Now, the Orient Express is known for strong liquor, karaoke and crab Rangoon, but it hasn’t always been that way. This is one restaurant where the food is an afterthought, behind the rich history of the premises.
In an industrial district in Seattle, sit seven disused rail cars, tightly-bunched in a line and brightly painted. They don’t sit on tracks. Instead they appear to be forgotten; left abandoned at the side of Fourth Avenue. However, they are anything but forgotten. The rail cars house a bustling Chinese restaurant, complete with karaoke, happy hour $3 specials, and tasty Pan-Asian cuisine. It couldn’t be further from its humble surroundings and stepping across the threshold is like stepping into another country and era.
Before the karaoke and the Asian food, came Andy’s diner. Andy Nagy and Andy Yurkanin, uncle and nephew, founded the diner in 1949 in a repurposed rail car on the same site. The diner quickly became famous for good steak and stiff martinis. As trade picked up, the pair bought more railcars to expand the restaurant, picking one up from a local junkyard and purchasing another from Seattle City Light’s Skagit dam construction project.
The diner was incredibly successful. It served up to 1,200 patrons each lunchtime from the surrounding industrial district. But it was in the eighties when the pair got their prize piece. They paid $18,000 for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s personal rail carriage he used on the 1944 re-election campaign, complete with original hardwood panelling, and some original fixtures installed.
In 1991, Andy Nagy died, and the younger Andy retired. Andy’s diner was sold on to a developer. In 2008, the seven cars were reincarnated in their current form; as the Orient Express. Not everything has changed, the current owners have kept much of the décor and still serve stiff drinks, just to the steady wail and drumbeat of karaoke.
There are also rumours that the restaurant is haunted. When its current owner took over the establishment, she loudly expressed her disbelief in the supernatural, only to have the light bulbs explode angrily above her head.
If you want to dine Franklin D. Roosevelt’s old rail car, you will need to make a special reservation. However, if you ask the waiter very nicely (and tip generously) he, or she, might let you take a peek inside providing they aren’t too busy. I can safely say, I have never set foot in a more charming restaurant which effectively combines karaoke and photos of Roosevelt holding cigars.
You can find more information at the Orient Express website.