Years ago, when my wife and I were students at Western Washington University, we looked forward to whiling away the hours in Fairhaven...
BELLINGHAM — Years ago, when my wife and I were students at Western Washington University, we looked forward to whiling away the hours in Fairhaven, Bellingham’s Southside artsy-historic brick-and-sandstone district. We’d browse the cramped aisles of Village Books. Sip Americanos at Tony’s, where they roasted their own beans and the earthy, acrid aroma sometimes made your eyes water.
We’d check out whatever foreign, high-brow flick was playing at the tiny and now sadly departed Picture Show movie theater. Afterward, we’d um, uh … maybe go back to Tony’s for more coffee. Or head back to Village Books, where we’d browse some more. And that was about it; back then, there actually wasn’t a whole lot to do in Fairhaven.
Don’t get me wrong — we weren’t development-hungry sprawl mongers. We loved Fairhaven’s patchouli-scented hippie vibe as much as anyone — we didn’t even mind the occasional konk! on the head from some dreadlocked dude’s errant hacky sack — we just wished that there were more Fairhaven in Fairhaven.
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More energy. Vibrancy. Stuff. Maybe an open square where people could meet, kids could play, musicians could jam, old men — and people of all ages, actually — could play bocce ball. Maybe a farmers market with a fair-type atmosphere. Maybe an outdoor cinema in summers. Maybe some easy walking paths and a way to get out on the water. More bookstores. More restaurants, cafes, dessert spots. You know, more Fairhaven.
Well guess what, in the past five years, dozens of new construction projects have added a bevy of businesses, shops, restaurants, cafes and more. There’s now much more Fairhaven to Fairhaven. Thankfully, the architecture maintains the district’s 1890s flare and, in keeping with the district’s buy-local ethos, there’s not a chain restaurant, store or cafe to be found anywhere on the Southside. Sprawl is not an option.
Time for you to see Fairhaven all over again? Here’s a Do-It-In-A-Day plan:
Coffee and breakfast
Start with some java at Tony’s Coffees, 1101 Harris Ave., a Fairhaven mainstay since 1971. Located smack in the middle of Fairhaven in the Terminal building (circa 1888), Tony’s is cramped and crowded with students, tourists, locals and old-timers solving the problems of the world, and people-watchers who like to camp out in front of the big windows and watch the comings and goings of Fairhaven.
If you’ve not yet et, Tony’s offers various pastries, muffins and snickerdoodles, or you can order a full breakfast — omelets, pancakes, French toast and the like — at the Harris Avenue Café next door, which shares a wide-open interior doorway with Tony’s. You can even keep your seat at Tony’s and order food from next door. Vice versa, too.
Another option includes wandering northward down 11th Street for a block-and-a-half to Avenue Bread, 1135 11th St., in the Fairhaven Gardens building, one of the new projects built to look old. Fresh-baked artisan breads are a specialty here, with breakfast sandwiches to die for. Skylarks Hidden Café, 1308B 11th St., about a block south of Tony’s and accessed via a charming cobblestone walkway, is a great choice, too.
On the dock of the bay
Appetite sated and thirst quenched, head out for some of Fairhaven’s outdoor offerings. In the mood for a walk, head north from the Fairhaven Village Green at Mill Avenue and 10th Street via the flat South Bay Trail for about a half-mile to the Taylor Avenue Dock, a refurbished dock and boardwalk that extends out over Bellingham Bay. Opened in 2004, the one-third-mile walkway quickly became Bellingham’s most popular promenade, with 360-degree water, island and Canadian mountain views.
If you’d rather get out on the water, proceed down Harris Avenue to the new Bellingham Bay Community Boating Center (www.sailpaddlerow.org). Rent a kayak, sailboat or rowboat and explore these inland waters where, some 150 years ago, the larger-than-life lowlife, Dirty Dan Harris, rowed ashore and proceeded to found this fair haven called Fairhaven.
If browsing is more your speed, head to the transformed and much-expanded Village Books (1200 11th St.; http://villagebooks.booksense.com), which, three years ago, moved a couple doors down 11th Street from its former space, where it’d been since 1980. Open, airy and as welcoming as ever to book lovers who like to take their time.
Ready for lunch? Climb the steps to the third floor, where Book Fare offers panini sandwiches, salads and dinner entrees, all with an Italian flair. One of the best views around, too; the San Juan Islands and Bellingham Bay sparkle from up here. Other good lunch options include Jacci’s Fish and Chips, 1020 Harris Ave., in the double-decker bus diagonally across the street corner from Tony’s, and Abbey Garden Tea Room, 1312 11th St., where, along with enjoying soups and sandwiches, you can paint a piece of pottery or design your own fused glass.
Farmers or pharmaceuticals
If it’s Wednesday, follow your feet to the sights and sounds of the Bellingham Farmer’s Market, Fairhaven edition (www.bellinghamfarmers.org). Held weekly from 3 to 7 p.m. through September, this fete to fruits and veg is held in the Fairhaven Village Green behind Village Books. There’s live music, hippies with hula hoops, face painting for the kids and all sorts of fair-type behavior you’d expect on a Saturday or Sunday in the Puget Sound area, but never on a Wednesday afternoon. (If you’re in town on a Saturday, catch the Saturday Market downtown on Railroad Avenue at Chestnut Street, 10 a.m. -3 p.m. April through December.)
If it’s Friday, take in a bit of history in the basement of the Fairhaven Pharmacy, 1115 Harris Ave. There, retired pharmacist Gordy Tweit, who started at the store as a delivery boy in 1941, keeps a mini-museum (open Fridays 1-5 p.m.). Shelves are stocked with vintage photos, homeopathic cures from days of yore and cans of salmon from when Bellingham was home to 12 bayside canneries that employed some 5,000 workers.
The dinner hour
For dinner, try the Big Fat Fish Company (www.bigfatfishco.com), a restaurant specializing in … anyone? — that’s right, seafood and Northwest cuisine. Just across 12th Street is Mambo Italiano, 1303 12th St., which features … anyone? — Italian, right. Or just north on 12th at the corner of 12th and Mill streets is the new A.W. Asian Bistro, which (OK, the joke isn’t funny anymore) features everything from Japanese to Hawaiian to Mongolian to Thai.
Mike McQuaide, a Bellingham-based freelance writer, is a regular contributor to Northwest Weekend. He is the author of five guidebooks, including “Insiders’ Guide to Bellingham and Mount Baker” (Globe Pequot).