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Sunday, February 08, 2015

#2327 - Brother Don's Bar & Grill, Bremerton, WA - 10/19/2013


Brother Don's, Bremerton, WA
Donald Tompkins, AKA Brother Don, left New Jersey to join the army in 1953, started teaching in the Bremerton area in 1960, and opened his restaurant here in 1978, in the space that was formerly Sam Fitz's Gaslight Pizza. The community of Bremerton, sitting on a shore of the Kitsap peninsula east of Seattle, was shaped by the military since it's very founding, when William Bremer sold federal government the 81 acres that would become the Puget Sound Naval Station, and then fashioned a town around it. For the next 80 years or so, military brass would clash with city government over the bars and other enticements luring Navy personnel off the base:
"It was inevitable that Bremerton would attract businesses that catered to the less-savory inclinations of young sailors and transient workers. Prostitution, gambling, drunkenness, opium, muggings -- the panoply of human temptation and weakness -- were present from the beginning. By late 1902 Bremerton had a population of about 1,700, and there were 16 saloons, all within a short walk of the navy's front gate." (historylink)
Donald Tompkins (sweater) recalls the history of Brother Don's
and other area bars for a Kitsap Historical Society tour.
After the city waxed and waned with wartime economies, the period when Don bought his restaurant and bar was one of the roughest. In addition to the usual sailors looking for a good time, Vietnam vets and biker gangs poured in "and no one could control them." Don told a group of us how one of his employees called him to tell him the Bandidos gang had filled the place, and he came down, confronted their leader, and worked out a deal that kept the situation well controlled for many years after, with Don's becoming known as one of the biggest biker bars in the northwest. There would be no flying of colors in the bar, and no more than 10 Bandidos there at any time. If there were any problems, Don had the phone number of the Bandidos sergeant at arms, who would expeditiously put an end to any issues.

The area is considerably more genteel now, and while Brother Don's feels more like a bar that serves food than a restaurant with a bar, the primary customers are not bikers but families and neighbors having some affordable burgers or pizza. The setting still feels like the 70s, but not the raucous 70s of Bremerton. Don rattled off a list of the bars that had come and gone, so many of them near his place that you could do plenty of bar hopping without a car (although he did recall the time when a patron called him one morning of asked if could see his car in the lot, and Don informed him he could see two of his cars).  Tompkins remembered the Hillside Tavern, McGill's, Bernie's, Pete's Long House, the Maple Leaf, and The Sportsman. He remembered Monica's when it was Big Jim's, and later the Sexton, and the White Pig when the locals referred to it as the Albino Swino. He recalled Brewski's where a Mr. Darwin would toss his tassels, and the Alpha Omega where girls danced in cages.

You'd never imagine that sort of history from the sedate, unremarkable setting of Brother Don's today. And while few would long for a return of those days with the associated problems, the list definitely makes a bar blogger despair of having missed the halcyon days of the port city nightlife.


4200 Kitsap Way, Bremerton, WA 98312 - (360) 377-8442
Est. 1978 - Building constructed: 1965
Previous bars in this location: Gaslight Pizza
Web site: brotherdons.com - facebook
Reviews: yelp - urbanspoon
Bremerton history: historylink

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