Take a Bite Out of History--Horseshoe Cafe


Owners: Joe Russell and Kate Groen

Why Bellingham? Joe: "It's home. I grew up in Ferndale where my family has been their entire lives. After traveling around and serving in the Marines, I decided I wanted to settle back in Whatcom County. My current employer with Peoples Bank has me in Seattle right now, but I'm here every single weekend." Kate: "Exactly--it's home. My brothers and I were raised here. I did Running Start at Whatcom Community College, graduated from Western Washington University, and I just love the community. When we started exploring potential business opportunities, Bellingham was the only place we ever considered. It's very much where we want to be!"

Favorite shop downtown? Joe: "Can I say the Horseshoe?! No, in all honesty I spend so much time at the 'Shoe I rarely get around. When I can, I enjoy stopping by one of our local suppliers, Carne on State Street. They have some of they best locally butchered meats and we love trying out something new." Kate: "That's a really tough question. Since Joe already chose the 'Shoe, I think it's going to be a tie between Henderson Books and the Greenhouse. Another family favorite is The Beaver, but I will admit we're a little biased on that one." 

Bellingham is home to Washington's oldest continuously operating cafe and cocktail lounge, the Horseshoe Cafe. This establishment is iconic in our downtown, with its neon sign on Holly Street a staple of our skyline. The Horseshoe Cafe first opened in 1886, selling smoking accessories, fishing tackle, hunting supplies, and more, along with being a restaurant and cocktail lounge. In 1950 it became the first licensed bar in Whatcom County, and in 1958 it moved to its current location. 

"In the late 1950s and 60s, it was known for its weekend dancing and live music!" said Kate. "From my research, it seems that 1948-1968 was when the Horseshoe was the most successful--part of the reason being the downtown area housed more large retail stores (the Bon Marche, Woolsworth, etc). Our small diner once had up to 40 employees to keep up with demand!" 

You can have the most delicious burgers and cocktails in the tri-state region, but you're in business for 130 years due to community support. "I think this is a testament to the residents of Whatcom County and how supportive they are," said Joe. Joe and Kate took over the Horseshoe in 2015, when the restaurant was facing some trouble. "We wanted to bring it back to life," said Joe. They began major renovations, from modernizing the menu to remodeling the space. "The business was in need of updates and the kitchen required the most attention. We wanted to have a clean kitchen where you could see your cooks working and offer menu items that showcased local, homestyle cooking--what the Horseshoe has historically done best." And when they say homestyle cooking, it's more than your average diner food. You can expect to find stuffed hash browns and churro waffles on their menu, along with traditional favorites. 

Showcasing local suppliers and supporting the community is now a major emphasis for the Horseshoe Cafe. They source from Carne, Edaleen Dairy, Great Harvest, Erin Baker's, Hempler's, and Moka Joe. "We think it's really important to support community," said Kate. "This year we really want to focus on how we can use our business and location to support downtown and local nonprofits."

2016 is the 130 year anniversary for the 'Shoe, and you can expect a major celebration. Follow them on Facebook for news and updates, and better yet, visit them at 113 E Holly Street next time you're craving homestyle cooking with a local and historical twist.