It was fitting that after returning from the oldest bar in Alaska, we would visit the famous Alaskan town of Sicily. The 90’s hit television show Northern Exposure, was situated in this fictional town, but filmed entirely in Roslyn, Washington. Roslyn is also home to the oldest bar in the state, The Brick. I knew The Brick well as a fan of the show, so this was very exciting for me. Roslyn was the postcard perfect image of a great Pacific Northwest small town, and it was easy to see why it was chosen for the backdrop of the show. The producers didn’t change a detail, all the way down to the name of the Roslyn café and its famous mural from the opening credits. I could almost picture the moose strolling down the street just like I’d watched so many times on TV.
Okay, so I’ll stop gushing now and talk about the bar. I just loved that show and its homey atmosphere, which is exactly how I felt when we walked into the bar. Instead of Shelly from the show, it was Amy who took our drink order. Amy was as wonderful and welcoming as Shelly. Amy even offered us a tour of the basement once the lunch hour traffic slowed down. We could tell why the place was jumping by taking our first bite of food: it was so delicious. We enjoyed looking around at the antique tap pulls displayed on the walls, and the prominent antique iron potbelly stove. We marveled at the 23’ spittoon on the floor in front the bar, equipped with running water to wash things away. I had been to many bars before but this was the first spitoon I’d ever seen. Not only did it provide a convenient place to spit, but it provides space for The Brick’s annual spittoon race. Participants cheer each other on as they race everything from matchboxes to soap.
The basement tour that Amy gave us uncovered some more cool history. Roslyn was coal mining town back in the late 1800’s. The bar was built with 45,000 bricks in 1889 and was named, simply, The Brick. An original holding cell in the basement was used for the movie set of the 1979 Dick Van Dyke film, ‘The Runner Stumbles,”and two more cells were added by the movie-makers. Amy showed us where an underground tunnel used to lead to the local bordello, an all-too-familiar addition that we’ve encountered in several bars. While I enjoyed the town and the history lesson, I’ll admit my favorite part of the experience was just sitting in my favorite television bar!
Remote, authentic, and welcoming is how I would describe the oldest bar in Alaska; the B&B bar. Based on its online reviews, size and location, we expected to find a seedy little fisherman’s bar on the wharf. That was actually pretty accurate. What surprised us, though, was how much we enjoyed it. The first thing we noticed when we sat at the bar was the humorous lines written in neon colors on the back wall mirror. The first one stated “Bruce, shut up.” Bruce and I introduced ourselves to the bartender Stacy, who told us the sign was for one of their regulars, and I appreciated the name coincidence probably a little too much. It certainly broke the ice for a fun afternoon learning about the bar and the area.
The building itself was a small wooden frame building. Stacy told us that it was moved in pieces by horse and buggy to its current location. The interior was rustic and filled with beer signs, advertisements and drink specials covering the walls. A pool table filled the center of the room in front, while the small U-shaped bar filled in the back. The warmth of the atmosphere though was evident with the dollar bills posted on the ceiling and featured fisherman antiques along the walls. The bar is clearly an oasis for men looking to unwind after a hard day’s work on the many fishing trawlers based in America’s second largest fishing fleet, stationed in the marina just across the street.
One case along the wall featured the original liquor license issued in 1906. It was accompanied by a framed letter from a retired lawyer returning the liquor license he had received as momento for work he had done years ago for the bar. In the letter, he had asked to give his regards to any Blodgette’s or Blinn’s that may be around; a reference to the possible origins of the bar’s B&B moniker. We returned the next day for drinks, met Abby who was tending bar, and made a couple more friends while talking about what there is to see in Kodiak. What really touched us that Abby even offered to loan us her car at one point so we could do a little sightseeing. We didn’t take her up on her offer, but we did take her advice about what to see, discovering a small portion of the island’s beauty and large measure of its hospitality along the way.
One of the many benefits of our quest to visit the oldest bar in every state is the opportunity to experience the local house specialties that they serve. The Spanish coffee at Huber’s Café, the oldest bar in Oregon, is one that will stand out as one of my favorites! The tableside preparation of this drink included some fancy bottle work and fiery long pours. I enjoyed watching the assembly of the drink so much it could have tasted like gasoline and I think I would have been happy! It was actually one of the tastiest drinks I’ve ever had. Huber’s is also known for their great turkey dinners. Introduced during prohibition, the dinners remained so popular that Huber’s menu has maintained several turkey entrees ever since. We of course had the turkey dinners as our main course and enjoyed them almost as much as the Spanish coffee!
