On April 23, 2009, bartender James Hakel (b. 1981) ends his tenure as official director of libations for Historylink.org. Hakel, who has overseen Historylink’s weekly staff meetings at the Red Lion Hotel on 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle for four years, is moving to Phoenix, Arizona.
Historylink co-founder Walt Crowley (1947-2007) established the tradition of holding staff meetings in a nearby bar shortly after Historylink’s creation in 1997. At that time, bars were among the few public spaces in Washington state where smoking was permitted indoors, and the encyclopedia’s core staff included several committed smokers. The Red Lion, located across the street from Historylink’s offices on 4th Avenue, offered a choice of two bars, each with good ventilation.
Initially, the staff gathered in the hotel’s Elephant and Castle, an English-style pub in the basement. Later, the Terrace Garden on the fifth floor became the favored venue. Historylinkers continued to meet at the Red Lion even after the legislature banned smoking in bars, in 2005. Most of the smokers on the staff had quit by then, but the tradition of getting together for libations and comestibles on Thursdays, after the posting of the website's "This Week Then" update, was well entrenched.
Unofficial Historylink "Office"
Hakel started working for the Red Lion shortly after Historylink adopted the Terrace Garden as its unofficial office. "I remember the first time I served you guys," he says. "It was outside on the patio. I remember being intimidated because you were such a large group."
A native of California, Hakel graduated from Seattle University in 2004 with a bachelor's degree in communications. He is legendary among Historylinkers for his ability to remember every staff member’s preferred drink. Coke with no ice, merlot with a water chaser, iced tea, pinot grigio, and a split of champagne are among the usual orders, along with two or three plates of French fries, depending on how many staffers show up.
In all his years of service as an ex-officio member of the Historylink family, there was only one bump, and it came just a few weeks before his last staff meeting, when he spilled an entire glass of wine on Pam Heath, treasurer of the Historylink board. "Everybody laughed, but it was horrifying," he says. Fortunately, it was white wine. "Marie [McCaffrey, Historylink co-founder and now executive director] said don’t worry -- that’s the least of our problems -- but I just felt awful."
"I’m going to miss you guys," he adds. The feeling is mutual.