Best Bars in the Northwest

Drink-Thirty. A few bars to peruse.

Recently went through the July issue of Outside Magazine which, you should know, is a killer read. Orcas attacking their trainers, Lance getting ready to pedal again, and a collection of stories on why moving water (yea, rivers) are worth revamping and protecting.
In addition, Outside provided a guide on watering holes. I was especially interested in this matter as I’m exceptionally experienced in this subject, at least through the Pacific Northwest and the West.

Overall, Outside covered 38 prime drinking spots, only six of which I’ve visited. Whoa, are you kidding? So, what did they get right and what did they miss? Here’s my take, for what it’s worth.


Salty Dawg, Homer, Alaska

Outside got it right. This is a classic drinking establishment and I’m sure the evenings are something to see. I’ve only visited during daylight hours and the first time I did so some dude was staring out the window at me and a couple friends as we exited the rig.

He moved his face closer to the window and stuck his tongue out to touch the glass and then lapped the thing around. I was getting really uncomfortable with his shit-eating grin and that damned tongue when I noticed that a giant fly was walking on the outside of the glass. That’s what he was doing; painting a portrait of insanity by making like he was eating that fly!

We waltzed in and I shook the dude’s hand. We bought him a round and that’s when we decided we’d landed on a true freak. “I can get you anything you want,” he said. “In 15 minutes.”

“I’m cool, dude,” I replied, “I’ve got a job interview in a half-hour.” This was about our third stop on a drive down from Soldotna where we’d closed another bar at 6 a.m.

“Ok, well here’s my card,” he said. And out the door he went.

The Salty Dawg is a tourist trap for sure, but it’s also really cool place to check out if you’re in Homer.

Claim Jumper Saloon, Ennis, Montana

Ah, a hometown drinking hole for me. I live about 75 yards from the Claimjumper’s front door and even when I’m not there I can hear what’s going on while resting in bed, reading on summer evenings with the window open.

I was single when I moved to Ennis and I remember thinking, What are the locals complaining about? There are options galore here. And I still believe that. A summer night, with people driving over from Bozeman to fish, and with tourists headed to Yellowstone, and with a bevy of local character, there’s no downtime. The owners, Brad and Kelly Dilorio, are equally entertaining, Brad being a fun-loving, major presence at the bar. He’s a big, bald dude who you can’t miss and he makes a trip to the Jumper worth your time. He also make you pay if there’s a ruckus. And there often is; one time I was talking up a cutie and all of a sudden some dude landed headfirst on my Doc Martin kicks. I looked to my left and saw Brad with a stranglehold on a dude. True western bar here so keep you smartass in check if you value your teeth.

Lander Bar, Lander, Wyoming

Haven’t spent much time here except when I was exploring the Wind River Range for golden trout. But I remember good food and entertaining antics at the bar on a Friday night. Dancing, tap beers and true cowboys. Good place to be if you end up in Lander.

The Stagecoach, Wilson, Wyoming

Ouch. I’ve slept outside this bar in the back of my truck more times than I care to admit. I also remember a horned-up crew of Texan girls arriving out of the blue one night. It was disco night and I was looking out the window when they pulled into the floodlight-lit dirt parking lot. They noticed my stare and all of a sudden there were breasts exposed and then breasts pushed hard against the window. And here they came. Among other things that night, I remember being with a wild crew of angler/writers who were invited by Cloudveil to the Jackson area. I remember those breasts blocking corner pockets on the pool table. I remember trays of Cuervo and a taxi ride back to the Crescent H Ranch. The next day photographer Denver Bryan wanted me to catch some big cutthroats on a private spring creek and I could barely cast ten feet without falling into the water. I ended up landing a beautiful 19-inch Snake River cutthroat on a size-20 Trico, which was a miracle, for sure, and it turned into a Fly Rod & Reel cover shot. The Coach is a classic Jackson area bar, more local than tourist, and I have a true affection for the place. My advice: make sure to hit the Stagecoach when you’re in the Jackson area and make sure to have a safe method to get back to where you’re staying, whether that’s at a posh ranch or hotel, or in the back of your truck in the parking lot.


