The Tides Tavern, minus pool tables and live music, rocks its 50th anniversary
It’s not every watering hole that gets official recognition of its birthday from the mayor, saluting its two generations of leadership and proclaiming it both a well-run landmark and an “iconic and joyous meeting place” before a crowd of citizens and the assembled city council.
But not every local joint is Gig Harbor’s Tides Tavern celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Mayor Tracie Markley’s official proclamation occurred Monday, Aug. 14, at City Hall. It neatly summed up what most Gig Harborites already know: That the Tides has grown into one of Gig Harbor’s most beloved and best-known institutions. The downtown waterfront tavern is as recognizable as the yachts and commercial fishing boats bobbing in the bay.
The Tides Tavern is almost certainly Gig Harbor’s oldest continuously operating, public-facing business. In the world outside, if people know one thing about Gig Harbor, it’s often the Tides. In fact, it’s safe to say that for a non-trivial number of newcomers, the Tides Tavern influenced their decision to move here.
Demand for the Tides’ product — whether that’s defined as its view, historic waterfront building with rustic interior and wooden chairs and floors, or menu that has grown far beyond typical tavern fare — is especially high in summer. That’s when the outside deck fills quickly. On summer weekends, the Tides extends full service to boats moored at its expansive dock.
The summer that will end soon has been an especially busy one, said Tides CEO Dylan Stanley, 53. “My staff has been going hard for months.” Everyone’s relieved to see Labor Day, the high season’s traditional finish line, on the horizon. “I don’t ever recall a nicer May or June. My staff are happy with the income but getting a little fried,” he said.
Revenue is back to pre-Covid levels, but the latest challenge is food costs. They are “through the roof” and exacerbated by suppliers running out of key ingredients, Stanley said. On the positive side, the labor shortage has “really improved,” enabling the Tides to build out its employee roster to 100-strong.
The Tides’ golden anniversary celebration will be subdued compared to past birthday shindigs, like the 3-day bash held 10 years ago. In late September, it will host an invitation-only event honoring founder Peter Stanley, 76.
“He is hand-picking the guest list so he can have an opportunity to spend some quality time at the Tavern with his dear friends and people from the past, and present, who have helped make the Tides what it is today,” said Dylan, Peter Stanley’s son and leader of the Tides for just over a decade.
The story of how Peter and friends started the Tides has become part of its mystique. Stanley launched the business as a fairly recent University of Puget Sound graduate. His group of college friends enjoyed gathering at a tavern near campus and got the idea that it would be fun to pour beers in a place they owned. They searched the area and found a fantastic location: the now-113 year-old Westside Uddenberg Grocery building and former Peoples Dock ferry landing at the foot of Soundview Drive.
In 1973, when the elder Stanley (as elder as a 26-year old can be) came calling, the building housed 3-Fingered Jack’s Tides Tavern, owned and run by Jack Miller, a colorful character and talented musician whose business logo was an outline of his hand, mutilated in a childhood gunpowder accident.
Peter Stanley bought out Jack for $50,000 plus a promise to wipe away existing debts. Thus began the modern-day Tides Tavern.
According to Mayor Markley’s proclamation: “The vision of Peter Stanley, combined with the raw materials provided by George Borgen, the help of lots of friends and the experienced carpentry of George Jamieson, brought new life to a dark, dingy, and worn-out structure…”.
The Tides has changed since its earliest years under Peter Stanley, but gradually. The early years were a bit more colorful, less upscale and more evocative of a traditional tavern.
The two pool tables are gone today. Live music no longer rings from the tiny stage in the lower room.
“We used to have a contest to see who could guess closest to the time the band would play ‘Mustang Sally’,” recalled Tim Knutson, an employee at the Tides in the late 1980s (and grandson of Jamieson, the carpenter mentioned in the mayor’s proclamation).
Customers ordering and paying at the counter gave way to full table service. Mixed drinks joined beer and wine on the alcohol bill of fare.
Kevin Miller, a retired Peninsula High School and Gig Harbor High School English teacher and Tides summer employee early in his career, remembers the Tides of the 1970s having “lovely characters.”
“I was a blip in the Tides’ life, but it was fun for me,” he said. “It was post Three-Fingered Jack’s but pre-pretty Tides with wait staff and such.”
Originally known for its pizza, the Tides now serves food whose variety and quality can compete with other “nice” waterfront restaurants. There’s still pizza, but also appetizers such as the Smoked Salmon Avocado Toast; crowd-pleasing Tides fish-and-chips and homemade clam chowder; nine salads; and an array of sandwiches and burgers, including the ever-popular Big Ass Burger. For foodies, there are seasonal specials that right now include Burrata & Heirloom Tomato Salad, TT Lobster Roll and Huli-Huli Chicken Skewers.
Dylan Stanley is especially proud of what Tides chef John-Vincent Palacio has accomplished. Palacio has been with the Tides since 2012.
“He is very talented in everything he cooks and also deeply understands what will work for the Tides and its customers,” Stanley said. “He is an excellent and inspirational leader and is tight with his team. (Palacio) has a passion for food, for plating and for excellence.”
Staff members’ long tenure is another point of pride. “Ninety percent of my management team are the same ones I promoted in 2012,” and there are quite a few employees in the 15- to 20-year range, Dylan Stanley said.
General manager Kristin Bergeson has been with the Tides for 25 years. “Her leadership skills are superlative and she knows our business inside and out,” he said.
With the current staff, atmosphere and hours (closing at 9 p.m. weeknights, 10 p.m. weekends – somewhat early for a tavern), Stanley said no changes are needed. “Right now what we’re doing seems to be in a real sweet spot.”
But a recent incident showed he’s willing to make some waves for an issue he considers important.
In June 2022, when the Tides celebrated Pride Month, it received a letter from “John” (no last name given), promising he and everyone he knew would “never set foot into your restaurant again. I have been a resident here since 1974 and on my last trip to your restaurant, the amount of gay pride crap all over the walls was repulsive!!”
Many owners would file the letter away, hoping for smoother waters after Pride Month. But there had been anonymous harassing phone calls about Pride, too.
Dylan Stanley responded by posting the full letter on the Tides’ Facebook page. He delivered “John” a social media tongue-lashing, seasoned with a few expletives. In short, Stanley told him, “To be painfully clear. You, in your current form, will not be missed at the Tides.”
The post generated 2,100 likes, 983 comments, 363 shares – and irreplaceable goodwill.
“It solidified our commitment and enjoyment of the Tides. We recommend the restaurant to everyone,” said Dayl Minch, an auditor and financial crimes investigator who moved to the Minter area in 2005.
As for whether the more upscale establishment is preferable to the older version (or versions, if you count 3-Fingered Jack’s), customers seem happy with the current Tides Tavern.
“The Tides reminds me of an English pub. A good gathering place for people, great atmosphere, good food and somewhere where a woman can feel comfortable going in alone,” said Jackie Olivier, a grandmother and Milville resident who’s been patronizing the Tides for 25 years.
“The food is much better than what one would normally associate with a tavern. It’s really more akin to a brewpub,” said Juli Stadler, a self-described “foodie” from southern Idaho who discovered the Tides in 1991, after her parents moved to Fox Island. “I assume they phased out the live music, dancing, and pool tables because they needed the space for customers who wanted to dine.”
“It feels like home to me,” she said. “There are lots of places that serve drinks, and have pool tables, but there is only one Tides Tavern.”
Thanks to Ilona Perry of the Tacoma Public Library’s Northwest Room for help researching historical materials for this story.