We passed two small clusters of aging hipsters, cigarettes in hand (probably American Spirits) as we walked up to Cap Hansen's Bar last Tuesday night at 10:45, only to meet table after table of the same inside. Six members of six different local bands sat alongside other bandana wearing and copiously pierced barflies.
The bar was long and narrow with only nine tables and 10 bar stools. Even thought it was an off-night, there was only one lone empty table. Cap's seemed to attract a type that wasn't deterred by early morning jobs or the stigma of alcoholism, but rather lured by the siren call of nightly drink specials and $2 OLY tall-boys.
Entering the bar made me wonder how the hell they held a show here the night before. Israeli band Monotonixs, known for their unruly and unusual stage antics, headlined the show, while local thrash band the Cicadas opened. Apparently it went well, with band members rocking so hard that they thrashed themselves out of shirts and on top of the bar.
This bar has been a Bellingham staple for since the late 1800s, according to the owner Liz Von Krusenstiern, and has moved around the town, finally resting on its current spot in the 1940s. In fact, she told me, there was a book detailing the history available to any interested patrons upon request of the bartenders. The original Cap Hansen, despite the nom de plume, was not seafaring, Von Krusenstiern said. However, the bar's name did inspire the large, round nautical inspired window out-front.
We called dibs on the last empty table and ordered from the friendly face of Jen Westover, voted the Best of Bellingham's top bartender by the Cascadia Weekly. It was $3.25 for microbrews and since it was “bourbon night,” there were specials on any of your bourbon preferences. One of my friends walked to the back of the bar scooping up a bowl full of popcorn from the old style popcorn stand. The light from two TVs mixed with that of the Bud Light and Rainer Beer signs and the orange wall lamps casting a tavern-like glow over everything.
The words “the greatest thing you'll ever learn is to love and be loved in return” was scratched on the bar table below me. An odd quote, I thought, for a place that has the edgy feel of a dive bar mixed with homey kitsch of a small town tavern. One frequent bar-goer said that only at Cap's has he ever witnessed police issuing random ID checks, which has happened three times while he had been present.
A friend directed my attention to the jukebox, which although lacking the charm of those brightly colored 50s and 60s version, this one boasts one of the best music selections in Bellingham. Featuring everything from classics and rap to bands such as The Talking Heads as well as large swath of local artists such as Go Slowpoke and USS Horsewhip, this jukebox had it all. Don't be surprised if you find patrons riffling over their song selections for a good 10 to 15 minutes however, at Cap's musical tastes are one of the few things taken seriously.
The food is also a serious venture here, which, unlike most Bellingham bars, does not mean Hungry Man microwavable dinners sold for outlandish prices just to fit Washington state liquor licensing regulations. The special that night was a prime rib dip sandwich with a soup selection of navy bean or potato bacon, taking the clichá© of bar food and turning it into something just like mom would make, if your mom was badass enough to own a bar. Von Krusenstiern, also the chef, said she generally serves whatever she feels like cooking that day or uses patron's suggestions. Cap's is one of the only bars I know of open at 10 a.m. weekly serving lunch and booze to all those downtown workers. They don't stop serving their greasy-good bar fare until 11:00 p.m. either.
If you just can't seem to get enough of Cap's by night, they serve Sunday morning brunch starting, according to one patron, at “hangover o'clock.” Brunch fare includes stomach-soothing food such as biscuits and gravy, eggs benedict and grits, and the classic Bloody Mary.