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Friday, October 16, 2015

#2402 - Spar Tree, Granite Falls - 1/20/2014

Granite Falls Washington is a small city about 35 miles northwest of Seattle, at the foot of the Cascade mountain range, and between the Pilchuck River and the South Fork Stillaguamish, the latter of which contains the actual falls. Now over 90% white, the first European settlers arrived here in this ancient portage of the Salish peoples in the early 1880s, and by 1892 the first of many shingle mills was established. These and the discovery of gold and silver in nearby areas such as Monte Cristo (now a ghost town) driving thousands of prospectors into the area drove the population of Granite Falls to several hundred in the last decade of the 19th century and first of the 20th, and the city incorporated in 1903. [historylink, wikipedia] The 1904 Polk Guide lists 4 saloons to aid thirsty residents.

By the great depression both the mining and lumber businesses had begun collapsing, and the population dropped in half, below 500 residents. Even before then much of the economy had shifted toward tourism and natural recreation, serving as a gateway to the dramatic peaks of the Cascade Loop, as the population waxed and waned over the next six decades, then picked up speed in 1990s to a present size of about 3,500 people. But only one bar.

The imminent opening of the Spar Tree Tavern is noted in the November 5, 1936 issue of the Snohomish County Forum newspaper, and it appears to have been running fairly consistently, though not in the same location, since that time. At some point it moved into the former John Ashe's Hardware, on the northwest corner of Granite Ave and Stanley St, before moving again kitty corner across the streets to its present location, into a former diner called "Johnson's Fountain" built on the space where the Commercial Hotel burned down in 1917. [gfhistory.toursphere]

In its most previous incarnation the Spar Tree was run by a father and son for several decades and largely known as a biker bar, until closing down in 2007. I will confess, as a visitor, to missing this more rough and tumble, divey version, but of course I don't live there and have a business to run. In April 2011 it was purchased by "Joe from Detroit" (this is how he introduces himself), who cleaned the place up both physically and mentally.

In addition to sanding the gang signs out of the bar, painting the sign, and other cleaning and remodeling, Joe described the challenges in finding dedicated employees, strung out customers, and shooing away drug dealers. He was convinced that he is the hardest working man in the county, and his observations on the scene sounded like a much older man than he is, though not without considerable justification. In just one of several examples, he described two previous bartender hires who were young mothers, who not only were far from his work ethic but both ended up meth addicts.

Joe's a very friendly guy if you are on the up and up, and he mentioned that he talked to Gary and some of the other folks at Doc's Pilchuck Tavern about a main goal to "Create a nice place for nice people." He seems to have largely succeeded, playing a nice role in the community, respectful of the respectful parts of the place's long history, but modernizing the much of it including the drinks and food. The cocktails are typical of a small town dive and not my personal cup of [Long Island] tea, but the food is definitely a cut above your typical bar food, with not only some unusually tasty looking burgers but with some atypical spins like a cranberry almond chicken sandwich, smoked gouda cheese sticks, and bone-in mini pork shanks.

The Spar Tree is not the charming dusty dive I expected when I first heard about it, but nevertheless it is a place I will definitely look forward to returning to from time to time.


106 W Stanley St, Granite Falls, WA 98252 - (360) 925-6639
Est. Nov 7, 1936 (different location)
Previous bars in this location: None known
Web site: facebook
Reviews: yelp - zomato

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