CHINOOK, Wash. - Taverns aren't really my thing, and haven't been since those halcyon days two decades ago when I was footloose, fancy-free and foolish enough to belly up to bars while tight-fisting bottles of Bud.
Call me old and curmudgeonly, but I'm no longer willing to tolerate raucous rooms swirling with cigarette smoke (although many taverns are now smoke-free) and peopled by fellow revelers. I make exceptions, however, especially for taverns that are said to serve good grub.
Still, when I eyed the row of low-rider motorcycles parked outside the New Fishtrap Bar and Galley (U.S. Highway 101, Chinook, Wash., (360) 777-8296), I winced. What was I getting into here? Did I want to share a bar stool with some Hell's Angel-type who might just as soon bust me with a pool cue as toast my well-being?
Fortunately, the Fishtrap isn't like that, even though a row of bikes, along with a bicycle or two, often graces the front entrance. The place isn't a brew pub, or even a pub, per se, yet the Fishtrap exudes the neighborliness of a growing number of Northwest taverns that prize a casual and friendly, rather than a rough and tumble, atmosphere.
More than a few of this new breed of watering holes offer menus extending far beyond typical pub grub, and the Fishtrap is one of them; that's one of the reasons that "New" is part of the name. Owners Mark and Julie Peterson bought the business last November and cleaned and updated the interior without compromising the century-old building's character. The Petersons also hired Dave Prahl, formerly employed at Astoria Golf and Country Club, to run the kitchen, which opens for business every day at 11 a.m.
To some extent, the menu here still reads like a pub sheet, with some differences - prime rib and ribeye stuffed with crab, for example, and a helping of pasta primavera, although the latter comes tossed, inexplicably, in an Alfredo sauce. My house salad was a pale collection of greens, and the dressing originated in a bottle. But a plate of pan-fried Willapa oysters arrived tangy-fresh, and halibut and sturgeon made a fine fish 'n chips duo.
Besides eating, the Fishtrap affords an eyeful. Historic photos of Chinook line the walls, along with salmon labels and nautical charts showcasing the Columbia River and the North Pacific. There are metal cutouts of fish and shellfish here and there, along with life-size and authentic-looking yellowfin tuna and Chinook salmon hanging above the L-shaped bar. A single pool table occupies the back of the tavern, and track lighting illuminates from the middle of the ceiling, keeping the dining area well-lit.
"Whoever did the redecorating had a sharp eye for restoration," my friend Scott commented after we sat down at a table. He pronounced the varnished plywood above the wainscoted walls "very '50s." Actually, the entire building exudes a nifty retro feel. After polishing off our meals, we transferred to two of the dozen or so bar stools and chatted up the amicable barkeep, who explained that the sturgeon on the menu might be short-lived due to limited availability. Then the three of us, the only ones left in the Fishtrap this evening, watched the Mariners' pitching staff blow yet another lead and lose to the Yankees.
Awash, as it is, in a newfound sense of chichi - what with the spiffy new lodgings and soon-to-come restaurants - it's nice to know Astoria's Uniontown section maintains its links to the past. Suomi Hall, Cafe Uniontown, M & N Workwear, the Portway and Triangle taverns and the Finnish Meat Market (home to the Astor Street Opry Company and its annual production, "Shanghaied in Astoria") are still around and thriving.
So's Mary Todd's Workers Bar & Grill (281 W. Marine Drive, Astoria, (503) 338-7291), a Uniontown hangout if ever there was one. Inside, there's a plethora of quintessential tavern paraphernalia, including hanging cutouts of mermaids, a wall of glass panels painted with likenesses of regular patrons, a pinball machine, probably the best collection of Bud signs anywhere and lots of local color. On a recent Friday early evening, the 30 or so patrons ranged from bankers to brokers and sailors to city workers, plus an old coot who knew where the best beer was poured.
Actually, you'd better like Budweiser if you prefer your suds out of a tap. Bud is what most everybody appeared to be drinking, not counting the serious imbibers who were sipping highballs. More interesting than the libations, however, is the food. Want a burger? Lots of choices here. How 'bout a barbecued beef sandwich, a French dip, a grilled ham and cheese or a BLT? The Workers has you covered. Ditto for a ham steak, a grilled chicken salad, prime rib on Friday and Saturday or just a basket of delectable skins-on fresh-cut fries.
Oh, and get this: The Workers opens at 7 a.m. and serves breakfast. The morning menu features all the usual egg dishes, plus biscuits and gravy, French toast and, heartiest of all, an eight-ounce steak arranged with three eggs, hash browns and toast. Whether you wash it all down with a steaming cup of java or a frosty glass of Bud is your call.
Contact the Mouth at The Daily Astorian, P.O. Box 210, Astoria, OR 97103, phone (503) 325-3211 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
SEASIDE - The lives of hurricane victims in Louisiana and Mississippi will see a bit of improvement, thanks to local fans of Cajun and Creole cuisine.
From Sunday, Sept. 11 through Saturday Sept. 17, Lil' Bayou Restaurant chef and co-owner John Sowa will contribute 20 percent of all his food sales to the American Red Cross for hurricane disaster relief. Restaurant guests can also sign a get well card that will be sent to New Orleans after the charity drive. A number of local bands have offered to provide some entertainment during the week at their own time and expense.
"It's the worst disaster I've ever seen," said Sowa, "and it's ironic that the two cities I'm most connected with, New York City where I was born and grew up, and now New Orleans where my cuisine comes from, have been devastated to such an unbelievable extent. We've been serving Cajun and Creole cuisine here for over five years and many of our food products come from Louisiana and Mississippi. This is the least I can do for the city and their people who have given me a cuisine to share with the people and community of Seaside and beyond."
For people who would just like to donate cash, there will be a collection jar at the restaurant for donations. Lil' Bayou is located at 20 N. Holladay Drive in Seaside.