It survived prohibition, the Great Depression, wildfires and the Spanish flu—and so far, Covid
written and photographed by Jackie Dodd
The bartender of The Brick Saloon in Roslyn, patted the cold, cinder block wall in the back of the dimly lit basement below the bar. “This is where it was,” he said, standing behind an aged iron door, which still looks to be a century newer than the surrounding bricks. “This is where the tunnels were during Prohibition,” he said. “They used them to get liquor in and probably to ship it out. No one really knows for sure.”
What remains of the activities that transpired in the depths of this storied bar during Prohibition has turned into folklore, and the tunnels have been sealed tight as a bootlegger’s secrets. During the dry time, 1920 to 1933, this humble watering hole was a “soda fountain” and café, after more than three decades of being firmly cemented as a local favorite. Although it opened the year Washington gained statehood (1889), prohibition meant adapting, and if the tunnels that ran under the adjacent streets are any indication, the adaptation was far more than just pouring kid-friendly concoctions and slinging burgers, a choice that is likely the reason The Brick still stands.
When asked what they think about other bars claiming to be older, trying to grab the crown of “Washington’s Oldest Bar,” the bartender just pulls the business license off the wall, “See? The license number is 1, we weren’t just the first bar in Washington, but the first business license ever issued in the state. We’re the oldest, they’re just not.” Although the debate rages on, some Pacific Northwesterners award the title to The Bluebird Inn in Bickleton, which opened about a year and a half earlier than The Brick. The Bluebird, however, has not been in continuous operation and has changed hands many times, with different business licenses. If the qualification for “oldest” must go to the longest continuous running bar in the state, The Brick seems to be the winner.
Landing somewhere between a historic landmark and a friendly neighborhood dive bar, The Brick is exactly what you want it to be, and worth the drive. The taps pour craft beer from Roslyn Brewing, Icicle, Iron Horse and many other local favorites. The food will get the job done. The walls have heard much and almost seem to speak. Some of the history is well documented, making its Hollywood debut in the Dick Van Dyke movie The Runner Stumbles and shots of the exterior popping up again in the 1990s television show Northern Exposure. It’s the history that’ll never be told, though, that seems to drift through the space like a ghost. Remnants of its past lives clinging to all the surfaces, spanning the decades to remind us that it’s not going anywhere—pandemic be damned. “It’s the ‘Three Little Pigs’ idea—it’s made of brick, it’ll survive anything,” said the bartender, pouring a beer and reminding us that this place will outlive us all.
100 W. PENNSYLVANIA AVE.