ARLINGTON — The Smokey Point that Rick Alam knew no longer exists.
By the end of next year, the Longhorn Saloon will also cease to exist at 18802 Smokey Point Blvd., replaced by a roundabout, signaling just how much has changed in the past 80 years.
In the 1940s, the saloon opened along a quiet rural road with strawberries ripe for the picking, between Marysville and Arlington. It was a popular watering hole for off-duty pilots, who were training for combat in World War II at the nearby airport, according to bar lore recited by Alam.
Bulldozers and construction equipment will tear down and take away the wood and cement — as well as anything Alam doesn’t auction off. The barstool where Alam sipped on soda water on a cool November morning happens to be near the epicenter of a rapidly growing corridor.
He has owned the Longhorn since 2016, but he has deep roots here. Alam remembers when Marysville had fewer than 5,000 residents. For a long time, the nearest big landmark on Smokey Point Boulevard was a single Shell gas station at Highway 531 (aka 172nd Street).
Marysville now has over 70,000 residents. Smokey Point has grown up, too, as the main route to a new industrial center along the Arlington Municipal Airport.
Now, the forces of development are set to give Smokey Point its own downtown between 174th Place NE and 200th Street NE. Concept art shows multistory mixed-use buildings. Developers have an agreement with the city to create tree-lined sidewalks, bike lanes and angled parking spaces, Arlington Public Works Director James Kelly said.
The city, meanwhile, is building the roundabouts. The 188th Street roundabout, the one that will demolish the Longhorn Saloon, is expected to cost around $3.3 million. About two-thirds of that, Kelly said, is coming from federal grants.
Alam is not sure when exactly the bar will close, though likely before the end of 2023. He will be long gone when the demo crews come. Alam will turn 68 in January. He has survived two strokes, his blood pressure is high and he’s ready to retire. But that doesn’t make it any easier.
“People have been coming here for years,” Alam said. “You wouldn’t believe the amount of people that come up to me and tell me, ‘My parents met here,’ or ‘My grandparents met here.’ They still tell me about it.”
Alam has lived in Marysville his whole life, other than seven years in Alaska. He’s technically still an Alaska resident, in part because of his distaste for Gov. Jay Inslee. He estimates he lost 40% of business due to the pandemic. Bills for the bar have piled up too. He’s simply not making enough to keep afloat. In a different world, he would love to keep the saloon open into next summer.
In 2021, Alam asked the city to buy the property in light of the impending Smokey Point Corridor project, Kelly said. The city declined at the time, but months later, came back to Alam, who was still willing to sell when the project was finalized. Alam bought the property for $275,000 in 2018, records show.
The property’s sale price went to arbitration. It was still to be determined as of this week.
In the midst of those negotiations, Alam blames local and state government for many hurdles that have made owning a saloon difficult.
“They don’t care about small businesses,” he said several times, in the cadence of a chant, at an L-shaped table in the middle of the bar.
The dimly lit saloon is well-kept. On the right, when you walk in, musicians occasionally breeze in for informal jams. Alam doesn’t bring the acts in, friends do, he said. In the same corner, there used to be a wood stove, where the loggers would hang out, trying to get warm after a rainy day in the forest. Bikers often took up the other side of the bar.
The Longhorn had a reputation for being rough around the edges. A man was shot and killed in the saloon in the 1990s during a brawl. Three men charged in the case were members of the Ghost Riders motorcycle club, the Seattle Times reported at the time. One was charged in the killing.
These days, there are about 20 or 30 regulars, and many of the patrons call each other across the room by first name. The bar also does charity events, and often when bikers had a charity run, the Longhorn Saloon would be one of their stops.
Saloon manager Michelle Bruce isn’t sure what she’ll do after the bar closes.
“I’ve been bartending for 30 years,” she said. “And I’ve never met a closer group of people.”
She knows who likes their beer by the bottle, pulled from an ice chest. There’s a good audio system and a brand new AMP jukebox. An old rifle hangs in one corner, with old beer cans on another wall.
At one point, the bar served hot food, but Alam estimated it would take up to $6,000 to get the fryer and grill going again. Before the pandemic, the bar had a popular taco Tuesday, as well as a steak night. Alam serves cold sandwiches now, partly to keep his liquor license.
He will, however, have one last Thanksgiving feast at the bar. Alam is buying the turkey and ham, as well as potatoes. Bar patrons have a sign-up sheet on a whiteboard to bring sides. Some people don’t have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving, Alam said. This gives them a place — at least for one last ride.