Due to increasing economic pressures from the COVID-19 restrictions, the Cozy Inn Tavern in Kenmore risks closing its doors permanently.
Owner Char McClean has been dipping into her savings since March to cover the lease, payroll and taxes. So far, she estimates roughly $18,000 of her own money has been used to keep the tavern open.
“I’ve worked hard all my life and just retired five years ago,” McClean said.
Scot Horton, a frequent patron at the Cozy Inn Tavern, started a GoFundMe in an attempt to save the Kenmore establishment. Created in November, the fundraising platform has already collected $10,000 of the $65,000 goal.
“It's the coolest dive bar tavern that I've ever been to,” Horton said. “Generations of the people in this area have gone to this tavern. It's just that kind of place.”
The tavern’s structure has a history of its own. It started as a multi-use business empire called Henry’s Hamburgers in 1931. According to the Kenmore Heritage Society, the back of the building used to have a dirt floor where a summertime fruit stand called Henry the Watermelon King would set up shop.
“As far as we know, this building has been operating as a tavern since prohibition ended in 1933,” said John Brown, bartender and manager at the Cozy Inn.
Over the years, the structure has continued to change. Brown said there was even a barber shop in the middle of the building at one point.
McClean and her husband purchased the bar nearly 25 years ago. Now, the tavern is a community-oriented space for patrons to enjoy beer, wine and small snacks. Despite the pandemic, outdoor seating is still open on the back patio with views of Lake Washington.
“In terms of how much it has affected us, obviously it’s a huge economic hit,” Brown said, referring to the pandemic. “Beyond the economic aspect, one of the hardest things is that we don’t get to see a lot of people anymore.”
He said the tavern received a small grant from the city of Kenmore, although no help has been provided by the state.
Brown describes the atmosphere at the tavern as a “self-selected, slightly dysfunctional family.” He said people choose to be there, support the business and create a strong sense of community. The tavern has a serious core of regulars, like Horton, who continue to offer help and encouragement during tough times, he noted.
“There aren’t many taverns left anymore,” Brown said. “But we’re open.”