Patrick Robinson
Ian and Allison Hill are the new owners of the Heartland Cafe and Benbow Room. They plan to re-establish the Benbow identity and make other changes based on customer wishes at the landmark Admiral District restaurant.

The Admiral Benbow will be back: New owners of Heartland Cafe plan a return to West Seattle roots

The Admiral Benbow at 4210 S.W. Admiral Way is coming back. The restaurant which has been operating on the site for more than six decades was at one point going to be torn down and a four story mixed use building put up.

But those plans never came to fruition. So the storied location where troubled actress Frances Farmer came to have a cocktail, where the Seafair Pirates often visited in part because of the nautical theme, where a female ghost haunts the ladies room and where Seattle grunge legends Mudhoney once shot a video, will be returned to its West Seattle roots say the new owners Ian and Allison Hill.

It will once again be known as the Admiral Benbow.

The restaurant since 2009 has been the Heartland Cafe, under the ownership of Jay Wergin and Jeff Loren and while the "Benbow Room" name and theme were retained, the concept was food from America's heartland. Wergin chose to sell recently and go back to his career in digital marketing.

For the Hill's who have an extensive background in cooking and the hospitality industry, taking over the Benbow is a wonderful opportunity.

"This is a dream come true for us," Ian said, "I grew up a musician, went to college for music and music promotion and cooked all the while. I was a sous chef at Microsoft in lots of locations over there. I love food and music and she's amazing behind the bar and with cocktails." Allison said she's been in the industry for close to 15 years and has worked at Locöl and the Feedback Lounge and has always wanted her own place. She's a pre-prohibition mixologist too.

The changes they have in mind go beyond a return to the Admiral Benbow identity. "The back room will have the ceiling raised, and speakers will be put up high so we can turn it into a legitimate live music venue," Allison said. They will close for about five days to get that work done and then re-open in "early April," they said. A grand opening bash will be held but it's still in the planning stages. Signage will change in the next couple of months.

Other changes are coming for the food and drink.

Allison said she will bring in tinctures and fusions and will focus on local beers, wines and distilleries, "But you can still get your 'High Life' if you want."

Six beers will be on tap but they will also offer tap wines featuring Piccola from Woodinville. They plan on adding some vegan options to the menu, "something way beyond just salads" said Ian and will feature some gluten free items too.

The music at the new Benbow "will be everything" they said. "It's not going to be one thing," said Ian but we've got to listen to the community." To do that they will take comments directly from guests as well as on their new Facebook page and website that are currently being developed.

The building shows its age with an actual telephone booth in the hallway but they plan to turn that into a photo booth. Imagine that being available for parties or celebrations. The 'Koi-Pond' aquarium that is built literally into the floor of the Benbow Room will be updated with plants and more fish too.

The middle room in the facility will be the site of Brewer Dinners, Distiller Dinners, Wine Dinners all focused on local suppliers. That plan will roll out some months from now.

The existing artwork will go, and all local West Seattle artists will have a place to display their work in the 4500 square feet of space. That means the Admiral Benbow will also be part of the West Seattle Artwalk.

Ian said he is also working on a new parking arrangement with a neighborhood retailer still being negotiated.

The experience at the new Admiral Benbow won't be what it might have been in decades past, but given the enthusiasm of the Hill's you are likely to see familiar notes blended with new elements to be a celebration of community history and a reflection of what their customers want today.

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