Alaska Bush Company, Anchorage Alaska

Ah, another Alaska classic that Outside missed. This place is more entertainment center than drinking establishment; the price of drinks is a heavy toll to pay, but the eye-candy and antics are like nothing I’ve ever seen outside Amsterdam. If you have time in Anchorage, even if it’s a really long layover, get to the Bush Company and partake.

The Happy Hour, Hebgen Lake, Montana

Situated on the banks of Hebgen Lake, just a few clicks from West Yellowstone, the Happy Hour has a way of eating up afternoons and stealing away evenings you meant to spend on the water.

I would say this place is as comfortable as they come but the first time I visited a friend said, “When the lady asks you want you want just say beer. Don’t ask for a brand.”

I followed his lead and all went smooth until I reached over for a book of matches and grabbed two.

“Two!” the barmaid spat, “isn’t one good enough!” I set the other matchbook back in its place and didn’t say another word for a few minutes until everyone started laughing and a free shot arrived  shortly after. Great view of the lake where you can watch people catch all those fish you were supposed to be after.

The Cabin Tavern, Richmond Beach, Washington

This is an all-time classic, known by few. It rests north of Seattle at the bottom of Richmond Beach Road and just a few yards from Puget Sound in Richmond Beach, which is where I grew up. Half of the bar is on a slant and the tables are usually full. You can catch Seahawks, Sounders and Mariners games here, but it’s not a sports bar. It has more of a nautical flavor with some shots of local RB history. You never know who you might meet in the Cabin because just up the street is the Robert Lang Recording Studio and Lang is a big name in music. Some of his clientele, which means people and bands you could have met at the Cabin include—Bush, Candlebox, Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder, Foo Fighters, Linkin Park, Peter Frampton, Presidents of the United States, Sir Mix A-lot, Death Cab for Cutie, Heart, Alice in Chains, Mastadon, Mark Lanegan, Murder City Devils, Nirvana, Silkworm, Supersuckers, and 3 Inch Max.

I have lots of great memories from this neighborhood tavern, first for sneaking in when I was underage (my mother said, “Just show them your fake ID” and I said, “You know I have a fake ID?” To which she answered, “We know everything,”); second for getting thrown out on various occasions for being a bit too rowdy; and finally for all the old friends I end up seeing there when I visit these days. Today, I like to hit the tavern after fishing the nearby Puget Sound beaches for sea-run cutthroat and resident coho. Great tap selection, including Manny’s (get it, try it, love it), and a full bar.

The Snow Goose, Phinney Ridge, Washington

Another Seattle area haunt that serves great microbrews on tap and offers a relaxing vibe. The boys from Deneki and Emerald Water Anglers are seen here on occasion, which adds to the appeal. Bands play on a tiny stage from time to time and there are worn copies of Playboy to thumb through on lazy afternoons. Just down the street from Phinney Ridge is Green Lake where you can throw for nasty stocked rainbows or, better idea, learn how to catch the lake’s sizable carp.

A big outdoor deck, lots of booths and pool tables sprinkled about. Great owners and big schooners on the cheap. I spent way more nights here than I should have in the 1990s when living in the Sun Valley area. Most notable? I was working out at a local health club and Clint Eastwood was doing curls next to me. His personal trainer came down from the cardio area and said, “Ok Eastwood. Three more sets of ten.” Eastwood scowled and, with a voice exactly like what we heard in Dirty Harry, he replied, “I think it’s time for a Corona.”

A few minutes later I’m chatting up a gal and I say, “Should we meet at Lefty’s tonight?” A few hours later we’re sucking down those schooners and laughing like crazy. But I bumped a schooner off the top of a booth and it landed on the dude behind me. I apologized but the ass goes ahead and pours a schooner down my shirt when I’m not looking. Next thing I know we’re on the floor and I’ve got him where I want him, but his friends start kicking me. I’m up and yelling to the girl, “Let’s go!” and she’s saying, “You can’t drive.”

