by Jas Keimig
Near the corner of South Orcas Street and Rainier Avenue, a pink storefront stands out among all the brick along the block. Inside, the walls are painted a deep magenta with a large wooden bar and leafy green plants sprinkled around the space. Vintage games and tchotchkes are scattered on top of the bar and stuffed onto shelves next to beer bottles as a funky chandelier casts a warm light from the ceiling. The vibe? Cozy AF.
This space is the newly christened Mimi Bar, which had its very soft opening in July. Run by Mia Stephenson and Whitney Wesley, the bar was once home to the deeply beloved Slow Boat Tavern owned by Ken Provost, which closed earlier this year. As two regulars at the Slow Boat and food and beverage industry veterans, Stephenson and Wesley jumped at the opportunity to run a space of their own. And now, they are hoping to add to the vibrant community of Hillman City.
“We both really want it to be more than just a bar,” said Stephenson in a recent interview.
Wesley comes to Mimi with decades of experience as a bartender, having worked at nearly every cool spot in town since the late ’90s — Honey Hole, Shorty’s, Smash Putt, Neighbor Lady, Twilight Exit, Royal Room, Chupacabra, The Showbox, Rendezvous, 9lb Hammer. She met Stephenson — who previously worked at places like Schooner Exact Brewing and Serafina & Cicchetti — during shifts at Loretta’s Tavern in South Park, where they both discovered they shared a love for Slow Boat. When they got wind of Provost looking for someone to take over the Slow Boat space, the two would idly chat about it while at work.
“I was like, ‘We should buy the Slow Boat!’ as a joke,” said Wesley. “And it just became a continuous discussion.” One thing led to another, and the duo began putting out feelers, reaching out to potential investors, and seriously discussing with Provost about taking over the space. “It all ended up coming together in a very organic way,” Stephenson added. Thus, Provost stepped down in April, handed the keys over to Wesley and Stephenson, and — after painting the walls and taking down approximately $1,128 in dollar bills hanging from the ceiling — Mimi Bar was born.
Named after an affectionate term for “grandma,” Mimi is inspired by the vision of a kid playing in grandma’s house and exploring cabinets of curiosity. Wesley has been collecting old-school games, cool homeware, and other vintage knickknacks for years, which are now prominently on display in a giant open cabinet affixed to the wall behind the bar.
Currently, Mimi is serving wines and beers as it works on getting its kitchen up and running so it can serve hard liquor, as required by state law. Its beer list is stacked with local breweries — Bizarre Brewing, Fair Isle, Holy Mountain, Fast Fashion, and Yonder — with a selection of impressive wines, fortified wines, and nonalcoholic offerings.
Because the two work full-time jobs outside of the bar, Stephenson and Wesley are taking the slow approach to getting in the saddle, maintaining open hours only on Fridays and Saturdays, and they plan to have a grand opening sometime in fall. But since their soft opening in July, they’ve been busy doing things like hosting an Amone pop-up featuring Chef Boby Pradachith’s Lao American bites, as well as hanging art for the Hillman City art walk. In the future, they’re planning on organizing bar staples, like karaoke and Bingo, as well as continuing to host more pop-ups, art walks, and vendor markets. They want Mimi Bar to be available to people who need it.
“Having this space and being able to use it for people who are doing interesting, good, and exciting things is really important to both of us,” said Stephenson.
Mimi Bar in Hillman City is open Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to midnight.
Jas Keimig is a writer and critic based in Seattle. They previously worked on staff at The Stranger, covering visual art, film, music, and stickers. Their work has also appeared in Crosscut, South Seattle Emerald, i-D, Netflix, and The Ticket. They also co-write Unstreamable for Scarecrow Video, a column and screening series highlighting films you can’t find on streaming services. They won a game show once.
Before you move on to the next story … The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With over 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible. If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn't have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference. We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!