Oliver's the first daylight bar anywhere in the state.
A Bar with Windows
The revolutionary development of a daylight bar in Seattle was the result of an extensive renovation of the Mayflower Park's cocktail lounge coinciding with a change in state liquor regulations. Previously it was illegal for hard liquor to be served in view of the street. In practical terms, that meant bars could not have windows. The lounge space that would become Oliver's was in the process of being redesigned when the law changed, allowing for the removal of the exterior wood that covered what had been grand windows in the original 1927 design. Floor-to-ceiling windows were installed, and light from 4th Avenue and Olive Way came pouring in.
As the Seattle Weekly put it a few months after Oliver's opened, "the unexpected sight of watching a bartender, from the street, wipe a glass and measure a shot of Jim Beam is both startling and pleasurable" (Ringseth).
The Mayflower Park Hotel opened in 1927 as the Bergonian Hotel. From 1928 to 1946, a Bartell Drugs store occupied a storefront in the hotel building. When Bartell moved out in 1946, the hotel bought the drugstore's soda-fountain equipment, which included a 14-stool bar and back bar. It was a fortuitous purchase, because when state Initiative 171 passed two years later authorizing the sale of liquor by the drink, the Mayflower already had a bar in place. It became the city's first hotel with a cocktail lounge.
Called the Carousel Room, the lounge was small, with a capacity of only 19, but it proved popular enough that it was later expanded to accommodate 75. Its décor included merry-go-round horses hanging from the ceiling, clown images, and other carnival-themed touches.
Letting the Light In
By 1972 the hotel was run down and in foreclosure. In 1973, it was bought by a general partnership headed by Birney Dempcy. He and his wife, Marie Dempcy, who in 2017 remained the owners, launched an extensive renovation of the 12-story building. Robert Mesher of Kumata and Mesher was selected to design a new bar. Instead of the Carousel Room's horses and clowns, he wanted to return the room to something close to its original 1927 look. With the Washington State Liquor Control Board having just repealed the rule prohibiting liquor from being served in view of the public, Mesher's vision included bringing back the windows. There were 10 of them, each with 25 panes, reaching from the floor to the 15-foot ceiling. The Seattle Weekly wrote:
"This is a landmark change of liquor regulations, since until now it has been effectively impossible to have a cocktail lounge that could be viewed from the street. The effect had been to encourage dark, smoky back rooms that encouraged the association of drinking with guilt and furtiveness.
"Now the effect is dramatically opposite at the corner of 4th and Olive ... The room is flooded with natural light, classical piano music carefully chosen to avoid any Muzak associations floats through the air, and the mood is urbane and convivial" (Ringseth).
At 1,400 square feet, Oliver's was built to seat 85 customers. It had marble tabletops salvaged from the lobby of the 1910 White-Henry-Stuart Building (which was torn down to build Rainier Square) and featured a large crystal chandelier from Italy. The bar was made of Philippine mahogany, topped with marble and outfitted with brass foot- and arm-rails. The windows were framed by elegant drapes, the room softened by planted greenery.
A New Old Look
Despite its classy appearance and refined mood, the new bar was somewhat controversial. Not everyone was happy with the sudden view of Harvey Wallbangers, Tequila Sunrises, Fuzzy Navels, and other drinks being made and consumed. At the time of Oliver's 35th anniversary, the bar's beverage director recalled of those early days, "There were some ticked-off women ... Women would walk by and say, 'Oh my God! Look at that. They're drinking and smoking at the bar'" (Vinh).
The hotel owners, however, were delighted. The Dempcys and their partners had already spent $2 million renovating the building. Their new lounge inspired them to keep at it. A 2014 history of the hotel said about Oliver's, "In capturing the historic architecture and enduring charm, it set the tone for how the rest of the hotel would be remodeled" (Seattle's Mayflower Park Hotel, 107).