Go Eat! Looking to the past

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By Julien Perry

SEATTLE - More than 50 years ago, a blue-collar steak house opened in downtown Seattle where celebrities mingled with the locals, go-go dancers and big-bands graced the stage, and diners ate and drank until 4 a.m. next to an open pit charcoal broiler.

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It was called El Gaucho.

"The Gauchos were the cowboys of Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. They had a big area called the pampas, like our Great Plains, and they raised cattle out there," says Paul Mackay, who resurrected El Gaucho 10 years ago after the original one closed in 1985. "And The Gauchos were the bands who took care of the cattle."

He re-created the illusion he had when he was a teenager - working at a private club in Seattle where his dad cooked.

"The cocktail waitresses were all in gold lamay and I was, maybe I was 16, because I was really impressed. I couldn't imagine - it was just like the movie show! And the waiter would come in, a tall German waiter with a blue jacket on, and he'd go out into the dining room and I could hear the band playing and that's when I decided, 'That's what I want to do.'"

So, in December 1996, after stints managing the original Gaucho, and Metropolitan and Yarrow Bay Grills, Paul opened the new El Gaucho inside a 9,500-square-foot space in the heart of Belltown.

"We've created this set, it's almost like a film set or a stage, but the stars are the customers. We surround them with supporting cast so they're stars for the night."

With two other El Gaucho's in Tacoma and Portland - not to mention the Sea-Grill, Waterfront and Troiani - Paul says he's planning to open another El Gaucho in Bellevue - this one will offer both dinner and lunch.

"We're hoping to get it open this time next year. The building's still being built."

Places Paul likes to Go Eat! Mashiko, Matador, Elliott Bay Brewery.

For more information: www.elgaucho.com

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