Gerald Simonsen is retired, but come on, Bainbridge, he’s not that retired.
Upon relocating to the island from Seattle about two years ago, Simonsen became frustrated with the lack of bars and restaurants open long after dinner service on the Rock. He asked around, found he wasn’t alone in being left wanting, and thus The Islander, a steak-and-seafood restaurant and bar that stays open to Seattle-type hours, was born.
Open from 5 p.m. to midnight Sunday to Thursday and 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, the new restaurant occupies the space in the Pavilion previously held by the short-lived Timber.
An expanded back section serves as a separate bar for patrons 21-and-over, which can be accessed directly through a new entrance on Madison Avenue or through the restaurant entrance inside the Pavilion.
Technically, The Islander opened about two weeks ago, but it was purposely done without much fanfare.
“We didn’t announce it or anything … I’ll call it a soft opening,” Simonsen said.
Reception has so far been good, he said, though the place is still comparatively low-profile: a website and Facebook page are in the works, the signage and menus are set to be updated any day now.
But all that’s expected to be done well in advance of the official grand opening event: a ticketed celebratory five-course dinner with whiskey pairings on Wednesday, Sept. 18.
The cost is $100 per person, with tips and tax included, and the menu includes salad or soup, small steaks, a main dish of Steak Oscar with Dungeness crab meat, and dessert; plus the booze, of course.
Karaoke, live music and trivia nights are being planned, too, as well as a regular LGBTQ Pride Night and a monthly special day wherein all profits from the bar will be donated to Arms Around Bainbridge, a philanthropic group dedicated to helping local families affected by cancer meet uninsured expenses.
Simonsen said in time he hopes to extend similar offers to other community groups as The Islander becomes better established.
“I’m trying to make a friendly place that anybody’s comfortable in,” he said. “We hope to appeal to a variety of people.”
The restaurant side is family friendly, so folks can dine with or without kids in tow, as they wish.
The menu features four different steaks, four seafood dishes and at least one type of burger, as well as a diverse array of small bites. And everything is available in the bar as well as the restaurant, including offerings from the adjacent Saffron Mediterranean Bistro.
“You can order from both places,” Simonsen said. “You can get a steak and your buddy can get a hummus thing or whatever. It’s kind of nice.”
The bar has 10 beers on tap, and Simonsen’s ultimate goal is to offer 100 different types of whiskey and scotch.
A Sunday brunch menu is in the works, to be paired with the Seahawks on the big screen at the bar.
Of the lack of late-night spots on Bainbridge, Simonsen, a retired computer specialist for the University of Washington hospital, said he was taken aback.
“I was amazed,” he said. “The hope is that even if the average Bainbridge Islander isn’t going out late, everybody, when they got off work, wants a beer.
“The industry people are starting to stop in at 10, 11 o’clock when they get off at the other places, which is very encouraging.”
It’s not the man’s first rodeo in the bar biz, either.
“I kind of floated into things and I ended up owning a couple of bars over there in Seattle, which I then sold them all and I retired from my job and I moved over here,” Simonsen said.
His ultimately brief exit was done in the same sort of casual, friendly manner in which he entered the business.
“I was in a bar having a beer with a friend and he said, ‘Hey, you want to buy a bar?’ And I said, ‘Sure.’ And we started a bar,” Simonsen said.
That time it worked out fine, but the first time he reached for his dream there was a mom-sized obstacle to contend with.
“The first time I tried to buy a bar I was living in Yugoslavia, back when it was Yugoslavia, and I called home, my mother was a Realtor and I called her and told her I want to buy a little beer bar out in Kent somewhere,” Simonsen recalled. “She said, ‘No, you and your brothers would just spend the rest of your lives in there.’ And I was like, ‘But that’s why I want it!’
“But she said no I can’t have it, so I’m probably the only guy you ever met that didn’t get to get a bar because his mother said no.”
Mom, obviously, came around eventually.
And Simonsen found the industary as difficult to leave as he at first found it to enter.
“I was retired up until a month ago, or two months ago,” he laughed. “But this came along and it just looked too good. I didn’t want to pass it up.”