Happy Birthday, AQUA by El Gaucho!

AQUA turns 13 this week and there’s no better time to reflect on our “leading lady,” as well as the beautiful stage, er, pier, on which she sits!

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Pier 70 today. Photo courtesy of Meetings Magazine

She’s worked as a fishing dock, a liquor warehouse, night club, office space, Coast Guard base, and has even served as the backdrop for a hip television show showcasing Seattle.  Like most leading ladies, Pier 70 has a rich and colorful history, playing a multitude of roles over the years, and going through many transformations.  Her one-of-a-kind location has certainly played a major role in her story.

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Pier 70 was built by Ainsworth and Dunn in 1902

Sitting at the foot of Clay and Broad Streets, Pier 70 (formerly Pier 14 until 1944, when the port renumbered the entire waterfront to eliminate confusion) marks the northern end of Seattle’s central waterfront.  Originally built in 1902 by Ainsworth and Dunn, a company involved in fishing and shipping industries, the pier first served as a warehouse for fishing boats to offload their daily catches; the nearby trains would haul them to processing plants.  Since she was one of the largest docks on the waterfront, she soon became a terminal for major shipping lines.  In 1915 (or 1916 – conflicting historical reports are found), a spectacular fire destroyed the upper pier and roof.  The dock was quickly rebuilt and continued as a terminal until World War II, when the Washington State Liquor Control board used it as a warehouse and distribution center.  After the war, the Coast Guard utilized it as its Seattle base until 1955.  Visiting naval vessels moored on either side.

Railroad Avenue (now Alaskan Way) and Pier 14 (now Pier 70) ca. 1935. Hamburg-American is now long gone from the pier. Photo: Wikimedia

Railroad Avenue (now Alaskan Way) and Pier 14 (now Pier 70) ca. 1935. Hamburg-American is now long gone from the pier. Photo: Wikimedia

Like her peers to the south (no pun intended!), in the 1970s concerted recreational development of the waterfront began, and the pier was remodeled to a mall and housed shops – ironically one of them was the Pier 1 Imports retail store – and restaurants, one of which was called “Smugglers.” Sometime in the 80s, she morphed into a restaurant and nightclub, and unfortunately became known as a seedy part of town. The drug-infested “Iguana” night club was eventually shut down. For a year, 1998, she functioned as the set of MTV’s The Real World, Seattle.  After a serious remodel and restoration by the Triad Development Group (and honored as the “Redevelopment of the Year” by the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties), Pier 70 now boasts unique office space (the first tenant being Go2Net and InfoSpace), storefront retail, and our very own AQUA by El Gaucho, our seafood concept restaurant, which opened on May 25, 2000.

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AQUA when it was called The Waterfront Seafood Grill. Courtesy of Yelp.

Initially called simply The Waterfront, and then eventually The Waterfront Seafood Grill, owner Paul Mackay wanted to compliment his very masculine and spirited steakhouse, El Gaucho, with a more demure and feminine concept.  When he worked for Consolidated Restaurants, he saw how The Metropolitan Grill, a high-end steakhouse, and Elliott’s, their seafood concept, complimented one another, and he wanted to do the same.  When he was approached about the space on the newly remodeled pier, he had reservations, but changed his mind once he saw the plans for the floor to ceiling glass walls, built in a triangle-shape to maximize the views and light.  He called it his “beautiful mistress on the water,” and says, “It’s one of the most beautiful restaurants I’ve ever been in.”  In October 2011, the restaurant was remodeled and emerged with a new name, AQUA by El Gaucho, creating a synergy for “one Gaucho” brand.  In 2012, Gayout named AQUA one of the top 10 seafood restaurants in the country.  No doubt, the location adds to the restaurant’s ambiance, offering a beautiful setting and stunning views of Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains.

In October 2011, the restaurant was remodeled and emerged with a new name as well - AQUA by El Gaucho.

In October 2011, the restaurant was remodeled and emerged with a new name as well – AQUA by El Gaucho.

While this treasure has received many facelifts over the years, her old-growth timbers (bones) remain.  With all of the hard work in her youth, she now sparkles like a jewel.

Do you have any fun memories or experiences of Pier 70, or details in her vast history to add?  Please share them – we’d love to hear from you.

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