Floating castles, an endless forest, the Galactic Empress and other mythologies
Oct 2020: How Dreamland Diner and Stampede Cocktail Club are battling their way through their own uncharted universe, in the midst of COVID
"The Dark Magician is starting to corrupt the minds of the inhabitants of the Floating City. Do you dare venture into his tower? Spooky. #screamland"
Dreamland Bar & Diner opened in the former Red Door space, after the renowned bar closed in March. Building on both the success and vibe of Stampede Cocktail Club, just down the street, Dreamland is simply another step in the creative journey of owner Paul Shanrock – visiting either space is like entering a dream or a psychedelic trip or simply a very layered story that melds time travel, floating cities and a goddess. It’s a reflection that entrepreneurship can be an artistic and creative experience, for both the team and the customers.
Interview with: Paul Shanrock
I love Stampede Cocktail Club – the combination of bartenders who can hand-hold you through these crazy drinks, the stories, the over-the-top décor, and dumplings! Where did the concept from Dreamland come from?(Stampede menu to the left)
Stampede is a World-Class bar disguised as a neighborhood bar. We're very not pretentious, we’re very gracious and we’re focused on community. With Dreamland, we’ve inviting folks over to see the other side of the vision.
Coming from Reno, Nevada, you can get breakfast at any time of the day. I have always wanted to do a diner because as a bartender, you get home at 4 a.m, don’t get up until 4pm and want breakfast. But, you can’t find that here.
Plus the space is amazing: it's a little old and there's some crazy things inside. It was kind of in a state of disrepair when we got to it. But, it’s just the crown jewel of Fremont and we’re excited to inject it with a younger mindset, an instagrammable vibe, and a disco hallway.
We’ve also got this great team. Our general manager is Cera Grindstaff – who was with us over at Stampede for a year and a half. I pulled her from Canon and before that, she was at Navy Strength, where under her stewardship they won the Tales of the Cocktail Best New American Bar Award. She also won the 2019 Star Chefs Rising Star Award - only one of two bartenders to win it for last year. She’s just a powerhouse. We’ve also got our chef Troy Krajewski, who ran brunch at Rock Creek forever.
In what way does Dreamland build off of or differentiate from the brand that you were building at Stampede?
They live in the same universe. Not many people bake mythologies into their business, but I do. Stampede is like a Martian psychedelic cyberpunk roadhouse. We even built this mythology with our logo: the goddess, the Galactic Empress who hasn't been seen in years. There's a story behind all of it. And the design of the space, and all of our menus dig, into that story, with the staff as characters.
When we built out Dreamland, we put it into the same universe, although it's a different vibe. We lovingly call it the floating city. Maybe it's on a different planet, somewhere else over the endless forest. You have characters like Captain Cyprus who travel between the two. And you can see these little fingerprints of these characters were created within both of them, within both spaces.
You know, the building is from 1902 and it has moved three times. It was over on the Queen Anne side and then it was where the Starbucks is in Fremont, before moving to where it is now.
So we just made it look like a Miyazaki film, like Howl’s Moving Castle or Princess Mononoke. When I envision it, I envision this city in the clouds. It's colorful and brightly drawn, with our hanging garden. It just adds a layer of fun.
If you’re paying attention, we’re inviting you into this experience. We've built riddles into the menus. You can't order the drink unless you solve the riddle. And we're strict about it - you have to solve it. The neighborhood really resonates with stuff like that - they love being a part of our weird mythology.
That is definitely not the response I was expecting but I love it!
And as we continue to grow, that universe will just become bigger.
You are clearly creative but you also have the business chops to back it up. What were you doing before, back in Nevada – what led up to this?
I’m actually a high school drop-out. I was squatting in a foreclosed house during the recession before I came up here. But, I came here because Seattle had this biggest economy at the time.
With bartending, I always knew I had that X Factor and I didn’t like working for someone else. I just always wanted more.
And I could physically put myself in positions where I was way out of my depth and up to my neck. My first bar manager job, I had no business being a bar manager, but I tried. And I was fired. But, I learned a lot.
I'll be honest with you, my father died and left me an inheritance - I held onto it from the age of 25 to 29. I came up here with it but I started out selling men's suits. And then I became a bar back at the Matador in West Seattle. And then they fired me. And I just kind of clawed my way up - I read a lot of books and I studied. I have made mistakes but I haven’t made the mistakes that I’ve seen other people make.
I just feel anything is possible, so why are people settling for less?
Had you already signed the lease on Dreamland before COVID hit? You didn’t intend to open this business in a pandemic, right?
No - we definitely didn't anticipate any of this. It has gotten easier but, yeah, I was ugly crying in public for weeks.
Our landlords are Fremont Dock Co and they’re great. I have built such a special relationship with them and they really have my back - they're not going to let me fail. I would be nowhere without them, their guidance and their help.
You know, our first week open was the first week of the rollback. And, I actually had COVID – I went down for two weeks and then got back up - and that was the day we got the keys. We built it out all by ourselves. We put in those chandeliers; we hand bent the pipe to put up the curtains; we painted everything; we cleaned everything clean.
I worked every day, for 14 hours, with no days off. Personally, I love being a part of a build-out. You get to create and paint with all your friends. It’s a magical time.
But, it was still really hard. I have an amazing team. I have an amazing support system. It’s everybody who comes out, who helps, who believes in the dream.
And, how long was Stampede closed during that earlier period?
We were closed for the mandatory closure but, the second we could open, we did. Every Friday during the closure, we filmed a little television show on Instagram and sold to-go cocktails. And I wrote a little comic book that detailed our universe.
If I die and go to heaven, I will be a bartender. If I got paid a billion dollars, I would still throw parties, I would still be in this industry. I wouldn't change a thing. I’d buy a house, but nothing would change.
With Stampede, we’ve been there for the community. This is one of the hardest times, on people's mental health and their psyche. And it's just so **ing hard right now and just a piece of normalcy can go so far.
That's important to me, to protect.
So, we are a paragon of hyper compliance and safety. . The whole staff has been checked four times. We're taking health incredibly seriously.
Has there been anything over the last six months and throughout both of your businesses that has surprised you or delighted you?
For one is the team we've built at Dreamland. They really are passionate about serving - their passion for hospitality is incredible. This, at a time, when folks are essentially getting paid to stay home. But, the people we hired are the people who really want to do this for the rest of their lives and who really care about people.
And, in some ways, it’s nice to be able to open slowly. I really believe we would have been packed to the rafters if we had open in normal times, so this is a good pace for us to learn.
I want to be part of something where people came together and not away from each other. Folks are just trapped, doomscrolling on Facebook, right now, and that’s not what my businesses are about. They’re about kindness and love and nachos…or whatever.
Any last thoughts you want to share?
The food is amazing, the cocktails are amazing. We have breakfast all day and a huge patio, big open windows for the inside space. The team is amazing – I wouldn’t be anywhere without them. Just come on down!
We're gonna get through this together.
Hey, Seattle, take a journey: