Celebrating 20 years: The enduring elegance of AQUA by El Gaucho

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Seattle’s waterfront dining gem during a challenging time, we reflect on the endurance of this community and our dedicated AQUA team, as well as the beauty and history of our home at the tip of Pier 70.

Pier 70 has stood at the north end of Seattle’s historic waterfront for 98 years and has continued to evolve and endure through dramatic events and changes. It began as a port of call and warehouse for ships carrying cargo from around the world. It survived a fire in 1916, as well as the drama of housing an MTV reality show, The Real World, in 1999 before eventually becoming home to AQUA by El Gaucho in May 2000.

When founder Paul Mackay decided to open a seafood-focused companion restaurant to the El Gaucho steakhouse, he wanted to create a stunning environment to showcase the beauty and bounty of the region. He says that his favorite thing about AQUA is “the beautiful design, but also the feeling that it gives you. It is the perfect way to showcase Seattle to people visiting from around the world. It doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to Seattle.”

When it opened as Waterfront Seafood Grill, it was described by Zagat as “Seattle’s prettiest restaurant” with walls of glass to frame views of Elliott Bay, the Olympic Mountains, Mt. Rainier and the Space Needle. The restaurant was rebranded to AQUA by El Gaucho in 2011 to reflect the synergy between the two. Fire & Vine Hospitality CEO, Chad Mackay, describes the setting as “the 50-yard line of Seattle’s waterfront.”

Then and now, the Puget Sound serves as both the backdrop and the inspiration for the menu at AQUA. To celebrate the 20th anniversary, chef Kevin Benner has created a special menu available in August which features original dishes including poached Alaskan halibut stuffed with basil shrimp mousseline, sautéed spinach, citrus beurre blanc and a Tiki banana split for dessert. One-time AQUA general manager, Chris Sparkman, now winemaker of Sparkman Cellars, created an exceptional Chardonnay to toast the 20th anniversary and was inspired by his long friendship with general manager, Sivi Mennen. “If it’s a wine for you, Sivi, it has to be a Chardonnay,” said Sparkman. Sivi says it pairs perfectly with crab and sunshine on the patio.

Reveling and celebrating the lives of our guests is what makes AQUA truly special. As one guest described, “We don’t come just for the food you know, we come here to get our souls fed.” The dedicated and diverse team has fostered the legacy of exceptional service throughout the years and serves each guest with care and created strong bonds with the community as they welcome families back for milestones and traditions, as well as serving lunch each month at Union Gospel Mission. General Manager, Sivi Mennen and pianist, Ben Fleck, have both been at AQUA since opening night.

On reflecting over her 20 years at AQUA, Sivi says her fondest memories all surround people. “The people I have met, the visionaries that I have worked for, and those that I am blessed to work alongside and learn from each day. I think that what sets AQUA apart, and what keeps us special, is really simple; love. We love each other, our guests, our vendors, and our industry. In these times especially, we all need it.”

Please join us this August as we raise a glass to the enduring legacy of love and beauty at AQUA.