Just across the border, in the sleepy town of Northport WA, lies a place like no other. It can provide you an escape from the everyday, and has a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ that seems to have been lost as the years have progressed. Rosslanders have been coming down here regularly for years now, and those who have not yet been still know someone who knows someone who has been down or heard about it and has always wanted to go. The day: Taco Tuesday. The place: Kuk’s Tavern.
The building is steeped in history, celebrating its 125 year anniversary this year. It was moved to its current location in 1902, rolled along logs being pulled by horses and mules. As you approach, mannequins dressed in fancy clothes can be seen hanging out of the upstairs windows, a homage to its past role as a brothel. Upon entering the tavern, you are met with smiling faces and a comfortable atmosphere. As your eyes adjust to the light, you start to notice your surroundings. The first thing you may notice is the massive 20+ foot long, 1950s era shuffleboard table, all salted up and ready for use. There is also a bowling alley from the same era, on hiatus for now, but with plans to be up and running again soon. Behind the bar there is a relic of a cash register, which they use for Canadian cash. A note on the register itself says it was purchased, second hand, in 1923. The current owners, Gary and Marian Kotzian, bought it in Rossland when they purchased the building almost 30 years ago.
As you find yourself a seat, you realize that the walls are alive. There is not an inch of wall space that isn’t covered by beer posters and pin up girls (and some guys), spanning the 80s 90s and 00s. If you look up you’ll notice the pinups spread onto the ceiling as well. Before too long, either Marian or her daughter Dee Ann will come by with a pad and paper, snapping you back to reality. You remember why you’re here: tacos.
Taco Tuesday has been going on for the last 5 and a half years. The tacos cost 50 cents each. After ordering a pitcher of premium, small craft brewery beer at a great American price, Marian or Dee Ann will ask your name, and how many tacos you want to start. Anyone new to the scene may say four or five, but season veterans can easily start with 10 or 14, and then go from there. Patience is a virtue when it comes to the tacos, as there is only one person at the taco station, making orders for the whole bar. The most tacos made on a single Tuesday is 535, so sit back and enjoy a beverage and your surroundings while you wait, it will be worth it. On one of the walls contains pictures of record holders for most tacos eaten. There are a couple of Rosslanders whose faces grace the wall of fame. The current record for most tacos eaten in a sitting is 35, a record that has stood unchallenged for about a year now.
As the evening draws to a close, and everyone is filled with the goodness of many cheap tacos, Marian will walk around with an old Crown Royal bag filled with numbered poker chips. It is time for the cheese draw. Every Tuesday, there is a draw for a two pound brick of real American cheddar cheese. If you’re lucky enough to have your number pulled, you get the opportunity to buy the cheese for a much discounted price of five dollars. If you declare it at the border on your way home, chances are the border guards will chuckle, knowing where you just came from.
The atmosphere and the attitudes of people, on both sides of the bar, is one of southern hospitality. It feels less like a bar and more like you’re visiting friends or family for a meal. The locals are friendly and will gladly share a story or two with you. The next time you go, because you can’t go just once, you will be recognized and there’s a good chance they’ll know your name. During one of my past visits, I noticed the merchandise they sell (hats, shirts mugs etc) all say “Kuk’s Tavern, Bowling and Disco.” I asked Marian Kotzian, what the story behind the disco was. She replied wryly, “Well, haven’t you seen our jukebox?” Enough said.
When I was talking to Dee Ann about the story, I asked her if there was anything else she wanted to let people know about the Tavern. She paused, then said, “Tell them we have whiskey now.” This is a place that needs to be experienced.