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October 11, 2010 at 3:35 PM

BluWater Bistro Lake Union: to be, or not to be? — post-fire

On Saturday October 2, Bart Evans was preparing for brunch at the BluWater Bistro at Leschi when his cell phone rang. It was a friend who’d just seen a TV news report about an early-morning fire at the BluWater Bistro on Lake Union. The first thing Evans did was call his business partner Dan Anderson, he recalls. “We jammed down there, and waded into the mess in numbed silence.”

That “mess” came courtesy of a late-night line-cook who’d left a burner on in the downstairs kitchen, igniting a container of food and causing a fire that extended into the wall behind the stove. The fire and its aftermath resulted in smoke-, water- and HVAC damage to both levels of BluWater Bistro — and the indefinite closure of the 15-year-old waterfront restaurant.

BluWater Bistro’s Dan Anderson (left) and Bart Evans may — or may not — re-open their flagship restaurant on Lake Union. [Seattle Times photo/Mike Siegel]

“The kitchen line’s pretty-much toast,” Evans told me this week. In addition, a water-line was cut during the fire-fighting process “and when we walked in, the downstairs had four inches of water.” It could have been worse, he insists: six weeks earlier, they’d upgraded the fire-supression systems at their Lake Union kitchens, upstairs and down. “The fire alarm went off when the fire-supression system went on.”

Firefighters answered that 4 a.m. call, according to Seattle Fire Department spokeswoman Dana Vander Houwen. Investigators have determined the fire was accidental. Damage is estimated at $75,000.

More than a week later, whether to reopen the BluWater Bistro at 1001 Fairview Avenue North remains “a big question mark,” Evans said. It’s one that will be answered after he and Anderson sit down with their insurance agent and their landlord.

“There are a lot of contributing factors,” to base the decision on, said Evans. The economy, for one. The vagaries of staffing and running a restaurant with two kitchens, three bars and an enormous lakeside patio where business is “either feast or famine” and weather-dependant for another. “We want to talk to the landlord about some changes in the parking situation, some cost-controls on the common area and maintenance fees not in line with the market. We want to look at our investment and see if it’s worth it.”

The patio at BluWater Bistro Lake Union: Baby it’s cold outside. Except when it’s not.

[Seattle Times photo/Mike Siegel]

Should he and Anderson decide to close Lake Union for good, it would be the third of five restaurants the BluWater team has shuttered this year. Down for the count in 2010 are the BluWater Bistro at Kirkland’s Carillon Point (opened in 2006) and Belltown Bistro (opened in 2005 in the original Belltown Pub space at 2322 First Avenue).

The former Belltown Bistro re-opened in August with a familiar name: the Belltown Pub. New owners Zachary Nethercutt, Erwin Arceo and Dave Tolan have re-vamped the premises and are now on hand to welcome you in for a pint and some pub-grub.

What’s up with the over-and-out?

Their lease was up in Kirkland, said Evans. “It was a great store, a great spot” but the economy did them in. “You’re paying top dollar for the space, for this built-in hotel and office complex-business at Carillon Point, but when the hotel’s empty, the offices are for rent and your mortgage is high, you can’t do the business.” As for Belltown, they just wanted to get out. “Belltown has changed,” Evans said. “It’s not a neighborhood.”

Evans said he and Anderson much prefer doing business in the neighborhoods surrounding their ventures at Greenlake and Leschi, where they’ve been able to absorb their Lake Union staff, thanks, in part, to post-summer attrition. “Everybody has shifts this week,” notes Evans (uh, except for the cook who left the stove on).

Though the fire on Lake Union was “a heartbreaker,” Evans admits it may end up a gift horse. “Two years ago Dan and I had 300 employees,” he said today, “and it’s gotten to the point where we were just managing managers. That’s no fun.”

With two (potentially three) fewer restaurants to manage, the BluWater Bistro boys hope to get back to running a business they can better handle, finding some long-lost joy in the process. “We’re looking at quality-of-life,” Evans said. “You don’t want to be in the restaurant 80 hours a week.”

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