Hangouts: the Tides Tavern

by Sandra Sarr

Two women sporting purple and pink T-shirts, shorts, and sandals lean against a deck rail and smile for the camera. On the water beyond them, kayakers and ducks glide by, yachts bob, and tall evergreens line the curved shore. The women could be posing for a catalog photo shoot, but it’s just another day at the Tides Tavern in Gig Harbor.

Having fun amid good food, drink, and friends is just what Tides owner Peter Stanley ’69 had in mind when he opened the tavern 32 years ago. Inspired by the good times he had with a group of English and art history majors at a place called Casey’s Tavern on Sixth Avenue, he and a couple of other Puget Sound graduates wanted to create a place of their own. For the better part of a year they traveled the South Sound in search of the perfect location.

They found it less than 10 miles from campus when they laid eyes on Three-Fingered Jack’s Tides Tavern. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but Stanley focused on the property’s waterfront potential. He bought the Tides in 1973 from Three-Fingered Jack, one in a long line of colorful owners of the 1910 structure that first served as West Side Mercantile.

“He could play ‘Proud Mary’ three different ways, and people came every weekend to hear him. The place was a dive, but a popular dive,” says Stanley, who rebuilt the dilapidated structure, lining its walls in Western yellow cedar and installing windows overlooking the scenic harbor.

“We didn’t have a lot of money, and we had no business plan. But it wasn’t about making money, it was about having an adventure,” says Stanley, an English-turned-business major.

William “Cos” Cosgrove ’77, who lived on Salmon Beach in the late ’70s and early ’80s, recalls many happy adventures traversing the Narrows by boat, tying up at the Tides’ dock, and making his way to the pool table or dance floor. “It wasn’t the kind of place I went to meet new people. I just went to have fun with my friends,” he recalls. “On the return trip we’d steer the boat under the length of the Narrows Bridge to look up at the lights.”

The Tides remains a year-round destination for locals who bring out-of-town guests, as well as for summer travelers who discover it on their own. The menu features 18 draught beers, some crafted specially for the Tides by the Harmon Brewery, wines by Northwest vintners, and house specialties like New England clam chowder, chicken curry salad, and imaginative pizzas.

The Tides’ recipe for success is as much about the comfort of community as it is about food and drink. “When you create a business, or anything, for that matter—a family, a sailboat crew—any place where people come together for a purpose, people like to have a vision they can buy into.” Stanley says it’s about building good relationships with both customers and employees. Some staffers have stayed on for a decade or more, and the janitor has been tidying up the tavern since 1974.

“The thing about the Tides,” says Stanley, “is that people really find a home here.”