Toby’s Tavern is always busy, so you can’t be in a hurry. There’s an etiquette to waiting. Make eye contact with the bartenders/waitresses. Tell them how many in your party and if you’re willing to sit at the bar. The staff is fiercely protective of those who’ve been waiting. It feels like good old-fashioned small town spirit.
The space itself exudes history. Originally a mercantile built in 1890, it has had many lives, including one as a post-Prohibition beer parlor. It’s been a tavern since the early 1960s. Moose, buffalo, and big-horned sheep trophies adorn the walls. A 5-man racing shell hangs from the ceiling; built for the University of Washington in the early 50s, it’s been raced all over the world.
Once you get a seat, the staff is as friendly as can be. They’re busy, but they make sure you have a good time.
The must-eat is mussels. They’re from Penn Cove, which you can see just outside the windows. They arrive steamy and overflowing from their silver bowl, served with butter-soaked garlic bread. There’s no need to dress them up; they’re fresh-from-the-Cove delicious.
Fish and chips is available made with salmon or halibut, as well as with more traditional cod. The cod is flaky and tender with a very light breading, served with malt vinegar as well as cocktail sauce (odd) and thick aioli. The aioli is a great dip for French fries, which are soft and lightly salted.
Burgers are another big hit here. Sautéed mushrooms on the Swiss mushroom burger are earthy but not overpowering — a good balance with the cheese.
No children are allowed at Toby’s. Bartenders sometimes confirm orders by shouting them across the restaurant. Many customers drink Toby’s Parrot Red Ale, the house micro brew. Background music is a steady stream of road trip-style songs, the kind you sing along to absentmindedly.
Before you leave, be sure to get a cookie and brownie to go. The cookies are deliciously soft and dotted with chocolate chips, macadamia nuts, oatmeal, and coconut. The walnut brownies are rich with chocolate. You’ll probably feel too full for them, but you will like them later.