Beyond the cradling mountains and blooming cherry blossoms, past the steadfast evergreens and old Rainier Beer-sponsored summers lie glimpses of yesterday. Washington has been and always will be a changing state, and while this is sometimes a very celebrated aspect of the state, it often serves to destroy the very history and roots that planted this progression. However, every so often, some bones of the older, somewhat simpler times remain. There is plenty to see and do in Washington State, and there are plenty of luminous relics of its history remaining, just waiting to be enjoyed.
While there are far too many wonderful places to eat and drink in the great state of Washington, we’ve narrowed it down to five eateries, taverns, and cafes that have stood the test of time and don’t show any sign of falling just yet. Check out some of our recommendations and let us know some of your favorite places to grab a bite or a pint as well!
Horseshoe Café, Bellingham, WA
The Horseshoe Café is the oldest continuously operating café and cocktail lounge in the state of Washington. Nestled on the historic E Holly St in downtown Bellingham, this café and lounge has been there since 1886! The Horseshoe Café has seen the town of Bellingham grow from a small logging town into the charming, unique, and celebrated town it is today. With their red neon signage, this charming little eatery has been a familiar and enjoyed beacon of light since their move across E Holly St in 1958 where it has remained ever since.
Since its inception, The Horseshoe Café has been known as one of the finest places to grab exceptional food and drink in the town of Bellingham. While some minor updates to the building may have been made, this historical gem still offers visitors a taste of the rich, small-town history the area is known for. Featuring an impressive selection of regional beers on tap, daily specials, and delicious menu offerings such as the Hempler’s Hoagie or cinnamon chip French toast, there’s plenty to take in and enjoy at the Horseshoe.
McMenamins Spar Café, Olympia, WA
Olympia, Washington has changed plenty over the past 70 years, but as with many great cities in this region, a few whispers of its past still remain. Perhaps one of the finest of these whispers is The Spar. The Spar Café opened on June 28th, 1935, and was quickly dubbed the “finest eating and recreation parlor” around. It seems those early claims weren’t far from the truth, as The Spar still remains to tell its story, one plate and one beer at a time.
This unique eatery offers diners a taste of traditionalism, family fun, and culture, all the while serving up delicious favorites, both old and new. Be sure to inquire about their one-of-a-kind beer offering made from 3,330-year-old artesian well water that’s brewed on-site in the basement! Like coming home to Mom’s kitchen table, The Spar Café remains a nostalgic and comfortable nod to the past while managing to stay just as relevant and exceptional as ever.
The Parkway Tavern, Tacoma, WA
Those from the lumber town of Tacoma know they don’t always have a lot to talk about. It’s not quite Seattle, but it’s something special all the same. Tacoma is rich with history and places to see, and perhaps one of the best of them is The Parkway Tavern. The Parkway Tavern has been a staple in the Stadium District since 1935, in one incarnation or another. Starting as The Rawlings Market, a corner store that primarily sold beer, this quaint little location soon became The Parkway Tavern with a name change that occurred in the 1950s.
The Parkway Tavern has been a collective favorite for everyone from University of Puget Sound college students, to locals, to travelers and everyone in between. If there were a real “Cheers” bar, The Parkway Tavern would come close to it. Offering a down-home, welcoming vibe with a wide selection of beer and a radiant warmness, this historic location has a charm and personality that shows off what Tacoma is really made of. The Parkway Tavern is worth the visit, and worth its 80-plus years of laughter, tears, community and most importantly — delicious cold beer.
Al’s Tavern, Seattle, WA
The words “dive bar” may be dirty to some, but for those looking for a good time, great company, some food, and a wide variety of alcohol — they may know those words as an entirely different mantra. Located in Wallingford just off N 45th, Al’s Tavern is the kitsch, pristinely gritty, kooky, wonderful tavern you’ve been looking for. Opened in 1939, Al’s has been a favorite for University of Washington students (once they find it, of course) and Wallingford residents for quite some time.
Featuring a more traditionally classic interior with portions offering a 1960s or 70s vibe, they also offer a functioning jukebox, comforting worn wooden tables, and even a Pac Man machine, proving there’s a lot to be enjoyed at Al’s. Not only do they offer the likes of “Bob’s Salty Nut Sack” and pizza, but they also offer a lot of history and plenty of good beer too. And if that’s not enough to convince you of the beauty this place holds — you’re also allowed to bring your dog, and nobody really minds if you bring your own food as long as you don’t act up too much and you order a drink.
Triple XXX Rootbeer Drive-In, Issaquah, WA
The area surrounding Lake Sammamish has developed rather significantly over the years. With I-90 changing the way we drive and new shopping areas changing the way we shop and eat, Issaquah has grown from a small town of miners and farmers to a bustling, almost vacation-resort town. While plenty has changed, and while the forest is getting a little smaller in the area, there’s still one thing that remains untouched from Issaquah’s past: The Triple XXX Root-Beer Drive-In. This unmistakable diner has been a staple on NE Gilman for over 60 years, serving locals as well as those who venture from the lake area looking for a bite. The original location was once off the now mostly unrecognizable Sunset Hwy, then known by locals as “The Barrel.” However, in 1968 the brightly colored, easily found location opened and has remained ever since, offering up plenty of good-times, nostalgia and fine standard American samplings for whoever wants them.
The inside of the Triple XXX Drive-In has become a little kookier and a little more cluttered, but the menu remains largely unchanged in the past 50 years. There’s plenty to look at and plenty to eat with this fun, silly, and retro diner. The roads you take to get there may have become more complicated, but their cheeseburger and milkshake have thankfully stayed just as classic, just as filling, and just as pleasing as ever before.
Washington State is full of great places to see, amazing food to eat and plenty of memories to be had. Take a look at some of our other guides to learn about other ways to enjoy and explore Washington.
When visiting these restaurants, please follow all recommended social distancing and mask guidelines. They may be open for takeout only — check each restaurant’s website for updates.
The Horseshoe Café (Facebook).
McMenamins Spar Cafe, Experience Olympia and Beyond.
Parkway Tavern, Gritty City Food.
Al’s Tavern (Facebook).
Triple XXX Root-Beer. David Bangs, 1999.