OLYMPIA, WA: Fish Tale Brewpub

After seeing the Fish Tale Brewpub on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, my wife and I thought it looked like it would be worth the 45-minute drive from our home south of Seattle to Olympia. We were right.

Brewhouse for the Fish Tale Brewpub
Calling ahead to make sure they were open on the Saturday afternoon we decided to head down, the gentleman who answered confirmed that they were, but also took care to point out that the menu items featured on the show – crab canneloni in a red pepper sauce and house-made bangers and mash – were from their dinner menu, which they didn’t start serving until 5:00 p.m.

No matter. It was the overall creativity, energy, and vibe of the place more than the specific dishes that caught our attention.

Located in an industrial area not far from the waterfront, not much else was going on around it that afternoon, but the brewpub’s parking lot was packed. Walking in the door, we saw why: virtually every booth, table, and bar stool was taken.

Soon enough, a couple who was leaving offered us their space, and we sat down to wait for our server.

Hand-crafted beer
The place’s newfound popularity had the staff hopping, but they were still helpful, friendly, and (generally) in good spirits. While there was little time for idle chit-chat, both the server who brought our menus and took our drink orders and the server who came by for the food orders took plenty of time to answer our questions about the food and describe the craft beers on offer.

I chose a Leavenworth IPA for my wife and an organic Fish Tale oatmeal porter for myself, which came quickly.

To eat, we decided on the sampler of three sausages – bratwurst, jagerwurst, and kielbasa, all made in-house – with grainy mustard, sauerkraut, and rye toast and a side of their pub-made French fries.

The food took longer to get to us than did the beers, but given how packed the place was, that was understandable. When it did come out, it was hot and full of flavor. The sausages were definitely the star of the show, but the fries were very tasty as well: crisp but not overly so, hot, and well-salted.

Founded in 1993, the Fish Tale Brewpub is the city’s oldest brewpub. What began as a cold-food taproom known as The Fishbowl - the original signs still grace the place – it has since blossomed into a full-fledged restaurant featuring Fish Tale Organic Ales, Leavenworth Biers, and Spire Mountain Ciders.

Sausage sampler with sauerkraut and grainy mustard
Unlike many (if not most) bars, the Fish Tale has no television! As one regular commented on the TV show, it forces people to actually talk to each other, which was the way of things in old-world public houses. You actually got to know your neighbors.

Socially, the Fish Tale Brewpub is at the confluence of career politicians and state government bureaucrats who inhabit the state capital, the denizens of the nearby Evergreen State University, and a good-sized community of aging hippies, making for a crowd that is eclectic to say the least.

But if you like good food and craft beers at reasonable prices, an atmosphere with a distinct energy, and don’t mind a bit of a drive (unless, of course, you live in Olympia or its environs), the Fish Tale Brewpub is definitely worth a visit. I’m sure we will be back.

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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