When the Bit Saloon announced that it would be closing in November 2009, I wasn’t particularly worried about all those hardcore punk and metal shows I’d miss. I was mildly concerned about the sign. I’m sure the local punk community was relieved when a nice young couple from Burien took over the lease in January 2010 and reopened the place in May. And I was pleased that the old nag survived the remodel intact, aside from the addition of the “2.”
The sign and the bar it’s attached to are located at 17th Ave NW and NW Leary Way, very close to where the UW and Julie D. Pheasant-Albright misplaced the Illinois Grocery in 1910. The Bit Saloon building looks pretty old to me, but it doesn’t show up in the usual old building places. And the new 2 Bit Saloon web site is understandably more focused on upcoming shows than ancient history. Fortunately, I was able to track down some information from the now defunct Bit Saloon web site here on what looks to be a Japanese site, translated back to English with the help of Google Translator. Ah, the joys of the internet.
Here’s the deal or at least some of it:
Built in 1907, the 2 Bit Saloon building was originally a General Mercantile or store. In 1947 it became a bar, called John’s Offshore Tavern. The bar changed ownership and name in 1963, becoming The Bit Shagatha, which is apparently British slang for a whorehouse. And news to me. Bit shagatha? Never heard of it. And neither, apparently, has Google. Perhaps it was a short-lived early 1960s thing or maybe the “two hippies” who renamed the bar were yanking somebody’s chain.
Either way, apparently the liquor board “caught on” in 1966 and the owners were forced to change the name from The Bit Shagatha to The Bit Tavern. In 1999, a new owner gained a full liquor license and changed the name to The Bit Saloon. According to the Ballard News Tribune, the new owners changed the name to The 2 Bit Saloon when they reopened last year “to signify new ownership and because ‘2 Bit’ is a better known phrase.” Sounds good to me and definitely better than Bit Shagatha.