Iconic Old Red Barn Tavern to close

Customer Gary Burke has compiled a large amount of history on the long-standing Old Red Barn Tavern.
Customer Gary Burke has compiled a large amount of history on the long-standing Old Red Barn Tavern. The Olympian

TUMWATER - The Old Red Barn Tavern, a South Sound institution at its current location since 1967, is set to close this month once its lease expires, the owner, property owner and longtime customers said Thursday.

Business owner Larry Jenson, 70, said it is time to retire, although he acknowledged the business had changed in the past 14 years because of increased competition for pull tabs, the statewide smoking ban and the slower economy.

“It’s time to get out,” he said.

Property owner Bill Van Mieghem, who lives next door to the business, said that the lease expires April 1 and that Van Mieghem received a letter from Jenson stating he didn’t plan to renew it.

“I hope it continues as a tavern, but things have changed so much these days,” Van Mieghem said.

The Old Red Barn Tavern got its start during the nation’s alcohol prohibition at another location, according to a November 1967 story in The Olympian, but since then the business has been at 114 E St. S.W., not far from the former Olympia brewery.

Over the years, it became a destination for brewery workers and golfers who played a round at Tumwater Valley Golf Course. Van Mieghem operated the business for about 10 years before leasing it to Jenson; he said it was a popular spot for couples and people watching “Monday Night Football.” Brewery workers used to cash their checks at the tavern, then hang around for a beer afterward, he said.

Van Mieghem also used to joke with customers that the Olympia beer on tap was pumped straight to the tavern from the brewery.

About 3 p.m. Thursday, former brewery worker Larry Stutzman, 74, showed up to have a can of Hamm’s Beer, something he has done nearly every day for 43 years, he said. Stutzman used to be a member of a 40-ounce club at the tavern but now limits his consumption to two cans of beer, he said.

“It was a good time,” Stutzman said about the tavern. “I hate to see it go.”

Customer Gary Burk, who said he has been coming to the tavern since 1971, also pointed out that it’s one of the few taverns not to serve hard liquor. Burk praised the business for being a quiet neighborhood tavern with loyal and protective customers.

Pictures and other equipment are listed for sale inside the tavern, and some equipment already has been removed. One customer pointed out the “Shroud of Hamm’s,” the faint outline of the Hamm’s Beer bear left behind by a picture or decal that had been removed.

The property has been put up for lease by Prime Locations of Lacey. Van Mieghem met with Tumwater development officials last month about possibly converting the building into the Old Red Barn Daycare, although he still is open to the idea of a tavern.

Listing agent Zach Kosturos said the property has received interest from prospective tenants, including those who might turn it into a restaurant or office space.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403