Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Horseshoe Cafe: Soul of the City

I often wonder what the soul of a city is? What makes a place unique, defines its character, gives it its essence? For the moment, exclude the all of the natural aspects.

I walk a lot around downtown Bellingham and see buildings, businesses and people. I am trying to "get to know" this place, understand it's character. Being a new arrival, I find it necessary to get my bearings. As far as buildings go, the beautiful Mt. Baker theater helps me orient beyond my Grand Avenue haunts, the Old City Hall guides me down to the Bay, and the Herald Building - with its red sign of impending announcement - steers me across town. At the center, for me, is the Horseshoe Cafe.

Amongst the many places that I have been told to go to, the Horseshoe was one of the more consistently mentioned. Always added to this was that it has been here for over 100 years. In fact, since 1886 - over 120 years - which is, indeed, impressive. Must be doing something right. Before I even stepped inside, I could tell that I was going to like the place. The beautiful old-school neon sign out front. The cowboys in the sunset mural behind that. Through the window, classic diner look: formica tables, booths, high ceilings, an collection of signs and such on the walls, straight out of Edward Hopper's Nighthawks at the Diner. Open 24 hours. Beautiful.

First time I was there, I had a cheeseburger with hashbrowns, cup of coffee. Classic diner fare. Straight up solid food. Cheap, hot and good. The way it should be. Coffee was fresh ground, fresh brewed and strong. It passed the cream test: when poured in, the cream swirled around, separating into in a myriad of white milky strands, a galaxy in a coffee mug. I liked it that they emphasized that they were serious about coffee on the menu. Heart and soul of any real diner. Cheeseburger was solid. Hashbrowns were the stand-out, "from real potatoes, cut fresh every day." I could've eaten just a plate of those.

In a separate area to the right of the door is the Ranch Room, my favorite bar in town. Behind the bar is a great cowboy mural by Fred Oldfield. Various other western related ephemera hang on the dark walls. I like the elbow pad railing along the bar and the barstools that curve around your back. I'm usually in there for a few cheap cans of Ranier after working out at the Y. Place feels like home to me because it reminds me of the Hole in the Wall in Austin: unpretentious, authentic, not trying at all to be anything other than a warm place for people to get together, drink, talk, watch the game and have a good time.

Horseshoe Website:
Google: Reviews, Directions and Links

Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl's clothes off.
- Raymond Chandler
Here's to a long life and a merry one
A quick death and an easy one
A pretty girl and an honest one
A cold beer and another one!
           - Irish Saying

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