SEAVIEW — Rod’s Lamplighter is pouring its last pint.
The storied Seaview bar and restaurant will officially close and await sale after the business day Wednesday, Sept. 30, according to owner Rod Mullins.
The closure comes amid ongoing fallout from covid-19, which Mullins called “a final nail in the coffin” for the business he’s owned and operated the past 17 years. Eight staff will be among those working their final shift on Wednesday.
“I love the people and the camaraderie, but it’s just time,” Mullins said Sept. 26.
Bar restrictions, stunted summer seal fate
Mullins, 63, previously worked as a part-time bartender in Astoria and a truck dispatcher in Wilsonville and Seattle before becoming a Seaview bar and restaurant owner in 2003.
“On weekends I would come down and work at the Merry Time Bar and Grill in Astoria,” he recalled.
“A friend of mine came by and said he was buying a building across the river and wanted to start a bar, so I quit.”
The peninsula was a wilder and thirstier place then, according to Mullins.
“It was a lot busier back then, a lot more gamblers and a lot more drinking,” he said.
For years, the Lamplighter used a sandwich board to lure more customers for their daily dinner specials, particularly on Thursday. Mullins called the cuisine ‘truck stop-size’ servings and prices.
“We would will fill this place with people for the $6 chicken-fried steak but that’s dwindled, especially now. Nobody is going out. The best way to prevent covid is to stay home, and that’s what they’re doing,” he said.
Mullins largely attributes the closure to restrictions imposed by Gov. Jay Inslee in March.
“It’s because of Inslee. He’s basing the [restrictions] off of nightclubs in Seattle, where there’s 300-400 people in a building, but we don’t have that. All the little places are getting beat up.”
Mullins feels the small bars have been targeted unfairly, particularly compared to other businesses that resumed operating after outbreaks.
“None of the tracing has ever been traced back to bars, yet a seafood company across the river had more than 70 cases,” he said.
Mullins instituted covid-safety protocols, including designated temperature checkers at the door, mask enforcement and hiring a professional cleaner, but the covid-related limits on bar hours and capacity proved too costly, he said.
“There’s no money to be made. From 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. is when we made all our money. It’s triple what I do during the daytime,” he said.
Mullins estimated that 75% of sales came from alcohol, where a Rod Run Weekend could generate up to $12,000 in daily revenue. More than 50% of annual revenue came from the short summer season alone, he said.
“All the festivals were really good when they were full bore,” he said. “Those were the nights we made reserves to make it through the winter with, but now they’re not here. If you don’t have July, August and September — you’re done. Covid shut it all down.”
September sales have been a fraction of last year, Mullins said, a trend he feels could continue.
“People still come, but they’re only $700 or $800 days. And with the payroll and the power bill, you’re not making any money. Covid was the final nail in the coffin and it doesn’t look like it’s going to go away anytime soon.”
A kitchen fire in July 2019 caused a domino effect by eating up savings and increasing annual expenses, Mullins said. The fire forced the closure of the “gambling room,” later converted to storage.
“We had a fire last July that burnt up the kitchen. I used a lot of my reserves because insurance only paid so much. It cost $50,000 and they paid about $17,000. After the fire, insurance premiums went up to about $24,000 per year. They were about $12,000 to $15,000 before.”
Less rowdy legacy
Prior to new covid-related restrictions, the Lamplighter was among only a few bars that served alcohol after midnight, including Sara’s Rusty Spur and Long Beach Tavern.
“It was a Cheer-sy bar. The bartenders always knew your name.”
Halloween parties were particularly popular, sometimes drawing hundreds for the annual themed event.
“One time I stopped counting at 300 people,” Mullins said.
Mullins watched a generation age and become customers, he said. “A lot of these kids grew up with me and now have families that are coming in.”
Alcohol-fueled friction between fishermen and Coast Guard came with the territory at first.
“Everyone gets along well now, but when I first got here it wasn’t always like that. The fishermen didn’t like the Coast Guard and the Coast Guard didn’t like the fishermen. There were major issues but that all changed when they [Coast Guard] got a new commander and they weren’t allowed to drink.”
Mullins feels the Long Beach Peninsula is less rowdy as a whole since opening in the early 2000s.
“There’s a lot less drinking. People are more responsible taking cabs instead of driving. Enough lives have been ruined by DUIs,” he said.
Mullins was more hands-on with the business until about six months ago when he returned to his truck-driving roots.
“That’s the only thing that opened back up,” he said. “I needed to be making money somewhere. I’ve had a CDL for 23 years. But after being here about 10 years I let it go, so I went back and got it.”
The building is for sale but Mullins isn’t actively advertising the property, he said.
“It’s all word of mouth,” he said.
Mullins reduced his original asking price from $650,000 to $500,000 and has started fielding offers from potential buyers, including one in New York with local roots and another in Oregon.
“I have a lot call and wonder if they can lease it. But if I’m going to be living in Montana, I don’t want to be worrying about a building back here,” said Mullins, who ultimately plans to move east with his wife, Cynthia.
“I would like to see someone get in here.“I was hoping they would get it before I closed so it could keep on going.”
Any new owners will have to reapply for an annual state liquor license, should they choose to serve, and will likely have to make some cosmetic repairs, particularly new paint and siding on the south side, which takes the brunt of seasonal storms.
“It’s a 140-year-old building. It needs work, mainly the siding. I was going to paint it but I figured anyone that buys it may want to do that themselves, so why waste $30,000 or $40,000 to paint it?
The final day of business is Wednesday, Sept. 30, which will also be the last day for the bar’s eight employees, a fraction of the typical staff that sometimes swelled up to 20 during busier summer months.
“They’re all out of work now,” Mullins summed.
Historic (possibly haunted) building
The roughly 9,000 square-foot building served as a hotel, bar, apartment, restaurant and general gathering space since construction in the late 1800s, Mullins said.
“It used to be the Lamplighter Restaurant and Hideaway Lounge. Before that it was the Seaview Hotel. It used to be two stories but it burned off.”
Some say spirits still haunt the building stemming from the building’s seedy past.
“Supposedly it used to be a brothel. A ship captain came back and found a prostitute with someone else and killed her. Then in the fire there was a set of twin kids that died that have since been seen,” Mullins said.
Workers reported chairs being moved and pool balls racking on their own.
In the banquet room on the mantle of a brick fireplace rests two urns. A brass urn contains the remains of Louis Sloan who lived from 1897 to 1977, according to an inscription. Another wooden urn holds ashes from Lonnie Stanley, a former owner from 1988 to 1992.
“Louie supposedly haunts the place,” said Mullins, who hasn’t observed any signs of ghosts himself. “They were here when I bought it.”
The themed Halloween parties are among Mullins favorite memories, but he won’t miss the drama and worry that comes from inebriated customers.
“You have your fights…. When you put everyone on the peninsula in the same spot, someone is bound to screw someone else’s wife,” Mullins joked. “There’s a history somewhere that comes back to life when you add a little alcohol to it.”
Another constant concern was patrons possibly being over-served.
“We had a violation last year and it kind of puts you on edge. First one is $1,000 and the next one is $10,000 and the next one shuts you down. You’re always on edge,” Mullins said.
Mullins will simply miss his friends in the bar the most, he said.
“It’s been fun, got to meet a lot of people and going to lose a lot of my friend base.”
After recent knee, hip surgeries and weight-loss surgery that allowed Mullins is ready to shed the bar business and make his next move.
“It’s a new chapter in life,” he said. “I’m feeling good.”