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Valley Tavern


The Valley Tavern:
the "spirit" of
Port Hadlock

By Sandy Hershelman

The late Mel Kivley claimed the decline of the Chimacum, Washington, business community in the mid-1950s, began when the town turned its back on the Valley Tavern. Maybe the old moonshiner was right. After all, a tavern is more than just a bar — it's a social institution.

"The Declaration of Independence was written in a tavern," said Chuck Russell, who owns the Valley with his wife, Karen. "Historically, taverns in America have been symbols of American political action."

The Valley fits right in there with its ancestors. Chuck's one of the movers and shakers in Jefferson County politics. The Valley's upstairs room — as well as the tavern below — has seen many discussions on how the inevitable growth of the area should be handled.

"He's more the social bug," Karen said, of Chuck's community participation.
"But it's not really just social," Chuck added. "I appreciate this community because people get involved."

Since voting is so key to involvement, Chuck'll even register you to vote at his Valley Tavern.

The Russells' praise of this area reaches into the governmental agencies, as well. In the two decades since they bought the Valley, there's never been a single hint of anyone wanting a bribe, Chuck said, noting a tavern is the prime spot for that sort of thing.

To the many who still have the mind set that a tavern is a seedy place where no woman is safe, and the drunks are asleep on the bar — think again. That's not the Valley Tavern.

"People don't really come here to drink. They could buy one at Reeds a heck of a lot cheaper than here. They come here for the social atmosphere — the camaraderie," Chuck said. "We have a pretty high percentage of our patrons who don't drink."

Women, many retired, regularly come in by themselves, not feeling at all uncomfortable. Lunchtime birthday parties are a popular format, too.
Karen, a petite attractive woman, has never felt threatened there.

"We're pretty strict about the language in here," Chuck said. "Years ago we established a rule that if you're in a fight, both of you are kicked out forever. Drinking laws have become a lot tighter, too. If you expect to be able to come in drunk and fall asleep at the bar and be taken care of, forget it."

Karen is tenacious about making sure all their guests are 21. Even a badge and gun didn't let one youthful-looking reserve sheriff's deputy escape Karen's scrutiny. She carded him before she let him in the door for a cup of coffee.

The inside of the tavern has remained virtually unchanged for decades. Dark paneling is adorned with sombreros, a buffalo skull, moose antlers and the horns of a Mexican fighting bull. Other unique items share wall space with a variety of beer signs. Even the jukebox music is nostalgic, songs from the ‘90s were replaced with music from the 1960s, and earlier.

"The tavern industry has changed in a way you have to go for food," Karen said. "We're not thinking of ourselves as just a place to come and drink," Chuck added.
Their "World Famous Hamburger" is a tempting bite. Chuck broils a half pound of diet-lean burger just so, heaps on the onions, and tops it with "as much cheese as we can put on ‘em." Adding thin slices of jalapeno peppers is not for the faint of heart — or stomach.

Don't want a burger? Chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, pizza or garlic cheese toast are regulars. Steak night's every Tuesday and crab feeds are a regular. There're even sardines in the snack machine.

On Wednesday nights, fresh roasted peanuts are the draw. Eat ‘em, then throw the shells on the floor. Wash it all down with a cold beer.

Speaking of suds, you can even do your laundry at the Valley.
"I spent a lot of years working on the road and I hated laundromats. Screaming kids and two-year-old Reader's Digests," Chuck recalled. He dreamed how nice it would be to sit and have a cold beer while the laundry did itself. When he bought the Valley, he added the mini-laundromat and a lending library for patrons to browse.

Chuck's years on the road were actually years in the air as a helicopter pilot doing logging and construction work up and down the west coast — and even into the Amazon rain forest. Statistically, forest work is more dangerous than flying in combat. The pilot's flying at maximum weight with an emphasis on speed.

"The helicopters tend to break," Chuck explained. During his nine years in the navy, Chuck spent three as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam — with no leave — heading up a detachment of 20 men and five pilots, primarily transferring supplies off of combat ships.

While in Vietnam, Chuck wrote his parents to find him a piece of property he and Karen could buy. Waterfront property on Marrowstone Island was a great choice, Chuck admits. He was discharged in 1973 and the Russells moved to Marrowstone.

