The Arctic Club
by T. Dietz
What is that, a walrus?! As my wife Leslie and I walked from the Pioneer Square area of Seattle north towards downtown I looked up and saw a series of walrus-capped cartouches lining a beautiful Beaux Arts architectural style building. Quickly entering a service entrance, we rode the elevator to the lobby of what was instantly recognizable as a turn of the century explorer’s social club. We needed another trip to Seattle, I had to stay there.
Flash forward 3 years and my wife and I were checking into the Arctic Club Hilton Doubletree hotel. The Hotel’s renovation in 2008 brought back to life this fine club formed during the Heroic Age of polar exploration.
The main entry is half way up a street that has you entering on the second floor. The few stairs take you across the Arctic Club name bookended by two of a unique emblem, and then through a columned entryway. The reception desk is surrounded by framed photographs of past Arctic Club members, some famed Klondike and Arctic explorers. Behind the desk are racks of century old hats and on the desk are two displays of shirt collars that allowed members to exchange their work one for a more formal look as they entered the Club.
Beyond the reception desk you stare straight into the Club’s (hotel) lounge with its original fireplace, work desks, comfortable and original deep sitting club chairs that beg for discussions of your latest expedition, a pool table and the long oak bar that is 1908 original. On our first visit the bar was closed but the Polar Bar was open for business this time.
Even with the distractions of the room, your focus quickly shifts to the bar. Its panels look like blue ice blocks and the amber-lighted glass panels behind the bar display the walrus logo and Arctic Club emblem. These touches help illicit thoughts of the bygone era that created this place. The old world feel to the bar is enhanced by a sizable and illuminated polar bear that appears to be made from glass. Only the blue curtains and lighting is new while the rest is a restoration of the original from 1917. The bar begs for one to have a scotch and cigar to set the atmosphere for regaling your colleagues and friends with adventure stories and plans for new ones, as well as lending your ear to theirs. The bar serves absinthe in the traditional method and although I was sure I wouldn’t like it (I didn’t) we felt compelled to order some anyway.
Arctic Club History
An article written by Meg van Huygne for “Curbed Seattle” dug into this Club’s unique history. The Arctic Club was formed in 1908 by two men who financially triumphed in the Klondike gold rush and wanted a gentlemen’s club to create social contacts, and share cocktails, arctic expedition stories and to plan new ones. Moving from its original location to its newly built headquarters in 1917, the building was highlighted by its use of terracotta and the walrus capped cartouches. The Club’s building originally had in it a cigar store, library, bowling alley, barbershop, roof garden, ladies tea room, card and billiard rooms, private dining rooms, and private guest rooms and offices.
For its 50th year (1958) the Club put out an anniversary commemorative book that detailed a story of how the bar arrived in the Club’s new building. The new building didn’t get a bar as their old headquarters had. Disappointed members saw a solution in several of them
sneaking into the old building, disassembling their beloved bar, passing it out a window, and reassembling it in the new building – this illicit act was quickly remedied by a check to the original building’s owner.
The City of Seattle took over the building in 1971 when the Club folded and used it for indigents which led to serious disrepair. Hilton Hotels took over as operator, after a Private Equity group purchased the building in 2006. A complete restoration was completed by 2008. The Walrus capped cartouches spectacularly adorn the third floor exterior but are not the originals.
The hotel’s rooms are explorer themed with multiple portraits of Inuits and polar explorers throughout taken by the famous photographer Edward Curtis. The rooms came with custom logoed blankets and coffee mugs. We bought six of them! The lamp shades display portions of maps and custom Arctic Club stationary resides on the desk. It was a grand time staying in the room and even better to situate one’s self
in the Polar Club to read a book, grab a cocktail and experience the expedition club ambiance.
On the third floor of the hotel is the Northern Lights Dome Room with its Tiffany stained glass and domed ceiling. Originally used by the club for their formal dining room, its currently used as a venue for such events as weddings and receptions. It is extremely impressive and well preserved.
Arctic Club Emblem
The Club’s original emblem is highlighted in the Hotel’s entryway, the amber glass behind the bar, and the Polar Bar lounge chairs. It is called Duo Juncti in Uno or two joined in one and is meant to signify friendship, unity and achievement. Quoting directly from the 50th
anniversary pamphlet, “The two interlaced circles stand for the joining together of two persons or bodies of men. The patriarchal cross represents trial and hardships. The red bar at the top of the cross represents these difficulties conquered. The horizontal bar joining circles and cross represents unity. Sociability and pleasure are represented by the lower red bar. So the Emblem brings together men of the North and men of Seattle, helping them toward success and friendship across the years.”
I can thank our bar tender for letting us have a read through of the rare 50th anniversary pamphlet and answering our questions about the Club’s history.
This hotel is much more than lodging, it looked to preserve an age of exploration and adventure. It transports you to a time when you’re coming home from the arctic and you regale your friends and colleagues of your cold northern adventure. Our stay at the Hotel was only a couple of days but the memory will last a long time.
In the 1958 50th anniversary pamphlet the Club’s president ended his introduction by hoping all members make it to the 100th celebration year 2008. Sadly, the Club didn’t make it even half way between the two anniversaries before folding due to financial difficulties.