El Gaucho’s

20 Year History

A Timeline

~ 1953-1985 ~

The original El Gaucho reigned at Seventh Avenue and Olive Way from 1953 until it closed in 1985. During that time, it was a much talked-about and frequented landmark, known for its late-night hours and tableside service, attracting celebrities such as Bob Hope, Peggy Lee, and The Carpenters.

Paul Mackay first discovered the original El Gaucho when he visited the dining room to borrow some bread for his employer at 13 Coins. “When I walked into the El Gaucho, it had two doors and the ambiance hit me like, WOW! There was guitar music, no windows, lots of flambees, waiters pushing around carts, drinks flying and an open kitchen,” he says. “It was the most stunning place I had ever seen in my life…and I thought that I would like to work here.” Paul went on to become the General Manager of the original El Gaucho.

  • Original El Gaucho

  • Original El Gaucho

  • First and Wall 1953

    ~ 1953 ~

    Groundbreaking begins at First and Wall

    History Details

    1953 seems to be a special year in the history of El Gaucho. Not only is it when the original El Gaucho opened in Seattle, but coincidentally, it’s also when the ground-breaking began on the building in Belltown, which now houses El Gaucho Seattle and the Inn at El Gaucho. 

  • El Gaucho Timeline Floor Plan

    ~ 1953 ~

    First and Wall original floor plans

    History Details

    The main floor of the original building design included a 1,000 seat auditorium, union administrative offices, library and dispatching hall on the main floor. The basement housed a restaurant, bar, gymnasium (including two boxing rings!), dressing rooms and showers, along with a barber shop. The top floor provided 22 studio apartments for retired union men. The building was meant to be self-sustaining: a place in which union members could live in a protected environment for significant periods of time, in case of a strike. The Union moved to Harbor Island in 1995, selling the property. 

  • El Gaucho Seattle 1996

    ~ 1996 ~

    Paul Mackay reopens El Gaucho in Seattle

    History Details

    Paul Mackay reopened El Gaucho November 30, 1996 at the corner of First and Wall with a simple truth: Guest first mentality, genuine, passionate, hospitable, caring, supportive and engaged. With an element of romance, El Gaucho is now what people dreamed the past was and amplified it for today’s guest. 

  • Live Music Every Night

    ~ 1996 ~

    Live music every night from the beginning

    History Details

    “Start the magic,” were the three words El Gaucho owner Paul Mackay would say to cue pianist Daniel Davison to play when the restaurant doors were about to open for the night. Paul’s vision for El Gaucho’s “dinner as theater” concept clearly meant that ambiance was a key ingredient to the meal, and setting the tone meant live music: so much so that the third employee hired – only after himself and Executive Chef Ken Sharp – was pianist Daniel Davison. Daniel still plays every Tuesday-Saturday at El Gaucho Seattle.  

  • Cigar Room Painting

    ~ 1996 ~

    Cigar Room becomes “the” hot spot

    History Details

    El Gaucho opened with a designated cigar room, which quickly became the place to see and be seen in Seattle. On the weekends there would be a red velvet rope reminiscent of Studio 54 with a line waiting to get in. Due to its popularity, a separate Cigar Club was built out for members only, which were those who owned personal humidors. The Cigar Club room doubled as a private dining room (called The Grill Room today). Both rooms had personal humidors with the member’s name engraved on brass plates. In 2005, Washingtonians passed a no-smoking initiative, making it illegal to smoke in public places, closing the cigar room indefinitely.

  • El Gaucho Paintings

    ~ 1997 ~

    Paintings commissioned

    History Details

    After Paul Mackay opened El Gaucho Seattle in 1996, he made a conscious decision to adorn the empty restaurant walls with commissioned art. The paintings would serve multiple purposes: to tell the story behind the people, or “players” in El Gaucho’s history (both guests and staff alike); to use for advertising and marketing; and to give a local artist business and recognition.

    Paul chose Nina Mikhailenko, a Russian born and educated artist, now local, whose paintings are full of energy, color, and motion. His first impression of her work was not stirring, until he saw one piece of five waiters outside of a New Orleans Restaurant. It struck a chord, and he commissioned his first painting “Elegance.” Since then Paul and Nina have worked together to add more than 20 paintings to the El Gaucho collection. View Paintings » 

  • El Gaucho Timeline El Gaucho Seattle Pampas Room

    ~ 1998 ~

    El Gaucho Seattle’s Pampas Room

    History Details

    The Pampas Club opens below El Gaucho featuring a cabaret show for a few months. It reopened as the Pampas Room, offering full dinner service from El Gaucho, and live music every Friday and Saturday night.

