Can 'soul' survive Seattle's economic boom? Babirusa in Belltown closing for good

SEATTLE - In the heart of downtown Seattle, the Belltown neighborhood is dense and diverse.

“Foot traffic, a lot of bars in the neighborhood,” said Rene Gutierrez, owner of Babirusa.

"The food is always fantastic,” said Jelani Alexander, a regular at the restaurant.

Gutierrez describes his cuisine as Pacific Northwest ingredients with a twist of international flavors. "Grilled octopus dish with chickpea puree,” he lists off one item on the menu.

Tonight is the last supper for the regulars at Babirusa.

"It’s really sad that they’re closing,” Alexander said.

On Thursday, September 27th, Gutierrez will shut the doors for good.

"The kitchen staff, that’s their last day. They gave notice a couple months ago because they got priced out of their neighborhood. They decided to move, leave Seattle,” said Gutierrez.

He says he relocated the restaurant to Belltown from Eastlake after that neighborhood became too expensive.

"The business on Eastlake, we were paying three times as much per square foot than we do here,” said Gutierrez.

They re-opened on 2nd avenue in Belltown at the beginning of the year.

"Like a rollercoaster ride, some week better than other,” describes Gutierrez of the day-to-day operations.

He says the idea of moving to Belltown was not only cheaper, but with more foot traffic from nearby bars and restaurants and a more densely populated part of the city, he was hoping business would grow too.

"Everyone is hurting,” said Gutierrez about operating a small business in downtown Seattle.

And, as more cranes and condos go up, he says the soaring costs of living have sent his employees, like one chef out of Seattle.

“That’s why we stopped our lunch and brunch because she was our lunch and brunch chef,” said Gutierrez.

And now after 20 years in the city, “I don’t want to talk bad about the city, because I love Seattle,” Gutierrez is going to take a break, close up shop and move somewhere more affordable too.

“To New Orleans,” he said.

A city known for its soul, something customers here say was Babirusa in this neighborhood.

"On the whole, I think the balance is shifting where the soul cannot survive economically, and it’s really our loss,” said Sarah Vansanden, another regular dining with Alexander.

So, as the sign says “booze and fun times,” outside the restaurant, it’s a few more days of that, with a side of final goodbyes.

“This is a family,” said Gutierrez of his customers, his employees.