As Northwest hockey fans thrill at the play of their playoff Kraken and media explore every aspect of the young team’s performance, I thought I’d offer a look at the restaurant at Kraken headquarters that fans are flocking to.
The 32 Bar and Grill overlooking Kraken Community Ice Complex at Northgate may well become the most popular family restaurant in Seattle as the NHL playoffs unfold. And beyond.
Certainly, Kraken President and CEO Tod Leiweke and his management team might say a special family-friendly place to watch the record-setting young hockey team is an important part of what’s taking place this year.
And 32 is destined, as the Kraken hockey team set an NHL record for victories in an expansion team’s second season in earning a playoff berth, to fashion memories present and future to go with the memories built into it.
The restaurant's east side is huge windows overlooking two ice rinks, one of which is the Kraken practice. Both are busy much of the day with hockey players of all ages or just skaters.
The man the Kraken hired as a consultant to create the food and beverage experience at the restaurant overlooking two ice rinks a floor below is Mick McHugh, whose iconic F.X. McRory’s Steak Chop and Oyster House in Pioneer Square epitomized The Irish Pub.
McHugh, who closed McRory’s in 2017 after 40 years of capturing the loyalty of baseball, football, and soccer fans, was told by Rob Lampman, now Kraken COO, “We want to do McRory’s hockey bar.”
McHugh took that to mean not that he was to create an Irish pub but rather a food and beverage experience like that which made McRory’s unique for those who became the regular crowd,
And since 32 opened in the fall of 2021, its “regular crowd” has come to feature families with youngsters from grade school on up, most clad in Kraken soccer gear, many of the kids to be on the ice rinks below before or after joining their parents to dine. And McHugh is on hand most lunches cleaning tables and picking up dishes.
And the man responsible for already building Seattle sports memories as the guy who, as CEO of the Seattle Seahawks, guided the NFL team to its first super bowl in 2006, is excited about the memories to come with the Kraken.
“This team is a really big deal for Seattle,” Leiweke enthused as he brought the Kraken mascot, Buoy the sea troll, to meet me and take my picture with him. Leiweke’s office and those of other executives and employees are down the hall from the restaurant in the $90 million state-of-the-art practice facility. It's their eating place as well.
“This is the largest improvement in wins, with 19, and points, with 40, for any team from its first to second season in NHL history,” Leiweke offered.
It hasn't seemed to get visibility in all the media attention focused on the Kraken locally or nationally, but two other teams that Leiweke served as CEO are also in the playoffs this year.
Leiweke was the head man with the Minnesota Wild, third this year in the Central Division when Paul Allen plucked him in 2003 to be CEO of the Seahawks. He guided the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl two years later, though they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He was hired in July of 2010 to become CEO of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Storm and run the Tampa Bay Times Forum
The Lightning are in these playoffs as third-place finishers in the Atlantic Division.
I recall that in 2012, as Leiweke and I were trading emails about the Seahawks, one of his emails included a photo of the sun setting on Tampa Bay with his comment: “This is my paddle board space.”
No back to McHugh and recalling that while his McRory’s bar boasted a Guinness World Record designation as the establishment with the most bottles of public spirits, more than 1,600 brands of whiskey, 32 features 1,432 hockey pucks from around the world embedded in the bar top.
“I wanted to establish the spirit of McRory’s, so I worked hard with getting the back bar zigged and zagged and got its mirrors up to the ceiling,” McHugh said.
“It was Lampman’s idea to do the pucks in the bar top,” McHugh said. “So we sent a letter to the International Ice Hockey Federation seeking to spread the word to send us pucks.”
“I also encouraged them to hire a food and beverage manager and had one in mind,” he added.
Mick McHugh (L) and Ken Moriarity, the 12-restaurant team
So Ken Moriarity, who had worked with famed restaurateur Victor Rossellini as a teenager and then later opened his own Classic Catering that had been forced to close during COVID, was the man McHugh wanted. McHugh had also worked with Rosellini early in his career.
Moriarity was hired near to the opening of the facility, a little ahead of when he was budgeted, McHugh said, “to avoid his being hired by one of the big food firms.”.
But Moriarity has an unusual added responsibility in that the Kraken Center has a second restaurant on the first floor, necessitated by an NHL rule that facilities owned by teams have breakfast and lunch available for players.
In addition, NHL food facilities must have a nutritionist. Thus the nutrition focus required for the player's restaurant, provided by a person under contract who works with the players on training as well as nutrition, benefits the offerings of the family restaurant on the second floor.
McHugh said he urged management to buy a pizza oven, which he described as “a good bang for the buck for parents and kids, providing for things like pizza parties.”
As I visited with McHugh and Moriarity at 32 as they prepared for the opening-night TV-viewing crowd for what turned out to be the victorious playoff opener in Denver, I suggested to Moriarity that the 300-person capacity of the place was going to be strained.
That will be increasingly true as fans headed for games at the Arena are discovering the best parking is at Northgate, where they can stop in at 32 before or after games that are a light rail trip to the Arena.
Plus, Moriarity noted that one of the ice rinks was going to serve as a skating-party facility where skaters could watch the playoff games at the same time as they skated.
And I kidded McHugh, actually semi-kidding, that the last missing factor in the 32 bar is the eye-catching wall-sized portrait of the McRory bar itself by the late renowned sports artist LeRoy Neiman.
McHugh relishes the retelling of the Neiman-painting story. The artist was being featured at a showing of artwork in Seattle and was brought to dinner at McRory's.
McHugh recalls Neiman's enthusiasm that evening, saying, "I've seen all the great bars and never seen a bar like this! How many bottles do you have?" "I told him we had maybe 800 bottles on the back bar and then asked him, 'Why not paint it for us?'"
"After some back and forth, he finally said it would cost $100,000, two first-class plane tickets from New York to Seattle and being put up at the Four Seasons, and he'd agree to do the sketch and painting the following St. Patrick's Day," McHugh recalls. "But after doing the bar, he hit an artist's wall about how to do all the bottles," he added.
While McHugh goes on in detail with enthusiasm about how the final addition of the bottles came about. The short of it is they arrived at Neiman's apartment in Manhattan with two gold bars worth $25,000 as the down payment on completion of the painting. Neiman still resisted because of his block over how to do the bottles until his wife suggested a collage of labels that McHugh would soak off the bottles and mail them back to Neiman. That's how the painting finally emerged.
As we talked on the phone this week, he said, “I’m looking at it right now on my condo wall. We’ll see.”