When I first started coming into the cavernous Old Dundee Bar & Grill, the eatery and I were both much smaller. The eastern portion—the part accessible from the back entrance off of Capital Avenue—was called Main Street Movies, a movie rental place walled-off from the bar area.
My dad used to walk my sister and me there to rent VHS tapes, any movie we wanted for $2.50. I remember the smell of popcorn from the Dundee Theatre at the top of the ramp in the southeast corner, the `70s-style pattern in the worn carpet. I remember the smell of fried fish coming from the Dundee Dell.
Established in 1934, the year after Prohibition, the Dundee Dell went through various owners. A former owner of the Dundee Dell, Pat Goebel, relocated the bar to Underwood Avenue in 2000. So, the bar that next occupied the old Dodge Street location needed a different name. The new name held onto nostalgia for the space. Affectionately known as “The Old” or “ODBG,” it has been owned by Bellevue native Joe Goodman since 2009.
Goodman says that the old bar and the building surrounding it—including the shuttered Dundee Theatre, a bridal store, Merle Norman Cosmetics, and an antiques store—were built in the 1920s and operated as a speakeasy during Prohibition.
Goodman’s ODBG is known for its specials, expert staff, and reasonable food prices, as well as its deep-fried flour tacos, including the Reuben taco (which isn’t listed on the menu). It’s made of a deep-fried flour shell, Swiss cheese, corned beef, Thousand Island dressing, and of course, sauerkraut. They’re huge, so I only eat one. For the Wednesday night special, the price of the beef tacos drops to $2. The others stay at the usual $2.25.
I’ve never eaten a Reuben—I normally hate sauerkraut. But the combination of the meat, cheese, dressing, and crunchy taco shell was delicious. The taco’s crunchiness and tangy dressing distracted me from the sauerkraut. I would consider ordering it again, and this is the only restaurant where I’ve heard of reuben tacos for sale. Other items that Goodman will cook-to-order, but are not listed on the menu, include a Cuban sandwich and crab rangoons. While these favorites are not necessarily secret, in general, only Old Dundee regulars request them.
Goodman, and the staff who worked at The Old prior to his ownership, transformed it from a struggling bar into a thriving neighborhood watering hole. The space has been renovated while retaining its speakeasy roots: a massive brick fireplace defines the southern wall, topped by a massive black-and-white painting of two guys having a drink. Goodman replaced the battered green carpet that covered the floor and the bar with wooden floors, new carpet, and a newly cut and painted original cement floor in the gaming area (complete with pool tables and darts). He also installed a gleaming wooden bar flanked with carved lions.
“I think it’s the staff that keeps bringing people back,” Goodman says. “They make people feel welcome and encourage them to have a good time.”
You’ll want to visit the Old Dundee soon: The bar’s lease will not be renewed. It will leave the building by the end of January 2017 to make way for Film Streams’ redevelopment of the Dundee Theatre next door. While Goodman says that the bar will remain open for New Year’s, he’s not sure when he’ll shut down for good.
“When we close depends on inventory, but we’re having fun,” Goodman says.
So while you can, come to the Old Dundee for the tacos, and stay for its vintage, comfortable vibe.