Bars where Pete has had a drink

Saturday, April 19, 2014

#2181 - Couleegan's, Coulee City, WA - 5/24/2013

The area where white men first settled down growing wheat and raising cattle is now mostly covered by Banks Lake behind the Grand Coulee Dam. Couleegan's was established here in 2007, but bars appear to have been in this building ror well over 100 years. I have not found any dates from historians or primary sources, but in the bar itself there is an old photo labeled "Madden and Sargent's Saloon, Coulee City 1891," and said by the bartender to be in this building. It could not have been much older than that because Coulee City was platted and built in the Spring/Summer of 1890. It also would also have had a longer interruption of service as a legal bar than some bars of comparable age across the state, as the city apparently voted itself dry in 1908, and remained that way until the end of federal prohibition.

Couleegan's Bar and Grill, Coulee City, WA
Couleegan's has a fairly modest facade, but inside is larger than expected, with a fine antique back bar, and a hodgepodge of motorcycle and rock and roll decorations surrounding large old paintings. I wish I knew more of the history between Madden and Sargent's and Couleegan's. But nowadays it is a restaurant offering typical pub food (pizza, burgers, sandwiches and steaks) a bar offering standard drink choices, and a community gathering place, hosting live music and local get-togethers.

Couleegan's Bar and Grill, Coulee City, WA

Couleegan's Bar and Grill, Coulee City, WA

Couleegan's Bar and Grill, Coulee City, WA
508 W Main St, Coulee City, WA 99115 - (509) 632-8663                 
Est. 2007
Previous bars in this location: Madden and Sargent's Saloon
Web site:
Reviews: yelp

#2180 - Don's Restaurant, Soap Lake, WA - 5/24/2013

Don's Restaurant has been here just off the southern edge of the white-rimmed edges of Soap Lake since the early 1940s. It has survived the economic downturn and declining population of the area -- the struggles that inspired plans for erecting a 60 foot high lava lamp downtown -- serving the sort of classic American steakhouse menu that now caters mostly to old people. The lounge off the dining room is old school as well, with a lacquered bar with embedded arrow heads, a conestoga wagon wheel, and fishing taxidermy hanging on a pleated, read leather wall.  Jim Notaras and his family own the place, and used to own the lodge next door, including the members only businessman's club, which is not a strip joint, and which Jim tells me has the only remaining liquor license in the state of that certain type. The Soap Lake Businessman's Club has over 1,500 members, Jim says.  Their big annual salmon feed costs $25 but is free for members, and membership cost $20.

The soapy water and unusually high mineral content of the lake to the north have been believed to have healing powers by various peoples, from the local Tsincayuse tribe, to 19th century European immigrants, to new agers and Russian immigrants today, but people come in much smaller numbers these days. Lord knows I'd be one of the first to plan a trip over the Cascades to visit a small town in the middle fo the state with a giant lava lamp, but the town's been talking about that for a decade now and still hasn't found a way to afford it. But even without a kitschy attraction or much belief in a lake's healing powers, it's a fine drive along the thread of lakes along the old grand coulee on a summer day. So I expect to revisit Don's every now and then, and if I'm lucky enough to make it during the salmon feed, I might just become a member.

14 Canna St N, Soap Lake, WA 98851 - (509) 246-1217              
Web site: facebook
Reviews: yelp - urbanspoon

#2179 - Cryptatropa, Olympia, WA - 5/19/2013

Cryptatropa is a chill and pleasantly dark goth club at the end of Olympia's 4th Avenue run of bars. The high booths (said to be made from a 500-year-old fir) and separate rooms, including the cramped back room for bands, and the lack of a dance floor, all add to a relatively private and clubby feel. At the very attractive bar, they have a collection of rare liquors, including, of course, several absinth choices.

421 4th Ave E, Olympia, WA 98501 - (360) 754-3867
Est. Oct 1, 2010
Previous bars in this location: Manium
Web site: facebook
Reviews: northwestmilitary - tnt - yelp - tripadvisor

Thursday, April 17, 2014

#2178 - Pe Ell Pub, Pe Ell, WA - 5/19/2013

"Welcome to Pe Ell," I am greeted with as I enter the Pe Ell Pub, "You won't like it and you'll never come back."

