As The Daily Herald’s de facto dean of dives, I’ve lost more than I’ve won ripping pull-tabs in lounges.
With no glorious $599 winning tabby in my recent past, my entertainment budget is dwindling. Still, I love sitting at a dank, dark bar, drinking a beer or quaffing a whiskey and Coke.
I have a special fondness for dive bars, where there’s nothing extraordinary about the drinks or food. They’ve got pool tables with beat-up felt tops, well-worn barstools and a mishmash of tchotchkes for decoration.
Dive bars should have an edge to them that stems from a confluence of dinginess and simplicity, caution and homeyness.
Alison Spiegel wrote about 16 qualities — all impeccable observations — of dive bars for The Huffington Post, such as neon signs, bathrooms you’d rather not use, sticky floors and sassy bartenders.
“While the soul of a dive bar is intangible, certain tangible qualities — like year-round Christmas lights — are important indications of a solid establishment,” Spiegel wrote.
David Blend called dive bars “an essential part of the American experience” in his ode to the haunts for Thrillist. “There is freedom to be found in drinking with people who, while they might not quite understand why you’re there, don’t really care that you’re not somewhere else, being someone else, trying to become someone else altogether,” Blend wrote.
He also noted the importance of not treating dives like an exhibit or a zoo filled with specimens to be gawked at from afar.
One thing I’ll add: The food should be an afterthought. If they have a fryer, great. If all they have are bags of chips, even better.
It’s been obvious during the coronavirus pandemic that we are creatures of comfort, and that includes visiting our local watering holes. We’re looking to the future when we can safely share space (and drinks) with strangers. When public health guidance allows, the dive bars of Snohomish County await, with beer, greasy chow, pull-tabs and conviviality. Here are seven to check out, once bars are allowed to reopen.
18802 Smokey Point Blvd., Arlington,
Nestled between Arlington and Smokey Point, this joint along old Highway 99 is a local’s spot.
The unpaved parking lot is full of potholes, which suited the Jeeps, SUVs and trucks that pulled in just fine.
True to its name, horseshoes are nailed to the beams next to a pair of mounted bullhorns. Taxidermy deer and a jackalope keep company on a wall behind the bar. Ceramic and porcelain chickens guard the popcorn machine. Red Solo cup string lights twinkle overhead.
Before COVID-19, a pool table took up space in the bar. But now it’s gone to make room for socially distanced seating.
The menu doesn’t boast much, but it has what it should: lots of burgers and fries, a BLT and Taco Tuesday.
The draft options boasted a mix of the staples and some of Seattle’s finest ales, including Elysian.
204 State Ave., Marysville,
Bring cash to this 102-year-old piece of local history. But don’t fret if you have only plastic. There’s an ATM next to the jukebox.
There’s no kitchen, but you can buy a bag of chips to munch while you admire the bar-sponsored baseball team trophies, play pool, rip pull-tabs and watch TV. Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors Light, Elysian Space Dust IPA and Stella Artois were on tap during a visit in September, but there are plenty of other options in bottles and cans. If a bag of chips won’t do, you can bring in food from nearby restaurants.
The clock behind the bar says “Beer Time.” Signs warn of consequences for bad behavior: “Service may vary according to my mood and your attitude” and “As long as everything is exactly the way I want it I’m totally flexible.”
113 Fifth Ave. S., Edmonds,
In the heart of downtown Edmonds is this stalwart. Engel’s Pub has served pints and pours for 86 years.
After prohibition ended, the Engel family ran it from 1934 until 1981, making it the longest continuously operating business in Edmonds. The pub operates under the original liquor license, the second-oldest liquor license in Washington.
Before COVID-19 hit, it was a live music venue known for the blues and a karaoke hotspot. I’ve badly bellowed The Boss there on particularly blurry nights.
The menu has burgers, sandwiches, fried food, corn dogs, hot dogs and salads.
Behind the bar, 18 beers are on tap and plenty more available in cans or bottles. Cocktails are available to go.
Watch almost any sporting event on one of the six TVs around the bar.
Cactus Moon Saloon
717 128th St. SW A116, Everett,
The Cactus Moon Saloon is a staple in south Everett.
