a collection of pictures and stories from seven decades at Vito's.
One of my favorite Vito’s stories is from 1999, the weekend EMP opened and they had a three day music fest of major hip-hop, rock and pop acts. There were a ton of celebrity sightings around town, but I was in Vito’s that weekend and witnessed Dan Akroyd and Snoop Dog sharing a booth and laughing it up. Everyone was gawking at them. The bartenders mentioned they were both staying at the Sorrento across the street. — Korby
Three Martini Lunch
My dad worked at Frederick & Nelson downtown (’47 to early ’70s) and he and his business cronies would have long lunch “meetings” there every week. When I was a kid and we drove past, he would always allude to various nefarious activites that happened there and say, “Oh…the stories I could tell.” At the end of his life, he was hospitalized at Virginia Mason and when my sister and I would visit, we’d take breaks and go to Vito’s for martinis…somehow it felt like home. — Ann
While pregnant with me, my mother’s water broke in the Vito’s bathroom. June, 1984. — Whitney
The Grand Piano
The last time my husband and I were here, we had one of those transcendent experiences that forever changes a place for you. For us, Vito’s went from “decent place to have a nightcap” to “Treasured Memory.” Because that was the night that the longshoreman ducked in out of the rain, sat down at the grand piano, and played Bach. The pedal doesn’t work, so his legato wasn’t what it could’ve been…. but oh my how lovely! The bartender stopped pouring – the annoying drunks at the end of the bar stopped complaining about whatever they were complaining about – the snoggers in the back booth paused mid-PDA – and we all listened to the clear, pure counterpoint of“Air on a G String” as the rain pattered down outside. Sigh. — Kira
Cannelloni to die for
My husband is concerned that identifying ourselves may risk being on the mob’s hit list. But we don’t know nothing, except… 25 years ago (before we were married) he took me on a date to Vito’s. Said to order the cannelloni (not on the menu). Also said it was reputed to be a hang out for the mob. We ordered the cannelloni, at a table at the far end, near Vito’s table. He was holding court. Didn’t see who said it, but someone said, “I hit him in the head with a baseball bat, and his brains went flying.” Everybody at the table laughed. My date (now husband) tells me, “Keep looking straight ahead; don’t look at them.” So, we don’t know who said it. Or, if it was just a joke. Or, when this supposedly happened. Or, where… In short, we don’t know nothing. And don’t plan to be in the witness protection program. — Lena (not my real name)
Vito’s was the site of a great night in which a friend’s friend got so drunk that the mirror confused him into thinking someone was mimicking all his dance moves, to the point where he walked up to the mirror and did the E.T. finger-touch with his reflection. “I couldn’t tell if he was making fun of me or just really feeling my moves,” he said. Thanks for the memories, Vito’s. - Damon
Visited my old home town last week and was staying at the Sorrento, where my wife and I were married nearly 30 years ago (Ruby Bishop played the piano!) and decided to check out Vito’s, where my dad lunched at least three times a week when I was growing up, and later I frequently joined him, when I was practicing law in Seattle.
I can’t even remember my first trip there, but it was early, and Vito and his brother Jimmy had, as I recall, a smoke shop downtown called ViJi’s. Jimmy at some point got nabbed running a book out of the place and became enmeshed in the criminal justice system for a time, so Vito went up the hill to open Vito’s. I do remember Sheriff Tim McCullough giving me a silver dollar one Saturday when I was there for lunch with my dad. I was about ten, so it would have been around 1958. Possibly one of the first police payoffs to occur at Vito’s?
When my former boss, Senator Warren Magnuson died, I held a wake for him in the back room, and I think that Shelby Scates of the PI wrote a column about it.
Another time I brought Charlie Royer in for dinner when I was working for him after Magnuson’s loss to Gorton. Charlie was having a debate that night with City Council President Sam Smith and wanted a good Italian meal. I said, “How about Vito’s?” He said, “I know that’s where your dad and all those crooked cops and gangsters hang out, can I afford to be seen there?” I assured him we would find a quiet back table and the place was so dark and smoky, no-one would be able to see him. Well, of course, from his perch at the “Family Table” in back, Vito immediately spotted us, and started telling Charlie how lucky he was to have “Tom Keefe’s boy” working for him, blah, blah blah.
As Charlie was digging into his plate of spaghetti and meatballs, Vito came back over and said, “You know, Mr. Mayor, you can always come in here for a meal and I will make sure people leave you alone. I don’t let drunks pester my guests. In fact one time a guy was pestering a politician and I told him to knock it off and he wouldn’t, so I hit him with a short right hand shot right on the point of his chin. You wouldn’t have believed it! As he was falling to the floor his goddamn eyeball popped right out of his head and was dangling from the strings back into the socket. He was screaming like hell, and we had to call an ambulance, and those guys put his eye back in and everything was ok. But it was the goddamnist thing I ever saw!” I looked at the mayor and he was whiter than a sheet, and his last meatball and the remaining spaghetti were still on the plate when we left. As we drove off, Charlie looked at me and said, “Your friend Vito really knows how to make a guest feel at home!” The mayor was magnificent in the debate that evening with Councilman Smith, and I attributed his success to the pre-debate meal at Vito’s!
Jeez, what memories I have of Vito’s! Brooke, your server, couldn’t have been nicer, and my new Vito’s t-shirt has a place of honor in my collection.
“My dad, Tom Keefe, Sr. was a criminal defense lawyer and a founding member of what he referred to as the “Piti-pat Club” that met, as I recall, every Thursday in the back room. Top cops, lawyers and the occasional guest. I recall they had their own liquor cabinet, mysteriously stocked with unlabelled bottles of top shelf stuff. During the famous police payoff scandal, the feds were so interested in the goings-on during that lunch that they put a bug in the room. Their tapes caught a bunch of guys whining about their wives shopping habits and lying about their golf scores. Oh, well! So much for organized crime, Seattle style. Brooke was impressed to see my photo in one of the Columbus Day Dinner montages, as well as with my ability to identify dozens of faces. You have done a great job restoring a Seattle icon, though I must admit, your food is much, much better than anything Vito ever served up. I remember Ed Donohoe, the editor of the Washington Teamster Newspaper, once accusing Vito of getting a piece of the action from the coronary bypass surgeries performed at Swedish. Lots of butter with the garlic, and my dad loved the weekly special of lamb shanks. What a time! What a place! Thanks for the memories and the great food.”
Tom Keefe, Jr.
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