by GRAY Editors
FOR ALMOST 40 YEARS, THE FOUR SEAS RESTAURANT IN SEATTLE’S INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT (I.D.) SERVED AREA FAMILIES FOR WEEKLY DINNERS AND SPECIAL OCCASIONS. With a diverse clientele from the beginning, it was a hub in the neighborhood serving up mostly Chinese-American cuisine. When it closed its doors in 2017 (a result of slated development proposals), it was I-Miun Liu, active community member and owner of the popular Oasis bubble tea franchise, who jumped at the opportunity to do something with the building.
This past April, Four Seas was reborn as the Dynasty Room, the restaurant’s former bar namesake, which offers herb and tea-infused craft cocktails named after signs from the Chinese zodiac, and bar bites, run by Michael Chu, formerly of Ba Bar. Liu envisioned a space that embodied and engaged the culture of the I.D. while addressing neighborhood concerns of increased development. But time is of the essence; rather than hoping to surpass the well-known 1-2-year death knell within restaurant world, it plans to close its doors for good in that same window of time.
With demolition looming, an unconventional short-term lease gives Liu just one year, maybe two, to carry out his mission. Along for the ride was collaborator Electric Coffin, a creative multi-disciplinary design firm whose experiential dining endeavors can be seen throughout the city at restaurants Joule, Trove, and Westward, to name a few. Together with architecture and design firm Board and Vellum, they’ve brought Liu’s vision to life.
Having worked with Electric Coffin in the past (with Capitol Hill’s Oasis Rocketman installation), Liu was confident in the studio’s ability to deliver a fully immersive experience while embodying the narrative behind the design. Those who remember Four Seas in its heyday will be pleased to see that they can still recognize almost all of the old space’s features, including the exterior and bathrooms, but minus the huge dining room, which is closed-off. Yet, there are some very notable, and surprising differences. Taylor Reed (full disclosure: he’s also the author’s brother), Electric Coffin’s Design and Brand Developer says, “The goal was to transcend fine art, and instead create the experience of art—through the atmosphere, sound, visuals, and story.”
Entering through the steamy foyer (thanks to a fog-machine) to the sounds of chanting monks, distant bon-sho bells, or howling wolves, guests must pass the bar’s sentinel: A 14-foot cardboard wolf that artfully guides visitors towards the covert back bar. The massive piece was created by Electric Coffin last year for the Out of Sight exhibition during the Seattle Art Fair, and they have re-homed it here. In the small but not tiny bar, custom wallpaper (inspired by an original San Francisco Chinese Mai Thai clay bottle) illuminates the original space in the back bar. Chinese lore and memorabilia are transcribed into graphics that emblazon the original tabletops. In keeping with the unexpected bar features, and to pay homage to the commercial spirit of the neighborhood and diverse cultures it represents, Electric Coffin created a gift shop positioned in the entrance that showcases repurposed and treasured relics of the I.D. neighborhood rebranded with Wolf Temple graphics and available for “in-temple” purchase.
Liu explains one of his primary goals with this redesign was to maintain the original feel of the space. “Many people who have been to the original Four Seas come in and cannot tell what parts are old and what’s new, which feels great,” he says. Dynasty Room is slated for re-development in 2020, and we advise you see it for yourself, while you can. Dynasty Room, 714 King St., Seattle