Almost for as long as Seattle has been incorporated (1869), it has had its fair share of bars and entertainment venues. Its bar history dates as far as back as 1889, when the first recorded bar was reported to have opened in what is now known as Pioneer Square. Here are five of Seattle’s oldest bars and a little insight into their fascinating histories.

J And M Cafe
201 1st Ave. S.​
Seattle, WA 98104​
(206) 402-6654

The J and M Cafe is said to be Seattle’s oldest bar as it was first established in 1889. When it was first constructed, it was known as the J and H Hotel Building, and then in 1906, it became the J and M Saloon. The name J and M comes from former owners and partners, Jamison and McFarland, who originally opened the establishment. During the Klondike Gold Rush era, the J and M was not only a saloon, but also a gambling and dancing joint. The J and M Cafe still showcases its original ceiling, made of pressed tin, which was made and installed by Italian craftsmen. The original bar back is still in use as well, and it was made of a sturdy, rich Austrian mahogany wood which had to be transported in by boat. The J and M also has some iconic movie history, since it was the backdrop for a John Wayne movie, “McQ” in 1974.

Merchant’s Cafe And Saloon
109 Yesler Way
Seattle, WA 98104
(206) 467-5070

Merchant’s Cafe and Saloon dates back to around 1890 and claims to be the oldest, continuously operating bar in Seattle. Merchant’s has always served both liquor and food, unlike many other bars in the area. It remained open during the days of prohibition and operated much like a speakeasy so patrons could still come in and grab a drink plus a good meal. Merchant’s also has what is known as a “hammered tin ceiling,” and if you head down the stairs to an even older part of the establishment, you will find remnants of old Seattle, before the fire, as it was a place where prospectors used to trade their gold for other necessities between 1890 and 1910.

Central Saloon
207 1st Ave. S.
Seattle, WA 98104
(206) 622-0209

Seattle’s popular Central Saloon became a favorite bar venue back in 1901. It was originally called Watson Brothers Famous Restaurant, but according to the bar’s website, it was changed to “Central Saloon” once businessmen Jamison and McFarland (original owners of the J and M Cafe) took over. Central Saloon was popular back in the day with gold miners because of its honest atmosphere and great food. As the years passed, the Central became famous for more than just its history. It has been host to some of Seattle’s most influential music artists, including the legendary Seattle native Jimi Hendrix, as well as Seattle’s own Alice in Chains, Nirvana and Soundgarden. The Central is part of Pioneer Square, which was declared a National Historic District back in the 1970s.

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Kell’s Irish Pub
Pike Place Market
1916 Post Alley
Seattle, WA 98101
(206) 728-1916

Kell’s Irish Pub in Pike Place Market did not begin as a fun, friendly place where people could gather and share laughs and drinks. Kell’s is part of the Butterworth Building, built in 1903. It has late Victorian architecture and served as a mortuary for many years to the company Butterworth and Sons. The building is listed with the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and was the longest-running, family-owned business of any kind. In 2009, the basement of the Butterworth Building became home to the reportedly haunted Kell’s Irish Pub. This location has been investigated by The Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures” crew and is a frequent stop on many of Seattle’s haunted and murder/mystery tours.

Triangle Pub
553 1st Ave. S.
Seattle, WA 98104
(206) 628-0474

Seattle’s Triangle Pub was established in 1910 and is not only an historic bar, but also one of the most oddly built. Looking at it dead on, it looks like a triangular building, known as a “flatiron,” as it sits on the corner of 1st Ave. S. and Railroad Way in downtown Seattle. It was built in such a way that it fits the street corner angles perfectly. The pub sits on the bottom floor of the building and this area has always been a tavern. The upper floors currently house two spacious apartments, but previously this space consisted of eight small hotel rooms that were used for a brothel from the 1920s to the end of World War II. As of 1976, the Triangle Pub in Pioneer Square was given a landmark status by the National Park Service.

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Sue Gabel has been writing entertainment and travel-related articles in the greater Puget Sound/Seattle area since 1999. She writes about music, the Seattle scene and more. Her work can be found on