Chuck eventually decided being away so much from Karen and the kids — Ken, Emily, and Bo — was not worth the paycheck. That the Valley was for sale, when they were looking for a business to buy, is the primary reason the Russells are now tavern owners. It could just of easily have been an ice cream shop.

Chuck may just be the consummate promoter. He doesn't hesitate to don a "Bud Man", Easter Bunny or Santa suit. He also put on the Port Hadlock Days' keg tosses, always offered unique food at Port Hadlock Days, sells steak, clam strips and fries on Tuesday nights, hosted many a party for politicians, and — oh, yeah, he officiates for the weddings held at the Valley.

"You have to diversify and promote," Chuck said, of his mail order minister's license from the Church of Universal Life. For enough money Chuck could even have been declared a saint. "I just got the lowest rung," he admitted.

A "Call to the Post" on his bugle begins each wedding. Football fans needn't worry about having a wedding interfere with the game. Chuck guarantees his quickie ceremony will have the newlyweds back in their seats before half time's even over. Just ask the dozens of happy couples he's already joined in marriage.

The Valley Tavern: Chimacum's loss, Hadlock's gain

In the early part of this century, the original Valley Tavern sat on the east corner of the Chimacum intersection. The Victorian building was built in 1907 by Alfred VanTrojan, as the Chimacum Trading Company. VanTrojan soon needed more space and built a bigger building on the intersection's west corner.

When the Chimacum Hotel burned down in 1938, its owner, Nat Ingram, started a tavern in one half of the then-vacant original trading company building. The other half became the Chimacum Cafe.

In 1953, Bill and Frances Wittmayer, with their working partners, John and Helen Yackulic, bought the tavern from Hal McKibben.

On a cold November night in 1954, thieves entered the building, stole what they could and set the place on fire.

Plans to rebuild the tavern, on a larger piece of nearby property, were thwarted when a petition was circulated by a teacher who objected to having a tavern so close to Chimacum Schools. Instead of fighting it, the Wittmayers and the Yackulics looked elsewhere — towards Hadlock, where Mel Kivley was ready and waiting.

It had always been Kivley's dream that his "Hadlock Hill" become the area's center of commerce. The wheeler-dealer always seemed to be able to sniff out a bargain and was often seen moving houses from one site to another. At one time, he owned a good portion of what is now downtown Port Hadlock.

Once Kivley clinched the deal — $1,000 for a 125 by 125 square-foot lot for the new tavern site — he kept quiet about it. Even more sneaky: when the state liquor board's public notice appeared on the vacant site, Kivley strategically placed a large fir branch to cover the sign. He didn't want to risk anyone petitioning against the tavern in Hadlock.

The Wittmayers were insistent the tavern building have no visible inner support posts. This was the first effort of Kelso, Wash., contractor Charles Hansen at designing such a large building — 40 by 40 feet — without the inner supports. Hansen relied on wide cantilevered eaves to support the weight of the roof. The rafters run kitty corner to each other starting at the middle of each wall. The horseshoe-shaped bar was designed for conversation. No one's more than an earshot away.

The actual construction was done by Hadlock's Bruce Matheson; his sons, Bob and Bill; and son-in-law, Ray Mosher. (The second story was added after the building's original construction.)

Completed in 1955, the building originally had clear glass windows on three sides, keeping with a liquor commission edict that there be no obstruction within the tavern to impede the view from the outside. No wonder it was called "The Fishbowl."

In 1975, it became illegal to be able to see the inside of a tavern from the outside, and the windows were replaced with amber ones. The back wall was extended 12 feet.

The Wittmayers divided their attentions between the Valley and their two other taverns. After John Yackulic's death, the Wittmayers left the Valley to his widow, Helen. Chuck and Karen Russell bought the Valley from Helen in 1978.


Chuck and Karen also have a wonderful little
getaway on Marrowstone Island.
I had the opportunity to take a number of the photos
on their Honey Moon Cabin Web site, as well as
write about the cabin for local newspapers.
Date Last Modified:2/27/05
Copyright © 2001-2003 Sandy Hershelman. All rights reserved.