EDMONDS — It’s 5:30 on a Tuesday evening. Sinatra’s playing on the overhead speakers, and bar customers are shoulder-to-shoulder.
All 15 of them.
Welcome to Daphne’s, the hole-in-the-wall that’s the toast of Edmonds.
“It’s like being at a cocktail party at a stranger’s house,” said the ever-so-popular bartender, Desmond van Rensburg, in his hard-to-place accent.
At just 250 square feet, Daphne’s may be the smallest bar in Snohomish County. (The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board doesn’t keep records on square footage of establishments.)
The size of the bar, however, is its strength: The square, one-room bar with tiled ceiling, at 415½ Main St., forces patrons to mix.
“Everyone just talks to each other,” van Rensburg said. “They mingle around when it’s busy. Many times I’ll look at people and I’ll go, ‘This is why we love this place, because this guy will be talking to these people across the bar, and these people will get up and move over here.’ ”
Frank Gaborik of Edmonds has been coming to Daphne’s for three years and hits the spot at least once or twice a week.
“People pay $300 a month for storage units that are bigger than this,” Gaborik said.
It’s where he met his girlfriend.
“Let me see if I get this right — Nov. 6, 2015,” Gaborik asks Andrea Flynn, also of Edmonds.
She responds by high-fiving him.
Flynn made her first visit to Daphne’s on the night she met Gaborik. It’s still one of their favorite watering holes, a place to unwind and talk with other people. It’s too small not to engage with others around the room, and there are no televisions to distract.
“Look around, people can’t be on their phones,” Flynn said. “They actually have to socialize.”
Another of the strengths of the bar is van Rensburg, who has been making cocktails at Daphne’s for 7½ years.
“He understands the importance of connecting people,” Gaborik said. “You can’t roll in and sit over there and not talk to anyone.”
That’s how Judy Palm of Everett became a Daphne’s regular. She was walking around downtown Edmonds one day when she opened the door to take a peek. Van Rensburg called her in with a wave and a greeting.
Now, she’s back every other week, calling it her therapy. Part of the charm is van Rensburg.
“He’s friendly and energetic, and he makes you feel wonderful,” Palm said. “Without him, it isn’t the same. I come in here and he just puts a smile on my face. It has nothing to do with the alcohol.”
Van Rensburg, 61, is the maestro behind the bar, orchestrating the evening by greeting newcomers, introducing strangers and posing for pictures with patrons.
“You need to have people skills when you’re in a little bar like this,” van Rensburg said. “I’m basically on show.”
He grew up in South Africa and immigrated at 18 to the U.S. He landed in the Puget Sound area and started selling clothes at Nordstrom.
He’s spent most of his career as a bartender. He names places, some of which are still around, and others that have new names. He went to work at Daphne’s because it’s close to his Edmonds home.
“This little place fits like a glove for me,” van Rensburg said. “I absolutely adore it. Every day of my life, I just thank God that I work here. I don’t know how I managed to get in here. It’s the best gig in Edmonds.”
He acknowledges that this bar isn’t for every bartender.
“We’ve had people fill in here who are lead bartenders when people are sick or out,” van Rensburg said. “They phone me up and they say, ‘It’s not for me. I thought I was here to make cocktails. I didn’t think I was here to entertain,’ ” van Rensburg said. “These are guys who know what they’re doing.”
For the most part, it’s a one-man show.
“I tried to have help on Fridays, because Fridays are so busy, but basically the help just gets in the way,” van Rensburg said.
The bar, which is attached to the Edmonds Theater, was a barbershop for years. Then, several stores came and went. Van Rensburg credits bar owner Brian Taylor for seeing what the place could be.
Taylor lives in New York and owns two bars there called the Pencil Factory and Onderdonk & Sons. He was visiting his family in Edmonds when he saw the space. After his father died, he spent time in Edmonds helping his mother and wanted to take up a project.
Daphne’s wouldn’t be the same without van Rensburg, Taylor said.
“It was a great little bar before Desmond, but Desmond has taken it to a whole different level,” Taylor said.
Daphne’s seems to be gaining in popularity. The Seattle Times has written a couple of stories on the bar in the past few years, and the Edmonds Beacon featured van Rensburg in a story.
The coup, however, is a story written by actress Anna Faris in Delta Sky Magazine that names Daphne’s as one of her favorite places on her favorite street in her hometown of Edmonds.
“It’s the press, you know, the place, the cocktails and the dysfunctional bartender,” van Rensburg said. “It’s one great blend. That’s what it comes down to. When you mix it all together, it makes for a wonderful experience.”
If you go
Daphne’s Bar is next to the Edmonds Theater at 415 1/2 Main St.
Hours are 4 p.m. to midnight daily.
No telephone. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
More at www.daphnesedmonds.com.