Shelton-Mason County Journal - Dedicated to the citizens of Mason County, Washington since 1886

How far is too far to drive to a dive bar?

Stretching the definition of ‘trail’


January 13, 2022

George Stenberg

A miniature model tavern shelters the chalk message board beside the sign for the Brooklyn Tavern.

I heard about the Brooklyn Tavern 10 years ago from a guy who grew up in Raymond. He was never much for description, and he didn't let me down this time, either; he just managed to convey that it was far, far away.

So about eight years pass and I'm at the Artic Tavern with George Stenberg, watching the Kansas City Chiefs spank the hapless San Francisco 49ers in whatever Roman numeral Super Bowl it was that year.

That's where I learn that the Brooklyn Tavern is 17 miles straight up the road from the Artic. At that time I had believed that the Artic - with its alder-smoked atmosphere, monstrous stuffed animal heads, R-rated doorknobs and policy of allowing dogs to not only roam free in packs, but to sit up on barstools next to you and eat snacks - was the most original watering hole you could find for the price of an afternoon drive.

But no, my brave Columbus, you're still in Cuba. The New Land lies north. It is rumored that the Brooklyn's parking lot is paved in bottle caps and its patrons are serviced by a gravity-fed spittoon.

Lowlife versus no life

A few brief words of assurance for those of you thinking “On the Trail” has gone off the rails.

That’s not the case. But a bit of stretching is in order. I’m stretching the definition of “trail” to include roads, highways and neighborhood streets from now on. I need more room to roam or I will start to repeat myself. (Thus the shift to “On the Go.”)

And I’m also stretching one of my major themes, waterfalls, to include water in all its meanings and forms. This week we’re swimming, so to speak, in liquids of distilled and fermented powers.

Thanks to COVID (a word I hate and a reality that won’t go away, like that annoying kid at camp who keeps hitting you and shouting “Tag!” long after the game is over) my life resembles a scrambled egg as I grope daily on a shifting surface of laws, rules, mandates, judgment calls and gut-check intuitions.

I no longer listen to any news from any source. Happier? Yes. But now I’m getting caught in lots of road closures.

“Mask on, mask off,” like I’m doing the drill from “Karate Kid.” Any day I’m going to hear that my booster needs another booster.

In addition to being 80% homebound since that Chiefs-49ers Super Bowl, I keep going places that either aren’t open anymore, are closed three days a week, or whatever you want is out of stock.

The Mayans were right, you know. Only off by a few years. This is the reckoning. Not some time in the future. Right now. This is when it all plays out. It will never go back to the way it was, never.So why restrict your fun-loving, wild-man-of-the-waterfalls guy from having a dive bar adventure now and then? The planetary doo-doo’s already hit the fan; I’m just trying to get a drink before the whole world is covered brown.

Taking a dive

As it stands, the term “dive bar” carries connotations of a dungy, dirty and dilapidated destination, the kind of dark, dreary place you pass by but never consider going into.

Well, as they say for so many subjects these days — time to change the narrative.

As a traveler, dive bars are of immense interest. Likely they are the older, more authentic watering holes and gathering places in a small town. Like the little local history museum, they are full of stories. You will find stories in old photos framed and mounted on the walls, as well as stories claimed and mouthed by self-appointed bar stool scribes.

Dive bars display true, unapologetic character. This, in fact, is the key defining element of a real dive bar. Fake places slap up a bunch of barn wood and call themselves rustic. Or plaster ’80s posters of Hulk Hogan and call themselves grunge. Or mount a million TVs and pretend to be a sports bar.

Sorry, you don’t slap on a theme. A true dive bar grows organically. It springs from the soil, the jobs, the lives of those who lived there when at first the bar arrived. The wood grain on the bar has a story, a place you can trace it to. The stools might be wrought iron, forged nearby. Somebody’s antique fishing rod and creel, they were mounted next to the beehive over the door for some specific reason.

Here’s where the dive bar is at its best. When donors love owners, the memorabilia flourishes. Now your bartender becomes a curator, explaining to the 30-something Seattle hipsters that the mounted snipe does indeed look like a jackrabbit fitted with antelope horns, but until you’ve hunted true Wyoming snipe ...

Brooklyn at last

Yes, yes, totally worth the drive on U.S. Highway 101 south of Cosmopolis, turning left onto Artic Road just after the Artic Tavern (it merges with North River Road; if you pass a school, you’ve gone too far).

The Brooklyn Tavern opened in 1927 and is the only remaining business of what was once a huge, booming logging town. Four owners and nearly 100 years later, Larry Viguerie, 72, holds court over the many wide-eyed first-timers who find themselves at 2611 North River Road, 17 miles from the nearest highway in a part of nowhere that’s nowhere near the middle.

The tavern is a small space so packed with nuance, humor and history, you cannot absorb it all on a single visit. It is part loggers museum, part howling man cave.

Inside, Larry serves mostly bottled/can beer, cider and box wine selections. He makes burgers, chili dogs and personal pizzas, but mostly he serves stories to satisfy the one question on every first-timer’s mind: “What is this place doing here, exactly?”

Remember, no apologies. A true dive bar is real, not what you expect real to be.

An old woodstove throws heat from the middle of the room. The bathroom doors open by means of rope pulleys and both genders are rewarded with walls richly papered in centerfolds from Playboy and Playgirl magazines. Dollar bills paper the ceiling above the lone pool table. Dusty taxidermic critters appear here and there. Old misery whips, balance boards, rusty cables, pulleys and early model chainsaws hang from the walls. One chainsaw is so big it looks like a motorcycle with shoulder straps instead of wheels, and a 6-foot blade sticking out its nose!

Not one TV in this place, not one. No Wi-Fi or internet, either. A radio plays whatever Larry or the locals want to hear. Indeed, the locals look you over good and hard, because they, too, want to know what you’re doing here, exactly.

Or as the sign next to the bar says, Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beerholder.

Come. Bring you best, beautiful self. If you pick up any dust, you can dust yourself off later, when you return to your “ever strange” Year 2+ COVID life.

Mark Woytowich is a writer, photographer, video producer and author of “Where Waterfalls and Wild Things Are.” He lives in Potlatch with his wife, Linda. His “On the Go” column appears every other week in the Shelton-Mason County Journal. Reach him at his website,, or by email at [email protected]


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