LONG BEACH — Carla Curtis used to come for cocktails as a customer, but now she’s sitting on the other side of the counter as owner of the “new” North Beach Tavern in Long Beach.
The building isn’t big, but it contains all the necessary ingredients for a bar. There’s a stage on the side, a pool table in the back, and between are tables and a few stools in front of the bar.
“I think that’s the best part, it’s small and intimate. You get to know people by name,” Curtis said. Where some bars have a rough reputation for boorish behavior from customers, Curtis is having none of it at the tavern.
“It’s a great establishment for people to come to and not have to worry about issues,” Long Beach Mayor Jerry Phillips said. “There aren’t power drinkers here. It’s great to see a good business in Long Beach get better.”
Curtis first came to the tavern two years ago.
“I was always the customer. It never crossed my mind that I would own a tavern, but I wanted to be sure they always had Absolut Mandrin on the shelf,” Curtis joked. But it was during a night out when she began to seriously consider purchasing the tavern.
“I was just sitting here one night and thought ‘This is a great little place,’ and I made the offer,” she said.
Some beer has been spilled, but lessons have been learned since Curtis poured her first pint as official owner in January.
“Every week we have a new, interesting challenge,” she said. “It’s little things like learning how to tap a keg.”
For the first few months, she has relied heavily on the staff to learn the ropes. Some mornings she spends behind the bar, but most of her focus is on spreading news about the business.
“I have marketing smarts, so that has helped,” Curtis said.
“It’s been interesting to learn about distributors and the laws around liquor and licensing — Washington is very serious about over-serving.”
Before coming to the Peninsula, Curtis worked in marketing with restaurant owners in Portland and Key West, Florida.
“I saw a lot of what people liked, but this is my first experience of running a tavern,” she said. Support from community officials helped smooth the move.
“The mayor (Jerry Phillips) has been amazing. He truly supports our small businesses,” Curtis said. Phillips was among the two dozen who attended the rebranding and ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 13.
Previously, there had been only one full-time employee, who served double duty as bartender and cook. Today, there are seven who share the workload.
“The first thing I did was hire someone in the kitchen,” Curtis said. The new help has allowed time to expand the menu and the drink offerings. The mainstays of pizza, tacos and chili continue, with the addition on panini sandwiches and new, local beers.
“I’ve also beefed up the wine list,” Curtis said. Maintaining the same price point while improving the food and drink menu has been the biggest challenge.
“They (former owners Steve and Diane Janas) kept the tavern affordable and I’m trying to do the same thing,” Curtis said.
Curtis intends to keep prices low while adding new options to menu to better serve customers who are also community members.
“In the end, it’s about our locals and our seasonal locals,” she said. “Those are the people I want to be able to offer something to.”
Curtis is hopeful physical and cultural changes will make the tavern more welcoming.
“The previous owners, Steve and Diane Janas, created a very special space here, and I just want to take it to the next level,” she said.
The intimate nature of the tavern has been amplified with the addition of a stage and frequent live music.
“I built a stage because we have a lot of (musical) talent on the Peninsula,” Curtis said.
“We’re having music Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights — any night we can make it happen.” Bands names and dates are scrawled in different colors across a chalkboard near the entrance. The Peninsula Arts Center has been instrumental in attracting talent from other areas to come play, Curtis said.
Historical photos of the area and posters from past festivals hang on the walls. A painting of the iconic Columbia River Lightship loomed over the stage as a band recently arrived and began to set up next to eager customers.
A history buff, Curtis is nostalgic about the old bars that once operated on the Peninsula. Curtis chose the name “North Beach Tavern” to tie the bar to an earlier time, when the Peninsula was once known as North Beach.
“I like that it’s rooted back to that historical time, when the Peninsula really built itself up,” Curtis said.
“It’s wonderful we have historical places like the Shelburne Inn and other like the Long Beach Tavern, which is an institution in this town.”
As the rain, wind and temperatures become turn more mild, the summer tourism season is starting to show signs of life on the Peninsula.
“Our seasonal people are just beginning to come back,” Curtis said. “We’re moving into our tourist season — it’s going to be crazy.”
It will be her first summer as a business owner, and accommodations for the added rush have already started. She is hopeful to have outdoor patio space available before tourists arrive in force.
“We have a lot of hoops to jump through with the city, county and state to make it happen, but that’s the next plan,” Curtis said.