How the Horse Shoe Cafe has Influenced Me

So recently, a huge aspect of my life as fallen into a danger zone. This is a place that has always been there for me, something I have come to rely on, and someplace that I longed for when I was living abroad. This is the Horse Shoe Cafe in Bellingham.

Some background information of this place: I have never known it to carry a positive reputation, but rather that of the lame uncle that you just have to put up with because they’re part of the family. The Shoe, as we’ve come to call it, is known for it’s cheap, greasy diner food, it’s extremely relaxed atmosphere, and it’s bottomless cups of coffee available 24 hours a day.

It’s 116 years old, and the longest on-going establishment on the west side of the Mississippi river. The Shoe was the first place to get it’s liquor license in Whatcom Country in 1950. It’s upstairs was a brothel, one side of it was a theater, and it truly has been the heart of down town Bellingham as the town grew up.

It’s divided into two sides, the Ranch Room and the Cafe, or the Light side and Dark side as I call it, the Ranch Room (the bar) being the dark side. Prior to my 21+ years, I frequented the light side, though now I enjoy the darker side, for many reasons that I’ll get into later.

My personal relationship with it stems from when I used to skip class in high school. I would go there without judgement, say my morning greetings to my favorite waitress, Barb, and begin writing. I began this ritual when I was 16 or 17, and carry it off an on still today (well, not so much with the cutting class). It has always been a comfortable spot for me to write, and it’s cup of coffee for $2 that never ended was always encouraging as well. Vases with carnations decorated each table, along with an ashtray. As the day progressed, the layer of smoke thickened and lowered closer to the ground. Once the smoking ban kicked in, I, a non-smoker, found myself almost missing it, as it added to the shady character of the joint.

Barb is a sassy lady, and I’m grateful to say she’s still there. I remember going in when I was completely congested and coughing up a storm. She refused me my coffee, and brought me orange juice instead, refused my order of hash browns and brought me fruit. I recognized the kindness and happily paid and tipped.  When I returned from my jaunt in Wales, she was only working a few hours a week, struggling in a battle with Cancer. The Horse Shoe set up a fund raiser to help her pay her medical bills, and I’m happy to say she pulled through (as far as I know).

She allowed me to sit there for hours upon hours, scribbling in my journal, writing out page after page of my first novel. It was there that I compiles the elements of my longest story yet, the first section of my trilogy. I filled a five-subject spiral notebook with my tiny hand–writing in those torn, forest green booths, drinking cheap coffee and cheap hash browns. I seem to recall the two only costing me $5 total. Sometimes I would have toast instead, which was only $3.11.

I fell in love with tarot, and spent hours trying to develop my own tarot deck there. I never completed it, and nothing became of it, but it is another creative part of myself that was allowed to come to fruition in those booths.

When I was in high school, I had friends that would go to the Horse Shoe because it was affordable and open 24 hours, and better quality than IHOP or Denny’s, and with a quirkier touch and personal atmosphere. There they would study with a beer in hand, smoke between fingers, and headphones blocking out the ruckus of the late night crowd. The familiar faces became the Shoers, and could be counted on to be there at any random time. For a while, I was included in this.

When I became old enough to go to the Ranch Room, I met my favorite bartender, who was just as cheaky and caring as Barb. She always was able to find a drink that met my needs, and was willing to use me as a guinea pig. I enjoyed many day-drinking sessions there, and now find it more comforting than the light side. The dim atmosphere is embracing, and their happy hour menu was amazing.

Sadly, they’re at a point of struggle. They are holding a fund raiser next week. This is been so worrisome for me. I can’t see this part of Bellingham’s history go. Not after such an amazing run, and the kindness and amazing times it’s shown me.

I woke up this morning with this concern on my mind. The only thing I could think to was contact all the local news papers I could think of and see who would be willing to pick up the story, bring awareness and encourage support for this business. I had the Cascadia Weekly respond, letting me know they were interested in the story, and asking me where they thought I should go with it. It was an interesting question – I don’t know, I don’t work in news. So I began brainstorming angles that would get peoples’ attentions and help them to care.

This is a huge issue for me, I’ve never thought to bring stories to the attention to the news before. I’m even contemplating contacting television stations, considering the historical significance of the Horse Shoe.

I can only hope that I’m not the only one that cares as much as I do, and people are willing to show their support.


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