I pull out of Lefty’s see the lights ahead of me and make a quick right and pull over. “When the cop gets to my window he says, “Is there a problem?” And I say, “Oh yea. First, some guy just tried to kill me in that bar and there’s no way I can drive. That’s why I pulled over.” He says, “I’ll drive you two home. Where do you live?” When I reply “East Fork,” which is 15 miles away, he says, “No can do.” Then he looks at me kind of funny and asks, “Where does she live?” I honestly don’t know, but I smile, turn to her and say, “Where do you live?” She says, “Right up the road at Warm Springs.” I turn to the cop and say, “Oh she just lives right up here.” Cop says, “Can you stay at her house.” I turn and smile again and nearly laugh, “Can I stay at your house?” And she nods. Good to go. Cops aren’t that bad.

Ah, Lefty’s. Visit there and you’ll get true Ketchum flavor. It’s a local hangout. By the way, the dude who poured the beer down my back? Bubba Street. Picabo’s brother.

Owl Club, Salmon, Idaho

Looking for trouble? Ah, the Owl Club. I’ve had people want to fight me in this joint even when I’ve never said a word to them. Must of been the salmon-colored shirt I wore in there one night (It wasn’t pink ok! It was salmon.) The last time I was in there the barmaid was sent straight from heaven. Brooks Montgomery, a rep for a bunch of solid fly-fishing companies, including Scientific Anglers, St. Croix and Korkers, used to be part of the house band that played there. His stories are rife with chaos. The wooden owl on the bar’s main-street facade has arrows planted in its beak, courtesy of Rene Harrop I’m told, and other angling icons, who used to frequent the area. I believe Montgomery may be responsible for one of those slings, too. Salmon is the place to be during spring and fall when the steelhead roll through. Lots of good days on the water to be had followed by a perusal of town and all of its interesting characters, finalized in the proper fashion—with a few drinks and game of stick at the Owl Club.

Kitos Cave, Petersburg, Alaska

I wasn’t there the night a friend snapped the sword off a marlin and started whacking people with it during a serious bar brawl. I was there the night my fake ID was stolen by the proprietor and I was the guy who launched a massive boulder at the front door just as a police rig rounded the corner to my left. I imagine what the cop saw; some dude with his arms outstretched, illuminated in the headlights; a giant boulder in mid-air headed toward a steel door with the proprietor looking out the window with a shit-eating grin on his face; another guy, my friend Chris, was laying in the street, knocked out cold, courtesy of the proprietor’s right fist.

Oh, summer in Alaska during the commercial fishing season. Kito’s offers some interesting bands, the commercial boys blow off steam and a good portion of their money after seign openings, and there’s no lack of people watching to do. A good place to be if you’re not in Petersburg’s other prime watering hole, The Harbor Bar.

Sean Kelly’s, Missoula, Montana

I go here to eat. You can’t go wrong with the Rueben, which I never order anywhere else, and I also love the Shepherd’s Pie and the Homemade Pasties. Nothing like a lunchtime powwow at Sean Kelly’s for a Rueben and a martini, such as The Dirty Girl, which is Tanqueray and olives in their juice. Good bands here, too. No reason not to visit, hoist a couple lunchtime pints and then head out on the Clark Fork or lower B-Root for dry fly love.

The Flying Beaver, Vancouver/Richmond, British Columbia

I’m not going to mince words: Do you want to see some great looking women? And down some big-time burgers and fish and chips and such? This restaurant and bar rests next to the South Terminal in Vancouver and is a great place to be when you have some time to burn before your flight on Coastal Airlines to the Bella Coola or wherever else you’re fortunate enough to visit in British Columbia. The waitresses here make a top-five list pretty difficult to agree on. “No, she’s the best looking,” one in your group might say while you could answer, “Look over there and tell me that isn’t your dream-girl.” The food is great, too and you can dine and drink on the deck and watch jets and floatplanes  takeoff and land. I’m not kidding you; check the baggage and walk over to the Flying Beaver. I was there not long ago with a pack of industry hooligans, meaning Andrew Bennett, George Cook, Jeff Watt, Michael White, and bamboo rodmaker Gary Berenson. We were headed to Bella Coola and then on to the Dean and that stop at the Beaver kind of set the tone for the trip, with Cook and Watt downing their martinis and Bennett, White and me following suite. Nice flight after that with a “Don’t care if I die attitude.” That’s the mood the Beaver can put you in, pre-flight, whether headed to the Dean, the Yakoun or some other killer river.

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