Life

The Brick, The Oldest Bar In Washington State, Is A Hub For Local Music And History

The Brick Saloon has a history that any dive bar would be proud to boast about. Self-dubbed “the oldest operating saloon” in Washington — even if other places quibble about start dates, license continuations and name changes — it manages to be a landmark in Washington state and well worth the drive out into what my mom would call “the boonies.”

During prohibition The Brick featured access to one of the town’s numerous prohibition tunnels, helping distribute illegal booze to citizens, many of whom immigrated directly to the fledgling town of Roslyn, Washington in order to work in the area’s now-defunct coal mines. On the grounds of a nearby mountain resort, Suncadia – A Destination Hotel, a few of the old mines shafts still stand, stark as monuments, boarded over but accessible for visitors to peer down into the darkness and imagine a different time, when a gaping dark hole constituted a viable workplace. No wonder they needed booze at all costs.

Founded as a mining town back in the late 1880s, Roslyn is about 80 miles east of Seattle, just over an hour if you don’t hit traffic. The sidewalks of the miniature downtown are dotted with signs and landmarks explaining old coal cars, those aforementioned, boarded up mining shafts, and historic buildings with quirky features like double doors on the second floor, for when the snow drifted over a building story high. The town is quaint in a way that feels extra appealing in the era of smartphones, Twitter, and laptops.

These days, since the coal mines near Roslyn are long defunct, a new economy in the form of Suncadia’s secluded resort amenities has sprung up. Given the spot’s emphasis on family, it made sense to bring my own brother and sister along when I was invited to check out the resort during a recent visit to Seattle for the holidays. Our stay fell on my sister’s birthday, which gave us even more reason to do something special, and the resort provided us with a stand-alone vacation home to use instead of a block of rooms in their massive central lodge.

This is how I came to wake up on the outskirts Roslyn during one of the state’s biggest snowfalls of 2017, happy to bask in the thick, rich quiet that only a new snowfall can bring. I love the way fresh snow turns everything silent, even if we already out in the middle of nowhere. Staying in a secluded home-away-from-home in a small mountain town is definitely the most Northwest kind of vacation.

Courtesy of Suncadia

11 Miner’s Camp, as the three-bedroom home where we stayed, was dubbed (every Oregon and Washington mountain cabin has a name), offered more than enough space for the three of us — even if I rather begrudgingly took the bedroom with bunk beds. Their emphasis on hosting family is no joke, apparently.

Once we got settled into our home for the weekend, it was just a quick walk through the woods — and past the local, historic cemetery — to make our way to The Brick. TV fanatics will recognize it as the set from the series Northern Exposure, and more recently, a backdrop in The Man In The Castle. But for music fans, it represents the kind of casual, irreplaceable venue that is mostly dying out, even in the more lowkey areas of the country like the Pacific Northwest.

While most people are more than aware of Seattle’s iconic music history — after all it is the home of the grunge scene, and massively popular arena rock acts like Nirvana and Soundgarden — it’s rare for the visiting traveler to look beyond the city’s most infamous rockers. Yes, the rare few will venture to Olympia, where the iconic label K Records took off, along with the feminist punk riot girrrl movement, but the rest of the state quickly fades into view for everyone else.

The lack of scope is fair, as it’s rare even for locals to venture out beyond the metropolis, either. But given the time or energy to travel just an hour or so out into the nearby Cascade Mountains, there’s plenty of musical history to be found beyond “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Namely, the fact that the oldest bar in the entire state still hosts multiple shows every weekend on an expansive indoor stage — and in a tiny town whose population is smaller than the capacity of most substantial venues.

Calling Roslyn tiny isn’t at all flippant — at the town’s last count, the official residents numbered under a thousand, 926 to be exact. But even with a population that small, Roslyn’s rich history continues to draw plenty of visitors throughout the course the year, weather be damned. The mountains are beautiful, and new draws like the recently-opened Heritage Distilling Company tasting room are nice, but for most people, the town’s primary draw as a tourist destination is still thanks to The Brick.

When we ventured through the snow to visit the bar on a Wednesday afternoon in November, the bartender on duty was happy to take us down into the gloomy, ancient basement, where a drunk tank cage sits intact along one side, and an entrance to the prohibition tunnels runs alongside the other, just under the town’s main strip.

There’s plenty of history upstairs, too. The Brick is one of a handful of bars in the state — and the country — that still has the original 23-foot trough spittoon with running water intact under the bar. Latter-day accounts say that it was for chewing tobacco… but I think all of us can imagine another activity a bunch of drunk men freezing their asses off in the mountains might want to avoid.

On a more wholesome note, every spring the bar holds their Annual Indoor Running Water Spitoon Boat Races And Regatta, which is sort of self-explanatory, but just in case is a series of boat races held in the spitoon itself. This year is the 30th edition of the event — entry is $10 if you’re going to be in the area around March 10 — and it is the only one of its kind.

Spitoon regattas aside, it’s still the musical connection that ends up making The Brick a destination, even if it’s just a quick day trip from Seattle. Aside from its rebellious, historical past, the bar is a rare venue in a mountain town with a stormy season, a small population, and not a lot of other options.

Every Friday and Saturday night — and occasional weeknights — the bar is booked with a band, whether they be local or just passing through, so Suncadia guests and residents alike can head down to The Brick for these shows, which amount to some of the only entertainment in town. It won’t get you famous, but playing The Brick is a rite of passage of sorts, a feather in the cap for bands that may not have a huge fan base on their own, but who can bring music to people who are looking to while away the hours after the latest snowfall.

Unlike most other venues, the process for getting booked at The Brick is pretty simple: Email them. For plenty of local acts who know they might never make it big, or play a stage beyond the Sea-Tac area, The Brick is a cool, off-the-beaten path spot where they can play a show at a beloved bar to a warm, welcoming crowd. Yes, it might be all the way out in the boonies, but if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a set on a night where it’s snowing — and you’ll be with family.

Uproxx was hosted for this story via accommodations provided by Suncadia. Check out the Uproxx Press Trip policy here.

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