  • El Gaucho Portland

    ~ 2000 ~

    El Gaucho Portland opens

    History Details

    On March 17, 2000, El Gaucho Portland opens in the old Trader Vics spot in the Benson Hotel.

  • Waterfront Seafood Grill

    ~ 2000 ~

    Waterfront Seafood Grill debuts

    History Details

    On May 15, 2000 Paul opens a seafood concept, The Waterfront, on the tip of Pier 70 on Seattle’s Elliot Bay. (In 2011, Waterfront Seafood Grill rebranded AQUA by El Gaucho). 

  • Certified Angus Beef Prime

    ~ 2000 ~

    Certified Angus Beef Prime program begins

    History Details

    When Paul opened El Gaucho Seattle, he wanted to offer his guests something so exclusive that they’d be hard-pressed to find anything like it anywhere in the world, so he partnered with Certified Angus Beef® brand. After meeting John Tarpoff at Certified Angus Beef® National Conference in Whistler, BC, over cigars and a cocktail, they discussed taking the program to the next level. After launching their experiment, the product was such a success with Gaucho guests that it spurred a revolution. The brand officially unveiled “Certified Angus Beef ® brand Prime.” El Gaucho has been joined by a few others in an elite group of restaurants offering the top 1.5 percent of all beef – Certified Angus Beef® brand Prime. 

  • El Gaucho Tacoma

    ~ 2002 ~

    Tacoma welcomes its own El Gaucho

    History Details

    On November 15, 2002, El Gaucho Tacoma opens in a newly refreshed section in downtown Tacoma. 

  • The Inn at El Gaucho

    ~ 2006 ~

    The Inn at El Gaucho opens

    History Details

    The Inn at El Gaucho opens above El Gaucho Seattle – a 17-room, boutique inn, creating the “ultimate night cap” for diners. 

  • El Gaucho Timeline Pampas Room

    ~ 2007 ~

    Pampas Room closes

    History Details

    The Pampas Room closes and becomes a private dining space for El Gaucho. 

  • El Gaucho Bellevue

    ~ 2008 ~

    El Gaucho Bellevue makes a grand entrance

    History Details

    On December 1, 2008, El Gaucho Bellevue opens in the newly built City Center Plaza building, sitting on the ground level with 26 stories of Microsoft rising above.  

  • AQUA by El Gaucho

    ~ 2011 ~

    AQUA by El Gaucho

    History Details

    Waterfront Seafood Grill rebrands to become AQUA by El Gaucho, creating the synergy for “One Gaucho” moving forward. 

  • National Restaurant Association Award

    ~ 2013 ~

    National Restaurant Association Award

    History Details

    El Gaucho Hospitality receives National Restaurant Association’s Good Neighbor Award for their ongoing work with Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission. By that time, through financial giving, time, and resources, El Gaucho had donated over $3mm to local organizations since El Gaucho opened in 1996.

  • Paul Mackay

    ~ 2014 ~

    El Gaucho celebrates 20 years in Seattle!

    History Details

    Paul Mackay officially retires from El Gaucho and Chad Mackay becomes President and COO. 

  • El Gaucho Timeline El Gaucho Seattle

    ~ 2016 ~

    Paul Mackay retires

    History Details

    With all that has been accomplished in the last 20 years, there’s no limit to what the future holds for El Gaucho Hospitality. While times and buildings may change, honoring our past and values will remain: El Gaucho will continue to set the standard for elegant, old-school, tableside service for people celebrating their lives.


El Gaucho celebrates 20 years in Seattle!

El Gaucho opened in Seattle in 1996 with the goal of providing old-school tableside service for people celebrating their lives. Twenty years later our company has grown to five restaurants and an inn. To celebrate, we have company-wide promotions and activities from June to December 2016, which include original cocktail and dinner menu items, commemorative 20th anniversary wine, throwback menu prices, and much more. Join us as we toast to the past and look to the future!