Ivar’s Mystery Painting seen through porthole window on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Ivar’s Mystery Painting seen through porthole window on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

What’s a fish tale worth? Ivar’s for a year

A mystery painting is on display at the Mukilteo Ivar’s. The deadline to solve it, or at least take a good guess, is Jan. 15.

MUKILTEO — Things are fishy at Ivar’s.

What’s up with that?

The bait is the mystery behind a large painting, dated 1905. Whoever comes up with the best tale wins fish and chips for a year.

“In cleaning Ivar’s Mukilteo restaurant at the end of the summer, we came across an old painting in the attic,” Ivar’s President Bob Donegan said. “It may be Ivar’s parents.”

That’s a stretch. The couple in the painting — a guy in a sock hat and waders playing a ukulele and a mermaid sitting pretty on a rock — look more like flower children of the 1970s.

“Do you know the provenance of the painting?” Donegan goes on to say. “If not, can you make one up?”

Ivar’s Mystery Painting on display at the Mukilteo Landing restaurant on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Ivar’s Mystery Painting on display at the Mukilteo Landing restaurant on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

(Do you know what “provenance” means? I had to look it up.)

The painting is on display at the Mukilteo Landing Ivar’s. Have a look. No purchase necessary.

The winner gets 52 certificates for a fish meal that includes chowder and a drink at any Ivar’s location. That’s about a $25 meal. Multiplied by 52, it’s a $1,300 purse.

A Google Images search drew a blank of any scuttlebutt on the painting. One thing is obvious: It’s not 120 years old.

The timeline fits the Ivar’s story, though. Ivar Haglund, 33, opened the first restaurant in 1938. A folksinger turned fish ‘n chips purveyor, Haglund spread the word of seafood by performing. He also staged attention-grabbing spectacles, such as octopus wrestling and clam eating contests on the Seattle waterfront.

Haglund knew the value of advertising and public relations and reveled in it. The mystery painting fits with the mojo.

“It’s another adventure in the Ivar’s scheme,” Donegan said. “It’s fun stuff.”

Donegan said the company takes pride in its creative advertising campaigns and contests.

Brace for competition.

Clams spell out letters of the artist’s signature on the Ivar’s Mystery Painting on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Clams spell out letters of the artist’s signature on the Ivar’s Mystery Painting on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

In 2022, Ivar’s had a “Where’s the missing ferry?” contest with the same year of fish meals prize after a new ferry terminal moved from next to Ivar’s to one-third of a mile away. The onramp was replaced by a parklet overseen by Ivar’s.

A song by Eric Arnold, a retired social studies teacher, was the grand prize winner out of 200 entries.

Arnold, 61, of Coupeville, recorded his “What Happened to the Mukilteo Ferry?” ditty through the GarageBand app on his phone.

“There was nary a ferry, of course I was wary, but at least I could still get a bite,” he croons. “Sitting in a booth at Ivar’s, munching on some salmon and chips, trying to figure what happened, how’d the ferry give us the slip?”

He performed the song during the awards ceremony in September 2022 at the parklet. Six runners-up each received $150 Ivar’s gift cards. All had dinner courtesy of Ivar’s.

Arnold’s song ends: “If you’re waiting in line and Ivar’s sounds fine, it’s now just a short little walk.”

It can also be a hurried run.

On a ferry trip to Clinton, Arnold said, the boat had just taken off and he had 30 minutes to kill in the holding lane. He succumbed to his hankering for a to-go order from Ivar’s, which was a longer walk than he realized.

“I made it back with about 30 seconds to spare,” he said. “I made it back and I got the Ivar’s.”

He and his wife, Deb, used the coupons at various Ivar’s around the region. He enjoyed getting recognized by workers as the “ferry song” guy.

After 52 weeks, he has been asked hundreds of times if he is tired of eating fish and chips.

“No, I couldn’t be more hooked on Ivar’s,” he said.

He not only got a year’s belly of fish, it didn’t hurt his music career. He performs at venues around Whidbey Island and sang at Langley’s whale festival.

“I’ve had people say, ‘You’re the Ivar’s guy. Play the Ivar’s song,’” he said.

His YouTube channel, Burblesbelly, with songs such as “Squirrels in Love,” has 29 subscribers.

“It has been a motivator for me to write more songs,” he said. “I introduce the song that won me a year’s worth of fish and I tell the story and they are all really jealous. It’s a great story. We all have our stories.”

Here’s your chance for your own fish tale.

Submit a story, drawing, photo, song, video, whatever to Painting@KeepClam.com. The deadline is Jan. 31.

The story of Ivar’s

(according to Ivar’s)

Ivar’s Seafood Restaurants was started in 1938 after Ivar Haglund, 33, opened the city’s first aquarium on Seattle’s Pier 54. Droves of people lined up and paid a nickel to view the sea life he collected from the Puget Sound. Noticing his patrons often came with an appetite, Haglund began to sell clam chowder and fish and chips on site.

And thus began his career as a restaurateur.

Haglund used endearing and self-deprecating humor to make guests feel at home. Through the years, he supported many local causes. He coordinated stunts, such as a syrup spill-pancake feed on the rail tracks and strolling to the Frederick & Nelson department store with his seal Patsy. He created a Clam Stamp that U.S. Postal Inspectors didn’t think so humorous.

He hung his beloved Salmon Sock on the Smith Tower, one of Seattle’s tallest buildings that he owned at the time. When he wanted to use a barge for his outdoor dining at Ivar’s Salmon House, he snuck it through Lake Union in the middle of the night. He also ran on a lark for port commissioner. Much to his surprise, he won.

Haglund died in 1985, just shy of his 80th birthday. A group of longtime friends commissioned a statue to honor him and placed it on Pier 54, next to his first restaurant, Ivar’s Acres of Clams.

His motto “Keep clam” lives on to this day.

Is there a person, place or thing making you wonder “What’s Up With That?” Contact reporter Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @reporterbrown.

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