Actually, the very first words this woman greeted me with as I stepped in the door were "We're closed." It turned out this was a joke, and I can't remember the woman's name, partly because I just started calling her "Chamber of Commerce Lady" after her first few snarky comments about the town.

Actually I *do* like Pe Ell. I like the smell of log fires wafting through the air as you arrive, I like the tiny town, and I like this little bar with the sign that says simply "The Pub." Chamber of Commerce Lady tells me that the building used to be the morgue and that underneath there are tunnels used during prohibition, but I've heard local lore about tunnels in so many bars around the state and with so little remaining evidence, I take this part with a grain of salt. I would really like to know how old the Pe Ell Pub is, as it has clearly been around for some time. (A 1934 city guide lists only "Pastime Billiards," with no address, under bars in Pe Ell.) I'd also like to know how Pe Ell got its name -- and so would the town, apparently, as there are competing theories.

Today the pub is a classic, small town dive, with Taco Tuesdays, Bingo Nights, Ladies Nights, Man Nights, karaoke, and a lively little crowd rooting for the Seahawks like pretty much every bar across the state. Actually, I think I'll come back sometime.

205 N Main St, Pe Ell, Washington 98572 - (360) 291-2707
Web site: facebook

#2177 - Duffy's Irish Pub, Grays River, WA - 5/19/2013

Of course it feels a bit absurd to refer to a bar as "magical," but I'll be damned if I can think of a better word for the experience of stumbling upon Duffy's Irish Pub.  It seems to pop out of nowhere as you round a bend in Highway 4, out of the forested surroundings and past a few lonely farm houses where Grays River meanders in a loop, west of Naselle and east of Skamokawa.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who, driving by for the first time -- bar project or not -- rounded this bend and gasped something along the lines of "WHAT ... is THAT?!?"

And it only becomes more remarkable when you step inside. Here in the middle of nowhere is a ;pub with more nooks and crannies crammed full of more curious stuff than any Irish bar and half the museums in Portland or Seattle. It feels less like a pub than the lifetime antique collection of some distinctively peculiar collector. And adding to the uncanny feeling, I was the only person in the sizable place, until bartender Lorraine eventually came around the corner.

Lorraine explained that the place is owned by Al Salazar, who used to own the The Pine Street Theater. "at one time, Portland's largest rock and roll club, featuring two or three  national musical acts each weekend." A stage at the east end of the building is papered with flyers for the bands that played the Pine Street. Lorraine told me that Al used to have regular live bands here, but it was just too hard to draw a crowd with so few people close by and not even any motels very near. From the stage, you walk pass a couple rooms that feel like a crazy grandmother's house, walls and shelves full of various knickknacks, antiques, and oddities. Turn left and walk along the bar past the wood-burning stove, through another tiny room and you reach the patio looking out on the river. Unfortunately I had recently eaten, but Duffy's offers various American comfort foods along with some Irish classics, along with some fairly standard choices in beers and spirits.

After finishing a quick Hendricks and Tonic and a much longer tour marveling at the place, I headed back to my car and was greeted by Jeremy, the neighbor from across the street. Jeremy has his own crazy hodgepodge of buildings and collectibles, and told me he painted the sign for Duffy's. Jeremy sells antiques from the side of the road in front of his place, and would surely be the town character if not for Al Salazar. Finally, I get into my car and continue on my way, with Duffy's and the boat that once housed "Covered Bridge Fish'n'Chips" quickly disappearing behind a bend. And again I think, as I return to the long stretches of tree-lined road only occasionally interrupted by a barn or humble house, I can't be the only one who has wondered "Did I really just see what I just saw?"

3779 State Rt 4 West, Grays River, WA - (360) 465-2898
Est. April 27, 2001
Previous bars in this location: None
Web site:
Reviews: tripadvisoryelp - urbanspoon 

Monday, April 14, 2014

#2176 - Oasis Tavern, Skamokawa, WA - 5/19/2013

Pete (mandolin), ?, and Don (dulcimer) at the
Oasis Tavern, Skamokawa, Washington
For most people, the drive from Portland to Seattle is a 3 to 4 hour trip, but I tend to wander and it usually takes me something more like 13 hours. That doesn't mean I don't often wish I had more time, as I definitely did when I dropped into the Oasis Tavern in Skamokawa. The Oasis had been closed for four years, after previous owner Wanda Rudy passed away. But it was very substantially remodeled and reopened by Rick and Eileen Tietje in September of 2012. They used wood paneling recovered from a local friend's collapsed 1897 barn, and from an abandoned house in a ditch. They built an all new bar and created lamps from mason mars and old pulleys.