Sure, this is the sportiest of the selections in this totally subjective list. KING-TV’s “Evening Magazine” named it best sports bar back in 2009, which prompted former Herald writer Aaron Swaney to publish an addendum to his list of Best Places to Watch Football back in 2010. The saloon’s 32 TVs seems like sensory overload, but provides enough screens to check in on several sporting events at once.
Some might feel Cactus Moon doesn’t belong on this list. It’s large and well-lit. But it’s a dive bar with sports bar leanings. The jerseys, stadium and athlete photos and helmets around the walls and banisters make its purpose clear.
There are dart boards, golf video games, plenty of pull-tab bins, a host of ales, beers and ciders on tap, neon beer signs on the walls, plus it has a hot wings special on Thursdays for 50 cents a wing. The chicken wings, even at $18 for a pound, are excellent.
Soundview Bar & Grill
1116 Hewitt Ave., Everett,
When Everett had mill workers, they drank at this iconic downtown bar.
There’s nothing flashy or eye-catching about it from the outside. But inside is nirvana for those of us looking for cheap pours and hearty bites. It’s got dart boards, a claw machine game, pool tables, pull-tabs and a vending machine that sells cigarettes and Snickers bars.
The Soundview is a bastion of affordability. Sliders the size of standard cheeseburgers cost just $1.75.
Whether you’re there alone or with friends, order a bunch. You can always share with the table.
I’d gone there for years when I learned in 2019 that you can order “frings,” a basket of fries and onion rings. It was a revelation of indulgence and set back my nutrition plans for 2020, but since the year was kind of a wash anyway, I ordered up.
The Soundview has one sure sign of a dive bar: the Jägermeister shot machine, aka the Shotmeister. As an early 30-something, I can’t in good conscience recommend anyone line up for a dose of that syrupy mayhem, but it’s there if you’re in the mood for a hangover.
Sky River Pub and Eatery
36810 U.S. 2, Sultan,
The Sky River Pub and Eatery is a dive bar landmark along U.S. 2 in the tiny town of Startup.
During a Labor Day weekend stop at this locals’ spot, there were six beers on tap, including some Seattle-area brews. There’s a full bar, but after a holiday weekend of indulgence, I chose a refreshing summer ale. If you don’t see a draft brew you like, there’s a refrigerator full of cans and bottles.
The pull-tabs reeled me in, but they didn’t yield any return on investment.
Food is affordable but nothing of note. The Sunday special, a $3.50 plate of spaghetti, was what you’d expect. Other daily specials include Taco Tuesday and Friday, and French Dip Thursday.
Two pool tables and two pinball machines can chew up your time, if you’re tired of stop-and-go traffic.
Above the bar, a Bud Light dog statue stands guard with a Marilyn Monroe bust, the fishnet leg lamp from “A Christmas Story,” a giant flip flop, and a roadster with Marilyn in it. There also are photos of employees and regulars, past and present, a tribute to those who have made it a second home.
When traffic stresses you to your limit, pull over here to unwind.
Loggers Inn Tavern
215 Main St., Sultan,
Wood tells a story, and the old tiger oak wraparound bar at Loggers Inn Tavern tells an epic one.
The inn says it’s the oldest bar in the West, built in Cincinnati, Ohio, around 1890 from trees grown in Michigan. Tiger oak is a kind of lumber from a milling process called quarter sawing, not necessarily from an oak tree.
A fitting tribute to the area’s forestry industry, the bar once was part of the Wallace Hotel in Duvall before new owners moved it to Sultan in the 1930s.
The back of the bar features arches and mirrors that make the space feel larger. Carved fleur-de-lis adorn the top.
These days, the inn’s another locals spot. It’s just a block off busy U.S. 2. Pool tables, darts, karaoke, dancing, live music and poker entertain.
While a lot of those things have been on hold because of COVID-19, a digital jukebox churns out hits while the analog bartenders sling drinks.
On the food menu are burgers, pizza, sandwiches, Taco Tuesday, wings and wraps.
Washington North Coast Magazine
This article is featured in the fall/winter issue of Washington North Coast Magazine, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $3.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $14 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to www.washingtonnorthcoast.com for more information.