Walking into Dillinger’s Cocktails and Kitchen is like stepping back in time: amid the long bar, the Prohibition-era decor and the sophisticated cocktails, you might be forgiven for anticipating a police raid on the modern-day speakeasy.
But not so long ago, the popular Olympia watering hole looked like exactly what it once was – a bank. A teller station, bank vault, and antiquated electrical system were leftovers from its previous incarnation. The challenge for Dillinger’s owners Lela Cross and Sandy Hall was to make the 1927 building match their vision of a 2015 bar and restaurant. “It’s a historic venture, and it was important to maintain the integrity of the history in the building,” says Sandy. Enter First Finishers.
From the beginning, Kai Fyrst and the team were presented with unique opportunities for problem-solving. “It was a very spontaneous project,” says Sandy. “It wasn’t like ‘everything is drawn out to the perfect measurement.’ There was a lot of guesswork and keeping your fingers crossed.”
One of the first issues was creating the right layout, which involved an advanced version of rearranging the furniture. “Looking at some of the old bars of the past, we really wanted to have the long bar,” says Sandy. “We started talking to Kai about how we could make that happen.”
The problem wasn’t simply maintaining the integrity of the wood as it was being moved off the wall, but moving an entire teller section three feet forward in order to fit necessary kitchen and bar equipment. “It was kind of a specialized situation and a fragile one, at that,” says Sandy. Caution won the day. “They had to take the teller section apart, piece by piece and then put it back together again,” says Lela.
Another big obstacle involved electricity. “Originally we had a 60 amp electric box,” says Sandy. “We had to go back and forth finding out what kind of equipment we could put in, because if we were to put in three phase, we would have had to redesign the city. Even just putting the 200 amp electric box was kind of a big deal.”
That’s where Kai’s knowledge and resources proved invaluable, says Lela.
“First Finishers has the knowledge of the city,” she says. “They have their own electricians and plumbers, so that was really helpful. Kai was definitely the person who helped us fish through different subcontractors to look for a good bid who could also be a trusted and reliable source.”
Reliable also meant local, she say. “We wanted to really stick with people who we could call and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t working,’ and they would be here at 12:00 in the morning. And that did happen on more than one occasion.”
Both Sandy and Lela were impressed by how quickly the renovation was accomplished and how well First Finishers stayed in budget. “It took five months,” says Lela. “It was incredibly fast for a project like this. We tried some of the other contractors around here and they came really expensive, so Kai was also really helpful in staying in his budget and getting people who would work with us to stay in the lines.”
Overall, they say, the experience was collaborative. “It’s can be hard to work with women,” says Sandy. “They were working here with four women, so it wasn’t the whole guy thing. They were very patient, they explained things to us about what needed to be done and why, and what was next.” Lela also appreciated their willingness to innovate and problem-solve.
The end result has been better than expected. “It’s been fabulous,” says Lela. “We’ve been well-received. Part of it is the aesthetics of it. People love the chandeliers and the wallpaper, they love the bar. They like the woodwork.” Sandy has an analogy John Dillinger would appreciate. “It’s like a getaway,” she says.
It’s all part of their long-term vision for Olympia. “We wanted to help revitalize downtown,” says Lela. “We want people to feel that this is kind of their home away from home. Creating it was a collaborative experiment and I think it went really well.”
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