You're not likely to stumble upon the Oasis by accident -- it's hidden off Highway 4 a piece, just above where Brooks Slough meets the Columbia River, as it starts to widen in the last 30 miles to the Pacific. But if you find it on a day like today, a lazy Sunday with sunbeams pouring through the windows and folks songs strumming out from some of the locals, you feel like spending the entire day there. It's just about as comfortable and pleasant as a bar can be.

It's hard to say how old the Oasis is -- I haven't found any real mentions of it from before Red Almer bought the place in 1981. The owners heard it was the second oldest bar in the state, but such oral histories usually turn out to be inaccurate. But since they also heard that it opened right after prohibition and was always called the "Oasis," I'm going to guess it goes back to sometime in 1933, maybe even a bit before "prohibition" ended in December, and closer to April 7 when the Beer and Wine Revenue Act took effect. In any case, if you have the time, the drive up Highway 4 along the northern side of the Columbia is a lovely diversion, and it's well worth a turn up East Valley Road to have a pint at the Oasis.

8 Fairgrounds Rd, Skamokawa, WA 98612 - (360) 795-8672                
Est. 1933?
Previous bars in this location: None known
Web site: oasismexicanbarandgrill.comfacebook
Reviews: tdn - yelp - tripadvisor

Saturday, April 12, 2014

#2175 - Diner on Main, Cathlamet, WA - 5/19/2013

The Diner on Main was a shortlived diner and lounge in the neat, old fishing village of Cathlamet, WA. Unfortunately, the bars with a lot of character in Cathlamet have all closed down. Long gone is the old Spar; the old Columbia Saloon sign hangs tantalizingly over a remodeled building, but shows no hint of an actual opening date; and in 2009 they shuttered the River Rat Tap for good, the last bar in a great old 1890 space hanging over the Columbia River, with porthole windows, and upper floor once used as a dance floor and a skating rink, and interior used for the filming of "Men of Honor." The Diner on Main didn't have much personality in the decor -- a 50s theme with the same Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, and James Dean pictures you've seen in countless diners across the country, and now it's closed too.

I don't know what John Anderson will do now. When we chatted with him in the lounge he told us he came here every day and has three beers. "I'm 76 years old," he told us, "There's nothing else to do." John cuts a classic figure with his dirty cowboy hat and big handlebar moustache. Maybe now he'll head up to the Oasis Tavern in Skamokawa? Cathlamet remains one of the nicer little communities to visit along the big river. It really seems like it deserves a good bar or two in some nice, old spaces -- and without the cheesy 50s decorations.

88 Main St, Cathlamet, WA 98612 - (360) 795-0591
Est. March 2013 - Closed 2013 or 2014
Reviews: tdnyelp

#2174 - Nick's, Amboy, WA - 5/19/2013

"World Famous Nick's Bar and Grill" in Amboy, WA, just 4 miles up the road from "World Famous Red Fir Inn" in Yacolt, closed in December 2013, three months after its owner Jimmy Hill died and seven months after this visit. When it closed it was noted that it was the "oldest bar in Amboy," which really only means it is older than Timbers Saloon up the road, but nevertheless it has a long and storied past. Previously called White's Tavern, the bar was purchased in March of 1951 by Jimmy's Uncle Nick Iverson. In August of that year, the tavern nearly burned down with the other buildings around it, but Nick's was saved, Jimmy said, by workers on the Dam covering themselves in wet blankets and throwing buckets of water to save their local watering hole. (Jimmy Hill, Nick's Facebook).

I do not know how long White's Tavern had been there, or any history of the place before it became Nick's. Clark County tax records do not provide a construction date for the building. Fortunately, the Facebook page says that they're reopening Nick's, apparently sometime in early May 2014. Assuming it will be much as it was before, Nick's will contain a diner portion, a bar serving the basics, and a relatively large area for live music and dancing. It is a favorite stop for bikers, which is always a good sign for bar with character in rural parts of the state.

