On a quiet Friday afternoon, David Weston stood behind the counter of Kroakers, the Everett bar he bought two years ago. A few regulars sipped drinks and watched ESPN.
Weston looked at a stocky man in a brown leather jacket. “Gary, how long you been coming to this bar?” he asked. “Since 1907?”
“Since right after Prohibition was repealed,” the man quipped.
“That’s old man Gary,” Weston said. “I inherited him. The first thing he told me was, ‘Thank you for saving my favorite bar.’”
The bar used to be a dive known as PC’s Pub. The owners called it quits in February 2012 and handed the place over to Weston, who renamed it Kroakers a few months later.
Having never worked in the industry before, Weston, 46, is an unlikely person to save a bar, but he’s far from unqualified. He learned the ins and outs of the nightlife scene by working at Red Bull for eight years, overseeing accounts with distributors, restaurants, clubs, pubs and casinos.
“I know how to play the game,” Weston said.
When he left Red Bull in 2011, some friends gave him a 12-foot outdoor bar for his birthday. He installed it in a breezeway of his home and surrounded it with VIP furniture he got from a nightclub that had gone out of business.
“All of a sudden this place became this little club,” he said of his house bar. “It got popular, everyone heard about it.”
Frogs could be heard croaking as they mated in a nearby pond, so people started calling the hangout spot “Kroakers.”
Taking over PC’s Pub meant simply transferring the spirit of the house bar to downtown Everett. That required leaving the dive bar identity behind; instead, Kroakers would be a neighborhood bar — a place with a constantly changing identity.
“A neighborhood bar can morph into anything it wants to be,” Weston said. “A dive bar is pretty well set in its ways. If it’s a dart bar, it’s a dart bar. If it’s a pool bar, it’s a pool bar. They all have their niches.”
Weston had bigger things in mind. “I want everybody,” he said. “On Sunday, I want a bunch of football fans. On Monday, I want poker players. On Tuesday, I want darts. On Thursday, I want basketball fans.”
He developed a knack for eventing during his days at Red Bull. As the on-premise manager for the state of Washington, he helped build and distinguish a burgeoning brand, once even renting out CenturyLink stadium for a football tournament.
Regulars come in to Kroakers for pool, darts, skee ball and $20 Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments. Special events aim to reel in new customers: a redneck potluck for the Daytona 500, cabbage bowling for St. Patrick’s Day, tortilla tossing for Cinco de Mayo. A partnership with the Everett Music Initiative brings in live bands.
Future plans include a room for off-track horse-race betting and busing patrons down to a Mariners game.
“There are so many people that buy a business and think, ‘I bought it, the door’s open, people are going to come through,’” Weston said. “That’s not the way. You’ve gotta give a reason for people coming through your door 24/7. I tell my bartenders, ‘It’s my job to bring people through the door, it’s your job to get them to come back.’”
Bartender Melina Alvarado, 22, greeted each person by name as a small crowd filled Kroakers for a poker tournament.
“Wherever you’re at in the bar ― playing darts, playing pool ― you’ll always meet one of the regulars,” Alvarado said. “They’re the sweetest people, the most down-to-earth people.”
She looked out at the three poker tables, each with eight or nine players. “I know all of these poker players. I know everything they drink,” she said.
“What they drink, what their name is, what their brother’s name is,” added Brooke Lane, 23, a fellow bartender who stopped by to say hi and was now behind the counter helping Alvarado. “You come in here and immediately you feel comfortable. You’re taken in, no judgment ― everyone accepts you as you are. It’s a big family here.”
The nucleus of the family is “The Founding Frogs,” a band of bar scene veterans that includes Weston and four friends who haunted the original Kroakers house bar. On any given night you can find them bouncing ideas off of each other, wondering things like, “Should Bryan bring in his ping pong table sometime?”
Weston said he’s heard Kroakers compared to a little kid’s rec room. “It’s like somebody gave all of us a bar to play with,” he said.
Still, it’s not all fun and games. The early days were tough. Weston says he was overworked, he missed revenue tax payments and employees stole from him.
“A lot of people think it’s so easy,” Weston said. “If you go into the bar business thinking you’re going to make money hand over fist, you’re not. You better be willing to put in the time and effort every single day, especially in the first couple years. If you want to hire a manager and hire all these other people, you’re going to be in the red for a while.”
Kroakers has nearly tripled its business from the early days. Weston can now relax a little.
“I can finally spend some time with my daughter, and that’s really important to me,” he said. “But going forward, I’m still driven. I want this to be a million-dollar business. I want everybody to know its name.”
Weston also leases a next-door storage unit with the same square footage as Kroakers. His long-term goal is to expand into the space and set up rooms for poker, gaming and off-track betting.
“The first year was getting our feet wet,” he said. “Second year: What did we learn from our mistakes and how do we make things go better? Year three: Now we’ve got our base, we know what our identity is, we’ve got a staff that we’re comfortable with. How do we expand on that and how do we maximize this space seven days a week?”
He pointed to the storage unit. “Then we’re going to break through that wall.”
Kroakers is at 3021 Rucker Ave., Everett, WA 98201. You can also find them on Facebook.