There’s a lot of history wrapped up in the iconic waterfront building located at 614 S. First Street that houses La Conner Seafood and Prime Rib House and the 1890’s Lounge. As part of La Conner’s history for nearly 100 years – including a stint as Mal’s Tavern, the recently restored and remodeled 1890’s Lounge has history buffs from around the Northwest excited to see the old bar come back to life.
The restoration is the culmination of a long-held dream for owners Kari and Jason VandenBosch, who have owned the La Conner Seafood and Prime Rib House since 2008. “We love the fact that our restaurant and lounge are housed in a building with so much La Conner history in its walls,” says Kari.
With a wink and a nod Kari mentions smuggling and gambling –all a part of the history of the building that goes back nearly 100 years. In its more recent past, the 1890’s Lounge was a popular venue for live music including big-name artists such as Taj Mahal, JJ Cale (who had just finished cutting an album with Eric Clapton) and the venerable blues/jazz musician John Lee Hooker.
Visiting with La Conner residents who remember the lounge in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s is like taking a walk down Haight-Ashbury Lane … with a decidedly Northwest spin. Most stories include a woman named Rosanna (who managed the live-music bookings for the 1890’s lounge, and whose nickname was Rosanna Pianna), as well as late-night escapades centered around a rather cannabis-induced haze.
“We all loved the Lounge back in the late 70’s,” says a long-time La Conner resident. “We’d hang out, party hard, listen to absolutely amazing musicians, continue the party afterward into the wee hours of the morning at Rosanna Pianna’s house, fix them breakfast to sober them (and us) up, pile them back on their bus, and then send them on their way to either Vancouver, B.C. or Seattle for their next gig.” La Conner was a tiny little backwater then – and the opportunity to ‘hang’ with such amazing musicians is something residents will always cherish and never forget.
With another 30 years under its belt, the 1890’s Lounge has definitely grown up – but still offers the same front-row seat of the Swinomish Channel through a wall of windows and an expansive deck.
Guests will find classic pub fare – along with hand-crafted libations, beer and wine. As much as possible, ingredients are sourced locally; when in season, produce comes from the local farm fields and seafood comes from local fishermen. There are daily specials and seasonal specials (for summer think local oysters on the half-shell with a raspberry mignonette; winter might be bouillabaisse with local clams, mussels and salmon), plus a weekly locals’ night that includes discounted pricing.
The atmosphere harkens back to the building’s earliest days – when fishermen, loggers, farmers and locals swapped stories over a cold one. The original beadboard still lines the west wall of the lounge space and historic La Conner photos and news clippings add to the ‘old-time’ atmosphere.