22011 NE 399th St, Amboy, WA 98601 - (360) 247-9914
Est. 1951
Previous bars in this location: White's Tavern
Web site: nicksbarandgrill.comfacebook
Reviews: yelp - urbanspoon - insiderpages - firstcallseptic

Monday, April 07, 2014

#2173 - Red Fir Inn, Yacolt, WA - 5/19/2013

Yacolt, Washington is a small town of many ghosts. The first ones you notice are the ghosts of old businesses, like the Tall Man's Saloon, layers of dust accruing after the Mt. St. Helens eruption or the 2008 recession slowly drove the places under. Later you read the stories -- residents seeing a man with red eyes staring at them in their bed, laughing children on the stairs, being followed by "little witches." You learn about the "Yacolt Burn," still the largest fire in state history, which burned 238,000 acres and killed 38 people in 1902, leaving residents standing in the Lewis River with every other form of non-flying animal, only to return to a blackened moonscape.  When the small economic boom from salvaging the burned lumber started dying out, the town started to die with it. The general manager of the Clark County Timber Company said, "At Yacolt we have two or three worn out buildings, all vacant and without any perceptible value whatever, these including an old warehouse, a residence formerly occupied by our logging Superintendent, a hospital building, which has been robbed of much of its equipment, and one or two very small buildings of no value, in fact none of them have any value today for Yacolt is absolutely dead with no promise for a future life" (historylink)

And finally there's the very name of the place. "Yacolt" is an Indian term meaning "haunted place" or "place of evil spirits." The name is said to have come from the Klickitats, based on a time when their children went out to pick berries and were snatched away forever by evil spirits. Or maybe it was from a time the Klickitats massacred a group of Wilamie in the berry fields, letting just one Wilamie girl escape, and then being haunted for generations by a female voice singing the Wilamie death song.

It was in this area that Dave Ayers was working graveyard shifts as a millright, then having breakfast at the Red Fir.  The population of Yacolt had been picking up for several years, as it shifted to a bedroom community where people enjoyed the relaxed, natural setting after driving home from jobs in nearby towns. After "28 years and 2 days" in that career, Dave told me with evident specificity, the lady who owned the Red Fir asked him if he wanted to buy the place. He said he agreed, chucked his wristwatch into the parking lot that day, never got another one, and won't touch a computer.

That was 8 or 9 years ago, and now Dave is looking to sell the place -- which the sign out front claims is now "world famous" -- and retire. It's a pleasant, relaxed place, at least on afternoons like the one when I walked in, with Dave and Ernest the cook and bartender happy to tell you about the joint, while locals file in with their own pool cues. Dave added a pizza oven, so they serve those in addition to the standard bar food and some fairly good beer selections.

The Red Fir has been around since 1963, and you really hope Dave finds a good buyer. Nick's up the road in Amboy, the oldest bar in the area, closed not too long after this visit to the area. And it would be a damned shame to see the Red Fir become just another Yacolt ghost.

303 N Amboy Ave, Yacolt, WA 98675 - (360) 686-8222
Est. 1963
Reviews: thereflector - columbian - yelp - urbanspoon

Sunday, April 06, 2014

#2171 - The Shire, Chehalis, WA - 5/17/2013

"We got lucky," the owner of The Shire told me, and indeed, for someone wanting to start a new bar and restaurant, what a swell thing to find one of the state's more historic bar spaces available and within your budget? While Lewis County tax records indicate the building dates back to 1920, I tend to think this is some kind of error or remodel date, and lean toward the history reported in various places, though not in any primary sources I have found, that the place was established as the Olympia Bar around 1903.

There is a grand back bar, quite similar to the one in Logger's Inn, in Sultan, although the difference in the capitals indicates that it is not the other half of the Sultan bar, which was said to have been split lengthwise and separated several decades ago. But it does look very much like another Brunswick-Balke-Collender bar from the late 19th century.

