A group of executives from Ivar’s Restaurants gathered in the Seattle company’s office on Sept. 14, 2001 for a difficult discussion. Three days earlier (the afternoon of the shocking 9/11 attacks), they received terrible news. Ivar’s CEO, Scott Kingdon, died suddenly from a heart attack at 51.
Still numb from the carnage of 9/11 and the loss of their friend, they nevertheless had to face the blunt truth that the business of Ivar’s would go on. They had to begin to chart a path as to how things would function and look without Kingdon.
As the meeting began, they heard someone coming up the stairs to join them. It was Mick McHugh, arms laden with a couple of cardboard to-go coffee containers, a dozen cups, and a box of pastries.
He set everything on the table and joined the meeting to offer gentle advice and reminders of things they needed to think about. McHugh ran his own restaurant company and could fairly be called a competitor. But in his mind, competition between restaurants was always friendly. If a place was good for Seattle, and Ivar’s certainly is, then that was reason enough for him to try to help.
Not everyone knows this story about McHugh. But anyone who knows him would have no trouble believing it.
McHugh is in the news again with the announcement Thursday that he will be the operator of the Seattle Kraken Bar and Grill, the team-owned watering hole and restaurant that will open in September at the Kraken’s Northgate training facility.
Hiring McHugh means the Kraken will have an ambassador at the door to the facility who is well-known by most Seattle sports fans because of his long run as the “genial proprietor” of the Pioneer Square gathering spot FX McRory’s.
The legendary bar and restaurant closed four years ago as part of Seattle’s mad dash to re-develop every square inch of land in the city. For those with short memories or the uninitiated, Art Thiel perfectly described McHugh’s place at the corner of Occidental Avenue and South King Street in one paragraph the week that it closed:
For 40 years, FX McRory’s was the social vortex of Seattle sports. Athletes, coaches, agents, politicians, musicians, artists, journalists, broadcasters, owners, as well as fans eager to say hello to all, mingled, chanted, sang, swilled, swooned and swarmed the acme sports bar in Seattle.
McHugh was there for all of it, warmly greeting most people by name and always with a funny story and a big laugh. Plans to relocate McRory’s to another Pioneer Square location hit a wall when real estate at a fair price became an elusive partner. By 2019, he was resigned to the idea that he was out of the restaurant game. It wasn’t the perfect end to his career, but he was philosophical.
“Forty years for one place in one spot in this business is pretty good,” he said.
McHugh found a way stay busy.
For years he had volunteered at his church (St. James Cathedral on First Hill). In the summer of 2020.he was named as the director of the Cathedral Kitchen, which serves hundreds of meals daily to hungry people down on their luck. McHugh oversees a staff of mostly volunteers and buzzes around the facility wearing an apron over slacks and a dress shirt and does what a good restaurateur does: Whatever needs to be done at the moment. That’s where he was last winter when the Kraken first contacted him.
“We began to talk and, at first, it was just me helping out with some ideas and suggestions,” McHugh said. “Then it got to be more, and we eventually settled on an increased role for me. It’s their deal. They own everything, but I’ll help them organize and operate it. I’ll be there as needed.”
When the Kraken made the decision to open a hockey-themed sports bar, CEO Tod Leiweke had one concern.
“We want this place to be by and for the people of Seattle,” he said, “so how do we make sure it is operated the right way?”
Everybody agreed that McHugh would be the guy to ensure that goal is met. His name kept coming up in discussions. Leiweke remembered one thing in particular about him.
“When I was with the Seahawks (from 2003 to 2010),” he said, “no matter what the score of last week’s game was and no matter where we were in the standings, he always had a smile on his face and good cheer when I’d see him. He was so doggone nice to me and other fans. He’s served a lot of customers in this community for a long time.”
Leiweke said that every day that goes by, the decision to bring in McHugh seems like a better idea.
McHugh has lots of ideas about how to run the new place.
He talks about menu ideas, seating configurations, and decor. He’s excited to reconnect with some of his former employees (“I’ve talked to a lot of the old gang, and some of them will be involved”). The best part of is that four years after his departure from FX McRory’s, he’ll again have the chance to swap stories with Seattle sports fans on a daily basis.
That’s what he missed the most. That’s what he most looks forward to this fall.
“Exactly!” he said with a laugh. “I’m a saloon keeper. I love everyone. Come on in, sit down, relax and have a great time.”
With Mick McHugh in charge, that’s a guarantee.