Restaurateur, artist and gyro-meat sculptor Mr. D
I first visited Mr. D’s, a Greek bar and diner in SoDo, with my bike club several years ago. Mr. D’s, purveyor of gyros, dolmades, burgers and stiff drinks, had been a favorite haunt of the club for years. When I asked a lean, sprightly man, who looked about 65, if he was Mr. D, he said no and ducked behind the bar. He popped up seconds later wearing a big black Stetson and said, “NOW I’m Mr. D!” I laughed and he grinned. I soon learned he’s 81. “Aging is bullshit,” he said in the charming Greek accent he’s retained since emigrating at 17. “All in your head.”
In addition to owning two restaurants, Mr. D’s Greek Delicacies (in Pike Place Market) and Mr. D’s Greek Restaurant and Lounge (in SoDo, now closed, its fate uncertain), Demetrios Moraitis is a sculptor, draftsman and Bouzouki (traditional Greek) dancer. A booth in the back of his SoDo restaurant functions as a studio, blanketed with sketches, paintings, photos and books, where he sits drawing and drinking many cups of black coffee.
Moraitis is best known for the sculptures of celebrities and other iconic figures that he carves out of frozen gyro meat. A gallery of “Mr. D’s Yeero Sculptures” is displayed on his website, featuring Mona Lisa, Zorba the Greek and the “Woman Between Pumpkins.” The gallery also includes a photo of one of the impressive snow sculptures Moraitis sometimes builds in the Market, this one of Socrates, entitled “Socratsticle.” Reportedly, Bill Clinton liked Moraitis’s meat sculpture of him so much that he invited Moraitis to the White House. Rumor has it that one of the meat busts is still in a freezer somewhere beneath Pike Place.
When I meet Moraitis for our interview, it’s disconcerting to see the SoDo restaurant dark, a disheveled funhouse-mirror image of the comfortable space I remember. Flatware and vintage cash registers litter the dining area in precarious Suessian towers, looking old in a way they didn’t before. Moraitis picks through the museum of his life, packing up things to sell or take home.
Over the years I’ve frequented Mr. D’s I’ve heard Moraitis refer to his passion for art as both a gift and an illness. Moraitis began drawing at age 4, “for something to do,” he tells me. He explains that his father, a hotel owner, was wealthy, but in those days, on the Greek island of Tinos, there were few forms of entertainment. “During the war, toys were scarce,” he says, “My first paintbrushes were chicken feathers. My uncle taught me ballroom dancing, and at 8, I got into knitting.” His family, particularly his mother, who spoke seven languages, fostered an appreciation for the arts and a related desire to learn and know the world that has stayed with him throughout his life. “Every human has a gift,” he says, “Mine is drawing. To see a million years forward and back.”
He shows me pictures of his days as a lifeguard, when he rescued two drowning 10-year-old boys while looking like a go-go dancer. At age 25, he was drafted, then released from the military three years later after he was injured in combat.
In the ’70s Moraitis opened his first restaurant in the dilapidated turn-of-the-century neighborhood north of Pike Place Market. He fashioned a decorative terrarium out of moss from the building’s roof, irrigated by its gutters. For Moraitis, restaurant ownership is making art of a public space, not just cooking and coming up with interesting dishes.
The restaurant, also called Mr. D’s, quickly became popular. It was a higher-end affair than the spot in SoDo. Trout were doused in brandy, lit on fire and served with the heads still on for Mr. D’s signature dish, “Crucified Trout.” In the 1980s, when a large portion of the waterfront was remodeled, Moraitis lost the space, which was demolished to make way for the Alexis Hotel. Moraitis’s response? He got up and started two more restaurants.
Moraitis tells me only that Mr. D’s in SoDo is closed, nothing about what will befall the modest building that houses it. Then he leaps out of his chair to demonstrate a tango, dancing alternately lead and follow while yelling, “It takes two to tango!”
If you’re in Pike Place, you can get a gyro from Mr. D’s Greek Delicacies, and sometimes Moraitis will be there, wearing a black Stetson.
Mr. D’s Greek Delicacies
1518 Pike Place Market