Today, The Shire is a relatively large place that serves some nice steaks, pastas, and seafood choices, and better than average cocktails. They host live music on Saturdays and karaoke on Fridays. The entire place is a nice nod to pre-prohibition saloons -- yes, they have barstools now, but it retains the old back bar and the capacious rectangle of space, with old photos on the walls. It's a nice stop if you are in the area seeking something a bit more formal than a quick bite for the road, or just want to have a cocktail and check out a historical spot.

465 NW Chehalis Ave, Chehalis, WA 98532 - (360) 748-3720
Est. Feb 2003 - Building constructed: 1903? 1920?
Previous bars in this location: Olympia Bar, Guido's
Web site: - facebook
Reviews: yelp - urbanspoon

#2170 - Joe's Place, Bucoda, WA - 5/17/2013

"Joe's Place" was established in 1898 in Bucoda, near the Skookumchuck River, and it has been run by the family ever since. Settled in 1856 by Aaron Webster, Bucoda was originally established in 1856 as "Seatco" from the Coastal Salish word “Tsi-at-co,” meaning “devil” or “ghost place.” The original Joe's building burned down and was replaced with the current one in 1919. It is the only building left after a fire destroyed the rest of downtown Bucoda in 1930. The original walnut back bar was consumed in yet another fire during the 50s, but the matching original front counter remains.

Trap door that probably hid the hooch during prohibition,
Joe's Place, Bucoda, WA
Joe's was perhaps a working bar through prohibition, possibly taking advantage of the trap door in the floor behind the bar, which was also used in lieu of refrigeration. In any case, it seems likely that it resumed as a licenses bar very soon after prohibition, so I have guessed that the bar in the current building dates back to Dec. 1933. Joe died working behind the bar in 1937. The cafe and bar have been run by various groups of relatives ever since, with his great-granddaughter Ruth Wall buying out the last of the other relatives in 2004 to take sole ownership.
It was nice to see both the owners and locals taking an understandable pride in the history of Joe's, with various photographs and historical notes on the walls.  I chatted with customer Ray, who remembers sitting at the bar by the coal heater when he was seven. The few sources I have found tend to confirm the historical notes from the bar, with Thurston County tax records confirming that the current building was constructed in 1919, and city guides from 1907 and 1913 listing among Bucoda saloons one owned by Joseph Farrington.  Joe's is also said to have been the first bar in the country to serve Olympia Beer on tap, starting in 1889 and remaining the only brew on tap for many decades after. They now offer other beer selections, along with classic burgers, steaks, and American diner options.

118 S Main, Bucoda, WA 98530 - (360) 278-3599
Est. 1898/1938 - Building constructed: 1919
Previous bars in this location: None
Web site:
Reviews: chronlineyelp

#2169 - Headquarters Tavern, Mineral, WA - 5/17/2013

Headquarters Tavern, Mineral, WA
The Headquarters Tavern is a little gem of a place in the tiny old mining and timber town of Mineral, Washington, now known for its fishing ("Mineral Lake, home of the 10 pound trout").  I have found virtually nothing on the history of the tavern in primary sources, but the sign over the door and understanding of the locals is that it has been around under that name since 1904. It certainly looks pleasantly old, and features a grand old back bar, into which any number of nails and hooks have been indelicately whacked.

Headquarters Tavern, Mineral, WA
The Headquarters boasts "the best pizza in town," and given that this is the only bar or restaurant in Mineral, I would not expect many challenges to that. Across the road, and sloping down toward the south banks of Mineral Lake is campground full of trailers and tents of fishermen. The headquarters hosts these and a few local characters. When I returned to my beer and barstool after a look around one an older fellow kindly informed me that "I didn't spit in yet." This fellow's name was Richard, though most people refer to him as "Crawdad," and we chatted about the area and the crustaceans he liked to eat.

The Headquarters offers most of the staples of a contemporary small town dive - pulltabs, karaoke, bingo, poker, Taco Tuesday, and generous, cheap pours. If it does indeed go back to 1904 under the same name, this would make it one of the dozen or so oldest bars in Washington state. In any case I would love to find any historical references or photos from previous decades.

Lion's Den Campground, on Mineral Lake,
across from the Headquarters Tavern

112 E Front St, Mineral, WA 98355 - (360) 492-3261
Est. 1904
Web site:
Reviews: yelp