Huber’s was established in 1879 and is now located in the historic Oregon Pioneer building which is it’s 4th location since its inception. The beautiful arched stained glass skylights that cover most of the ceiling, the dark wood booths, antique decorations, and large palm trees set a majestic tone for a beautiful bar setting. Though upscale, the atmosphere was not pretentious. We felt very comfortable. Our server, Ryan, was happy to fill us in about some of the bar’s history. Originally called “The Bureau Saloon,” Frank Huber changed its name to Huber’s when he bought it. When Frank Huber passed away, Jim Louie, a Chinese immigrant stowaway who became his cook, took over. Louie’s nephew, Andrew, eventually became the sole proprietor of Huber’s, and Andrew’s son Jim later took over. Huber’s is now also owned by David and Lucille Louie, making Huber’s a family business that spans over three generations. The heritage is honored with family portraits that watch over their legacy.
To find the oldest bar in Idaho, Bruce and I ventured to the peaceful lake town of Spirit Lake with my parents in tow. Established in 1907, the White Horse Saloon is older than the town itself. The bar also sports hotel rooms above the bar, where we had reserved some rooms ahead of time. Walking past the row of motorcycles on the street and into the bar, we noticed that jailhouse iron-bar doors separated the bar area from the hotel lobby. It was a little disconcerting, but our bartender Dolly quickly put us at ease. She explained that the bar doors were simply meant to keep hotel guests from helping themselves in the bar after hours, rather than protecting hotel patrons from unruly patrons. Further helping us to relax was the drink, “Spirit Lake Splash” which my mom and I playfully named because I had asked Dolly what drinks she can make out of the grapefruit vodka I had eyed behind the counter. A little Triple X passion fruit liquor and a splash of soda went down very easy indeed!
After a few drinks and delightful conversation the four of us hit up a local pizzeria for dinner and then decided to explore the town on foot. We took a walk down to the beautiful lake which was once called “clear water” by the Kootenay Indians who once lived there. On the walk back we stopped at a unique little pottery shop just a few doors down from the saloon. The pottery shop had beautiful custom-made pieces for sale, but what really surprised us was its honor system method of payment. My parents decided to buy a few items and dutifully slid their cash payment through a slot in the wall which was dedicated for that purpose. Before we left, we did have the opportunity to meet the owner who came out to say hello. He said his father was the artist and that they had never had items stolen from the store. The honor system still worked in this picturesque little town. We ended our day back at the Whitehorse where Bad Bob honored us with a gift for Bruce, a genuine Spirit Lake crystal from his own collection, topping off another unique oldest bar experience.
If you want to experience what it is like to walk through an 1800’s-era Western town that looks like an old John Wayne movie set, Virginia City, Montana is the place to go. The grey wooden plank buildings and sidewalks are restored and preserved as a National historic landmark which recreates what this gold rush town looked like over 150 years ago. You can walk the street today and look inside the buildings, many of which are open museums staged with antiques and mannequins. It’s like walking back in time to 1863. Other buildings are operational businesses and shops, including the home of Montana’s oldest bar, the Bale of Hay Saloon.
By my judgement, the Bale of Hay Saloon is the highlight of Virginia City’s historic appeal. The exterior of the building perfectly fits the Old Western motif and the interior of the bar brings the town’s cowboy atmosphere to life. The antique arcade machines in the front room and the paintings of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday across from the bar transported us back to the dusty old gold panning days of the past. The realistic tone of the saloon made it the perfect setting for the 1970 Dustin Hoffman movie, “Little Big Man”. Parts of the structure had to be rebuilt after a 1983 fire, but the ornate, angled ceiling and the potbelly stove in the center of the bar room are easily recognizable from the movie.
Bruce and I were joined at the Bale of Hay by my parents. We dined on delicious pulled pork tamales and the Grog Dog on a bun, sampling several unique brews in the process. Bruce enjoyed a Moose Drool beer while I particularly liked the Pig’s Ass Porter. After watching our friendly bartender make Moscow Mules for other patrons, I had to try one. It was so good that, after she tried mine, my mother had to have her own. We enjoyed learning about how much fun the Bale of Hay has in celebrating its heritage by organizing fun events like Brothel Days, featuring bed races down main street and local ghost tours. Our only regret is missing the Brewery Follies in the attached log opera house next door. We do know that we want to come back!
