The Urban Onion Restaurant & Lounge will close for good this Sunday, ending a stretch of 42 years in which an Urban Onion restaurant occupied space in the historic Olympian Hotel building on Legion Way.
Jenny Shaw, who owned the business for eight of those 42 years, said this week that she was unable to reach agreement on a lease with the new owners of the building. Preservation Partners Management Group of Torrance, California, bought it in July for $3.125 million, public records show. The building, in addition to Urban Onion and ballroom space, also is home to 50 low-income apartments on the second through sixth floors. Urban Onion is on the first floor alongside lobby space, a mezzanine floor and other commercial spaces.
“I had no option but to close,” said Shaw, who explained that the new landlord wanted to reduce her access to the ballroom, Legion room and Sylvester room — three spaces in the building that she used to book concerts and other events to generate income for her business.
The landlord asked her to no longer have concerts in those spaces and for events to end at 11 p.m. Shaw said she was willing to agree to those terms, but if she couldn’t book those spaces for events to generate income for her business, she wanted a reduction in rent. That’s where the conversation about a new lease came to an end, she said.
A representative of Preservation Partners could not be reached Monday.
Shaw said the closure of the business will be devastating for the community. She described the lounge as the quintessential “Cheers” bar where everyone knew each other’s name. It was friendly, open and diverse. She also called it Olympia’s first gay bar.
“We never had any problems,” she said, adding that the lounge was a “neighborhood bar.”
Shaw announced Saturday to her staff that the business was closing. Eight employees will lose their jobs, including a cook who had worked there for 24 years and a bar manager who had 14 years.
David Chernoff, a server at the business, said Monday he will lose his job after only four months. He relocated to Washington from California in August and found a job at the Urban Onion the following month. He enjoyed the work, he said.
A goodbye party for the business is set for 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Although the Urban Onion is closing, Exile Tattoo will remain in its space in the building, while two other commercial spaces are available for rent, said Carolyn Graden, a leasing agent with The Rants Group. A hair salon vacated 2,200 square feet on Legion Way, and 800 square feet are available on Washington Street, she said.
City of Olympia public records also show that Preservation Partners is either undertaking or plans to make tenant improvements to the building and the low-income apartments.
Preservation Partners, according to its website, “is a California-based development group specializing in the acquisition, rehabilitation and preservation of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and California Housing Finance Agency insured and assisted affordable housing developments.”
The company also owns properties in Port Townsend, Bremerton, Renton and Everett, according to the website.