Opinion

WALLY'S WORLD: Lee changeshands, but stays in the family

Diane Mills is a very attractive, middle-aged, “young” lady and the mother of four children. She graduated from the U with a bachelor of arts in sociology and a specialty in criminology, but never did anything with either. (In this respect, she and I are quite similar.) Instead, Diane has, to some degree or another, always been involved in the restaurant business.

You see, she’s the stepdaughter of Les Stehr, who has owned the Lee  Restaurant and Lounge for the past 35 years, give or take a few days. Throughout her college days and young adult life, Diane frequently worked waiting tables or helping in the kitchen. (Generally speaking, she preferred cooking and this is still true today.) Before she was old enough to enter the lounge, she often passed the entrance while going to and from work in the coffee shop. If the truth be known, the bar’s dark, attractive, neon interior held a certain fascination for her and she’d sometimes peer curiously inside and eavesdrop on conversations. She knew some important local people were in there, maybe closing some very important business transactions. During the mid-1970s, Bonnie Webster was probably bartending and the customers included professional and business tycoons like lawyer and City Attorney Phil Biege, Dr. Gordon Adams, car dealer Art Gamblin, owner of the Enumclaw Sales Pavilion Ron Mariotti, accountant Arnold Sabin and many others. Today, there isn’t a local gin mill with a similar scene. (Either our current crop of community leaders and entrepreneurs don’t drink or else they don’t do so in a public lounge.)

Diane remembers when the Lee basement was home for the Enumclaw gambling cartel, which included many of the business community’s most familiar faces. Indeed, Diane can recall evenings when as many as 20 men were down there. Most of the card games were friendly, low-stake contests but, on occasion, some substantial sums of cash changed hands on the turn of a card. At least that’s what rumors and legend suggest.

Well, things change. Early in March, Les sold the business to Diane. But he hasn’t completely retired. He’s still fooling around with bookkeeping chores in the office because he wants to keep busy doing something and also because nobody else can understand his old-school financial records, though Sherri Kolisch, service manager at KeyBank, has tried to decipher his ledger and explain it to Diane.

The Lee Restaurant has a well-established reputation for downhome meals at a reasonable price and Diane has no desire to alter that tradition. However, she intends to add new culinary delights to the menu. She’s improved and broadened the wine selection. She’d like to upgrade the physical decor and polish the general ambiance;  i.e., the general color scheme, new tablecloths, new table settings, etc.

During the past 10 or 15 years, business in the lounge has fallen off because most of the older clientele are gone and the younger crowd tends to congregate in the Beak, the Crystal and Seeders. Diane hopes to change this. She plans to initiate a happy hour. Yet she wants to retain the club’s quiet atmosphere so you can carry on a conversation without screaming. Anyway, whatever alterations she might make, I don’t think it will influence my ramblings around the downtown bars. For the past 20 or 30 years, the Lee lounge has always been my homeport.

Everyone needs a refuge from the storms of life.

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