There is always a moment of confusion when asking someone to meet at the “zoo” during the evening hours. This is because there are two zoos in Seattle. The Woodland Park Zoo hosts the standard animal fare, while the Eastlake Zoo is home to a handful of beer taps and a healthy assortment of bar games.
Its only animalistic fixtures are the dusty, decaying objects that seem to grow from the walls like the sea’s oldest barnacles. A collection that includes an oversized, paper-mache dragon with golf ball-like eyes, a strand of blue icicle lights that flash year-round and posters from music festivals that took place in the 1990’s rightly indicate a drinking establishment with a sense of history.
Permeated by a knotty, dingy ambiance too authentic to be manufactured the way it is among so many of the other bars and pubs in town, the Eastlake Zoo is a neighborhood dive in the truest sense. Its cooperative ownership reflects the hippie past associated with the strips of houseboats in the surrounding Eastlake neighborhood at the time of the tavern’s opening, in 1974. The stories of the various people who have poured beer from its taps can be found among the framed photo montages that remain along the walls, showing casual snapshots of friends and families partying and celebrating various life events, more similar to photos you would expect to find inside someone’s house than in a bar.
While the neighborhood has largely lost the bohemian lifestyle, the Zoo is still one of the best places in town for a pitcher and a round of ping pong, pool, Skee-Ball, pinball, snooker, or just a night of laid-back conversation among the remnants of Seattle’s younger self.