When I moved into the greater Greenwood area around nine years ago, I fell in love. In fact, this was the subject of a post on this very page just over two years ago. I like neighborhoods. I fell they are what defines a city. But neighborhoods change. It’s the nature of the world that nothing is eternal.
The coffee shop I made my second home was forced to close due to fire, eventually moving to a different location. The game store is gone. The pirate-themed brew pub has been replaced by a sports bar. Two antique stores have closed, one of them still vacant, the other now an organic cafe. The Greenwood Market was bulldozed, the site incorporated into a giant rebuild of the neighboring Fred Meyer store. Change is healthy. It keeps things from stagnating.
And sometimes, change hurts.
The first time I went to the Yen Wor Garden, it was for dinner. All I wanted was greasy chicken chow mein. It was pretty horrible. But I found myself between buses craving Chinese food some months later and gave them another chance and got some beef dish…orange beef, possibly? It was even worse. The beef was spongy, like it had been frozen, thawed, then frozen again one too many times. I vowed never to eat there again. The sign that read they did delivery read as a threat rather than an endorsement.
Then a good friend suggested I go there for karaoke some night. Prior to that, I got my karaoke fix at the Baranof across the street, a place that was no less divey than the Yen Wor, but I loved the restaurant in the front, so it was just my place. But unlike the Baranof, the Yen Wor had karaoke seven nights a week. So I gave them a try. That night, the Yen Wor Garden became my karaoke place.
Over the last 3 years, it has become my second home. I know the bartenders, the hosts, and many of the regulars on a first name basis. I’ve shared beers with a broader slice of humanity than I’ve ever met elsewhere. Some of them have ended up, in whole or in part, in one of my novels. I’ve gone to no less than three memorial services in my life, all of them there, all for regulars. I expected my own service might even be there eventually. Morbid, maybe. True, absolutely. In the last three years, I’ve gone there to celebrate birthdays, finishing novels, and just about every holiday on the book. On my birthday two years ago, my best friend called them from Thailand to wish me a happy birthday. And I’ve had nights when we packed the tables facing the bar with people eager to sing. I had my phone stolen out of my pocket there and never considered changing karaoke bars. I cultivated a set list of more than 170 songs, most of which I worked out on the stage of the Yen Wor Garden.
I have coffee shops that are my weekday third places, but the nights belong to the Yen Wor. It is a joy I have come to share with dozens of so-called “Yen Woriors,” many of whom made a regular mid-week pilgrimage there for “Yensday.” We even have matching t-shirts, making this the first organization I’ve represented with matched apparel since my high school gang the Vorpal Bunnies.
So it was with great sadness that I found out this morning that they have been sold and will be closing down in the next 2-6 weeks. Honestly, I can’t say I’m too surprised. While I’ve found things on the menu that I actually enjoy, the restaurant side has always been a ghost-town with a handful of tables occupied at most. And the bar is usually dead during the day and not much busier on most week nights.
It remains to be seen what will take over that space. It’s some small comfort that the footprint of the building is too small for them to put in high-density housing, so it will almost have to be retail or restaurant space. Maybe it will even have a bar with karaoke. But even if it does, it will not be the same.
Things change. We evolve and move on. Life continues.
But if you’ve ever wanted to do karaoke with me at the Yen Wor, your time is running out.
Karaoke starts at 9 every night and I’m 3 block away. Hit me up. Let’s put in some song slips and get a drink that is famously “Yen Wor strong.” Let’s row our boats to shore and burn them. Let’s give the Yen Wor Garden the send out it deserves.
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