After many months of saving and planning, Bruce and I were finally able to explore the oldest bars in the states of the Pacific Northwest. Our first stop was The Shooting Star Saloon in Huntsville, UT. The exterior is a rustic wooden saloon that looks so quintessentially western that it almost doesn’t even look like a real building. Originally built as a trading post in the 1850’s, it was converted to a saloon in 1879 and has not closed since! Holken Olsen, the original owner, kept serving alcohol to the miners and ranchers right through the prohibition era. Whenever Olsen got arrested, his wife would take over bartending until he was released.
The experience got even better when we walked inside the bar. Antiques and bizarre taxidermy decorated the interior, including the stuffed head of a huge St. Bernard named Buck. At 240 pounds, Buck held the title of largest St. Bernard in the world in the Guiness Book of World Records for more than 20 years. His owner had his head mounted after Buck passed away, but the shape of Buck’s mounted head resembles that of a bear. The taxidermist charged with the task couldn’t find a dog skull large enough to fit Buck’s skin, so he used a bear’s skull instead! We sat in “Buck’s booth,” of course,” to honor the great dog.
Julie, our bartender pointed out the long gun hung over the bar. She explained that the 1700’s-era musket was found in a nearby field some time ago. Even the ceiling was interesting. We’ve seen bills posted on the walls and ceiling of other bars, but this ceiling had more bills pinned to it than I’ve ever seen. Julie said a conscientious customer with a lot of time on his hands once added up the bills. He estimated the total worth to be about $15,000. Arriving in the less-busy afternoon, we were delighted to have some time to converse with Leslie, the owner of the Shooting Star. Bartenders Julie and Karen regaled us with interesting stories of the bar and served us up an order of their famous burgers. One might not expect too much by way of food in such a small establishment, but the burgers at the Shooting Star have been rated by USA Today as the third best in the country. Judging from the “mmmmm’s” emanating around our table after the first bite, we deemed the rating completely justified. Wow, they were good. We also sampled some interesting local brews, and our family shared the tasty Polygamy Porter. It seemed appropriate. I wouldn’t have expected such a fun and interesting bar in conservative Utah, but after 137 years, The Shooting Star Saloon is all one would hope it would be.
Wow, the Broad Axe is an old bar!!! The updated interior and well-appointed bar almost conceal the fact that this establishment has stood in the same place several centuries. Our server gave us a history sheet which states that the Broad Axe was build beside an old Indian path in 1681. You can only imagine the number of historical events that took place both in and just outside the Tavern’s walls. During the American Revolution, for example a British General described his plan to capture the Marquis De Lafayette, a French nobleman serving the American cause. The plan was overheard by the American General James Grant while dining at the Broad Axe, who made sure the plan was thwarted. Lafayette went on to become a great Revolutionary war hero.
George Washington marched by the Broad Axe at least 6 times during his life, and soldiers from both sides of the revolutionary war were buried alongside the road after dying in nearby skirmishes. My favorite story of this place is that the former landowner, George Brisbring stole fifty grave markers from a nearby abandoned cemetery to build the hearth in his adjacent home. The spirits from those graves would apparently gather by his fireside. Brisbring eventually joined those spirits when he died, and they now roam the countryside together.
As if sitting in front of an old fireplace in the 335 year tavern wasn’t enough, we were very satisfied with a nice meal and just one more cold beer. This was a great finale to a busy day, making this the third bar and the third state in one day!
July 8th 2016 was a particularly special day in our journey of bars because it was close to where I grew up. Friends and family members joined us for the day. The proximity of the oldest bars in New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania were within an hour of each other. Though we prefer to take more time to explore the area in which each bar is located, it worked out best to visit all three taverns in a single day of historical bar hopping! We arrived at the Philadelphia Airport at about 10:30 in the morning where my parents, my Aunt Marcia and Bruce’s lifelong friend, Jim picked us up. By 11:30 am, we were ordering lunch at The Barnsboro Inn in Sewell, NJ.
