For the benefit of those who have just arrived in our mossy corner of the planet, you take a left on the other side of downtown Buckley, then an immediate right onto state Route 165 and continue for another five or six miles; drive through Burnett and Wilkeson and eventually you’ll end up in Carbonado, population 650, give or take a few.
It isn’t much of a town. It’s the last outpost of civilization before the large sweep of wilderness around and within Mount Rainier National Park. There isn’t a high school, or store, or service station, or bank, or police department. Unless you live there or have friends who do, I can’t really think of any reason to visit Carbonado, except for the saloon.
But, believe me, the saloon is reason enough.
Indeed, this rustic, red-stained weather-beaten gin mill, with its warped shake roof and 2×6 flooring – out there on the edge of nowhere – is a local treasure that should be designated a National Historic Site. It has a pot-bellied wood stove that keeps the place warm and comfortable on those cold, snowbound, winter evenings that characterize such upland regions. There’s a small attractive bar and stools, a pool table – the most critical piece of furniture in any saloon – and a jukebox, the second most critical piece. You’ll also find a display case of ancient mining lamps, helmets and antique bottles and a photo gallery of old logging and mining operations in Fairfax and Melmont, two settlements that no longer exist. On summer evenings, the rear door is opened so customers can enjoy the fresh air and soothing night sounds in the beer garden.
Amber Pries has owned the place for the last four and a half years. She told me Carbonado was originally a coal company town founded in the late 1880s. Back then, the saloon was in Lower Burnett. Sometime after Prohibition began in 1920, the building was moved to Carbonado, where it was partitioned into distinct rooms that housed separate businesses: a beauty shop, post office, barbershop and possibly a dentist’s office. Then, when Prohibition was flushed down the drain – which is not meant to suggest the community was ever short of booze – it opened again as a tavern. The beauty shop became a small alcove for the wood stove, the barbershop was turned into restrooms and the remaining space became the bar. Technically, it ceased being a tavern when it started serving hard liquor in the late 1990s.
On any given Saturday night, the number of customers can vary greatly. Bikers have discovered the place and, if they happen to arrive en masse, it can get pretty crowded.
My friends, the Carbonado Saloon is one of the warmest, downhome, earthy watering holes this illustrious writer has ever experienced and, if you’ve read these columns for any length of time, you’ll understand just how complimentary that remark is. If you haven’t yet done so, please check it out for yourself. Even if you’re a teetotaler, stop by for a soft drink so you’ll at least have the opportunity to appreciate the beautifully aged, stained and smoky decor.