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March 25, 2008 9:00 PM

Andy's Diner: Come and get it!

Posted by Nancy Leson

When the Seattle Times last reviewed Andy's Diner, the reviewer, my pal Stuart Eskenazi, described the South Seattle restaurant and bar as a "sacred" place. And I'll bet Stuart (who grew up around here knowing Andy's as a local landmark) wasn't the only one crying in his coffee when the diner famous for its rickety railcars and "charcoal broiler," closed in January after nearly 50 years in business, when the most recent owner learned that the place was to be sold to a Sodo developer.

I was especially sorry to hear about the closure because I'd never eaten at Andy's. But if I'm to believe what I hear, the diner at 2963 Fourth Avenue South was "a shadow of its former self" when it closed. That word comes from my husband, who spent many lunch-hours there back when the place was run by Andy Yurkanin (nephew of original owner Andy Nagy). You should hear Mac carrying on about the diner's heyday as "a workingman's Paradise." Back then, he says, busboys doubled as traffic cops in the 50-slot parking lot and working men (and he's a card-carrying member) had to show up at 11:30 to get a seat for lunch. His standing order was $7 prime steak dipped in barbecue sauce, served on a honking big plate with Texas toast and hash browns plus a green salad fancified with blue cheese and (get this) Cheez-Its.


Anyway, Stuart e-mailed me to say he'd just heard from Andy, who'd just heard from the developer, who was calling to ask permission to use the name Andy's Diner when he -- all a-boa-ard! -- reopens the restaurant. Turns out that instead of selling those old railroad cars on ebay, he plans to lease the place to someone willing to revive the longtime landmark.

Now imagine my surprise when I heard that the Sodo developer is none other than Henry Liebman, a man referred to in a 2007 Seattle Times editorial as "Sodo's version of South Lake Union's Paul Allen." The same Henry Liebman who grew up in Miami, right next door to my best friend Abbie. The very Henry Liebman who used to practice immigration law and dine at Saleh al Lago when I was a waitress at that dearly departed Green Lake restaurant -- later re-invented as Nell's. Henry Liebman: The guy whose mother used to think I was exacty the kind of "nice Jewish girl" Henry should be dating.

Which is to say that instead of marrying the man who remembers Andy's Diner as a workingman's Paradise complete with Cheez-It garnish, I could have ended up with Henry Liebman and, by extension, Andy's Diner! Stuart's news, by the way, gave me an excuse to call Henry, who I haven't seen nor heard from since I made my living asking, "Would you like an espresso with your tiramisu?"

Speaking from his Sodo office where he has a bird's-eye view of Andy's (and the 10 acres behind it, which his company just happens to own), he says of the shuttered diner. "It hasn't changed since the 50s. It's got the same character and feel." And -- who knew? -- he agrees wholeheartedly with my husband. "When Andy ran it, it was a real destination spot." Today, Henry says, "the building is a mess, but not beyond repair." In recent weeks, "the bums and cats have been evicted from under the railroad cars, so that's progress."

Temporary fencing now surrounds the property, while Andy's, closed since January, awaits a little love from the right restaurateur. "If someone did this right," says Henry, "they'd benefit from game days" with Andy's "awesome parking and the stadium just a 15-20 minute walk away." Envisioning the diner under new ownership, he says, "If they just got back to serving a decent steak and a potato" and pouring stiff martinis in the bar, Andy's Diner could once again become a dining destination. So, while Henry finds a restaurant broker to help him find an operator, I'm putting the word out there:

Anybody want to run an iconic diner in Sodo? A little sprucing up, and you'll have yourself a piece of Seattle history. And what would happen if nobody's interested? "I'd sell the railroad cars, I guess, scrap [the property] and use it for parking," says the Paul Allen of Sodo, "but I'd rather that not happen."

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