Winter on the Washington Coast can, at times, be overbearing. Wind can whip the rain against window panes and push people from the outdoors and into shelter.
Those who seek shelter from the Washington winter at Galway Bay in Ocean Shores will find a peaceful and cozy atmosphere, the perfect pairing for cold hands and empty stomachs. At the center of the Ushaped building — an old strip mall — is an Irish pub, complemented by a large fireplace perfect for toasting away the soakedin moisture of coastal rain.
It’s a marked difference from the atmosphere in the summer, when tourists clamber about the beach, picking things up off the sand seemingly just to touch them. When the winter descends, the beach mostly clears out. Those who stay find a calmer town in Ocean Shores.
“Summer is all about families and kids, but the winter is much more cozy,” Galway owner Liam (the Irish nickname for William) Gibbons said. “The fireplace is on, and it’s more for couples.”
That’s not to say that families can’t also enjoy the coziness. On the family dining side of the building (the south side) a family of three sits down to dessert and unfolds a board game. My wife and I, a young child of our own at home with a babysitter, take pause wondering why we never thought to play board games at a restaurant.
We’re sitting on the other side, beyond the dividing marker separating the drinking atmosphere from the family friendly room. On the far end of the pub next to one of the four fireplaces in the building, a guitar is being tuned.
Portland musician Cronin Tierney adjusts microphone stand and then the piano bench while my wife and I order drinks — the Galway Bay Ale and a cocktail. For a Saturday evening featuring live music, the atmosphere is low key, intimate even. After a few songs, Tierney takes requests and interacts with the crowd.
“It’s been a while since I’ve played that song,” he says. “The last time was probably the last time you asked me to play it.”
Our waitress is pleasant and friendly. She’s working several tables but taking the time to make every table feel at home. Her confidence gives the diners confidence in her.
Galway Bay Ale is an amber with some extra color, call it an Irish red, sweet but not overtly so, and hoppy, but not to the point of bitter. I’d order several if I didn’t have to drive, mostly for the taste, and somewhat because the fireplace is so inviting.
Galway Bay Ale is brewed by Dick’s Brewing Company in Centralia. It’s actually Dick’s Irish Ale, a seasonal beer only brewed three months out of the year, but brewed for Galway year round and served on tap.
The cocktail, in this case the timetested classic gin and tonic, is balanced — not too much gin, and not watereddown by too much tonic. It feels like a rare occurrence to find a bartender who understands that a cocktail isn’t made better by more booze, but actually is more about having the right amount of alcohol. Galway Bay has that bartender.
The beer, though, is how the whole restaurant came to be. More than 20 years ago, Gibbons owned an Irish import store at a different location (now the Eagles club) in Ocean Shores. Things were going well, but they could be better and Gibbons got the idea to offer a wider selection of beer for those living in, visiting or traveling through Ocean Shores. At the time, the Washington Coast didn’t offer much more than the macrobrews like Budweiser, Miller and Coors.
“I got the notion that Irish pubs were on the rise,” Gibbons said. “The Seattle Irish pub scene was starting to take off and microbrews were coming on the scene.” Gibbons put more than a halfdozen Irish staple beers on tap — Guinness, Harp and the like. “We were the first ones to do that (on the coast), and now everybody’s got that on tap,” Gibbons said.
In 2004, Gibbons moved into the old strip mall, and things took off. More beer, more food. Last year, Galway Bay partner Chris Doyle came on board. Doyle brought with him several years of restaurant management experience. He took charge of the menu, which had in the past been under the purview of Gibbons’ former partner Barry Bennett, and reworked the management of the staff.
“You’ll never find an Irish pub as authentic as ours in look and feel,” Doyle says. The menu today is abundant — steak, seafood, sandwiches, pizza, stew — but it would be a disservice to an Irish restaurant to avoid the traditional menu items. We ordered bangers and mash, traditional Irish sausages with colcannon and Guinness gravy, and Forfar Bridie, a Scottish dish. “We take traditional food from Ireland and nearby, and we try to make it taste good,” Gibbons said. “Ireland isn’t known for its flavor.”
The best way to describe the Guinness gravy is “inviting.” The gravy melded with the other ingredients, neither overpowering the flavors nor sitting subserviently aside on the taste buds. A slight hint of heat carried through, enough to arouse the senses but not enough to make the food unattractive to those with a heat resistance. The gravy also includes whole grain mustard, Gibbons said.
Forfar Bridie was invented by a Forfar baker in the 1850s, Gibbons says. Beef and lamb braised in white wine, flavored with sauteed onions, carrots, potatoes, garlic and herbs, is baked in a puff pastry and covered with whiskey cream sauce. We chew and savor as Tierney croons.
There’s more to do than eat and hear music at Galway Bay. A game room is attached to the pub, and out back is a covered and heated beer garden, where guests can smoke cigars and relax outside while still staying warm and dry.
The Irish import store is alive and well, too. Around the corner from the lounge, a long room of hats, sweaters, mugs, shot glasses, artwork — all things Irish.
All of it — the family dining, the game room, the beer garden, the lounge, the import store — is centered around the Irish pub. Winter is not the end of Ocean Shores or enjoyment on the Washington Coast. Fun can still be had, but it can get cold.
“Come out to the ocean and then go to places like Galway,” Gibbons says. “Galway is a great place to go to stay warm — sit next to one of the four fireplaces and listen to some good music.”