The Barnsboro was originally a log cabin built by John Budd in 1720. It was eventually purchased by John Barnes who petitioned to have his home licensed as a Tavern in 1776. Later owners converted it into an ice cream parlor during the prohibition era, but rumor suggests it also operated as a speakeasy. The building has been added on to several times over the years, but retains its original log cabin ambiance with dark wood beams framing the charming bar room. We had a great lunch of upscale bar food while enjoying the company of good friends and family. I had the corncake poppers, which were delicious, but the Barnsboro also had a pretty impressive dinner menu.
We really enjoyed our friendly bartender, Alyssa. She was very patient with 6 of us roaming around the place, admiring the preserved architecture and asking questions. She distributed copies of a one-page history of the tavern, and even gave Bruce and I embroidered Barnsboro staff shirts after we explained to her the nature of our quest! We were once again reminded of one of the great reasons these old watering holes continue to survive… their hospitality.
The second bar we visited in a single day was Jessop’s Tavern. We found it tucked in the historic section of New Castle, Delaware. A life size statue of William Penn graces a local park since it is here that William Penn first landed in the new world in 1682! The stone buildings and red brick sidewalks made New Castle a strikingly pretty place to spend the afternoon. With our friends and family along we first strolled the waterfront, read historic markers, toured old buildings, and visited antique and gift shops. We eventually decided we were ready for another beer. Known for its wide selection of Belgian beers, we looked forward to seeing what was on tap at the oldest bar in Delaware.
Jessop’s Tavern was built as a private residence in 1674 and later purchased by a cooper smith (barrel-maker) named Abraham Jessop in 1724. One source credits the established date of the bar as 1724 while another source states that it was a private home in until the late 1940’s or early 1950’s. Jessop Tavern’s dark green shutters, embellishing the multi paned windows and vintage tavern sign made it look like it came straight out of a beautiful old painting. The quaint décor carried through to the interior with a stained glass lighted bar-back highlighted the nicely decorated period room. Accented with old muskets and colonial scenery pictures on the walls, it was easy to imagine sitting down and enjoying a beer in these rooms 274 years ago. The servers all dressed in old world clothing which added to its historic charm. Jessop’s is known for its wide selection of Belgian beers, and our party felt compelled to sample several of the recommendations made by our server Darien. We were still fairly full from lunch at the Barnsboro Inn so we made due with some delicious snacks and desserts. I loved their fruit, cheese and nut plate almost as much as their Jessop’s Brambleberry Ale! Bruce was almost brought to tears by the tastiness of their traditional butter tart. We all left Jessop’s feeling closer to our countries’ beginning days.
One of the many perks of visiting every state in the country is that sooner or later, you are going to have to visit Hawaii. Chinatown, Honolulu, in the former red light district is where we found Smith’s Union Bar, aka Smitty’s. It was established in 1934 by a man named Joe Holley and served whiskey and entertainment to the sailors of Pearl Harbor. His son, Leroy Holley took the bar over and married the bartender Gail. Leroy was a well-connected lobbyist, who preferred to be known as “just some local guy who could get things done.” His role as the owner of Smith’s allowed him to get to know politicians, gangsters, sailors, and business tycoons. He lobbied for the working man, and Tony Rutledge, president of labor union-related nonprofit Unity House, said Holley was a friend of working people. "He was always ready to listen and help. He helped resolve a lot of problems behind the scenes. He was just a friendly guy”
Smith’s clearly hasn’t changed much over the years and the old navy pictures and cartoons that lined the narrow bar-room reminds one of the seedy sailor, feel of the bar. Our bartender, Darryl however, maintained the friendly warmth of Holley, the former owner, and kept the tunes playing and everyone’s feet tapping. While smiling and enjoying the classic rock tunes with cold, cheap beer, it was easy to make conversation with those around us. We loved how welcoming the atmosphere was in spite of a diversity of age, gender, and race amongst the regulars. Okay, so, full disclosure, the police were called before we left, but this time it wasn’t our fault (lol). Evidently not all customers were as impressed with such a diverse crowd, but one apple didn’t spoil the crate, so to speak, and with a little encouragement from the police, the bad apple moved on. By that time, our plan of stopping in for one beer had already become a four hour party, so instead of staying for karaoke, we said our good byes. We had walked about a block towards our hotel, when one of our new friends caught up with us to give us his contact information to stay in touch. We had made connections here that will leave the seedy old Navy bar a special place in our hearts!
Most of these posts are written by Cheryl and edited and added to by Bruce. Learn more about us on our About us page.