Though it will likely not be located at 940 SE Pioneer Way anymore, one of the oldest bars in the state will hopefully open its doors again someday, its new owner said.
A recent social media post about the Oak Harbor Tavern created quite a stir online because it showed the building gutted and empty, with bare walls, a cleared floor and even a missing toilet seat. The post did not say what happened to the military memorabilia donated by patrons over the years or the other well-known decor.
“I wanted to cry. It’s disheartening,” said Nell Moffitt, who posted several photos of an empty room where the tavern once stood.
Moffitt is the mother of former tavern owner Kelly Beedle’s granddaughter. Beedle owned the bar for decades and sold both the building and the business to Kenneth Peplinski. Beedle could not be reached for comment.
The building went back to Beedle after Peplinski fell behind on payments, he said. It took him about 10 days to pack up everything that had been inside and move out. Peplinski said he bought the business in June 2019 and operated it for about nine months before it was forced to close in March because of the state’s COVID-19 regulations.
Peplinski said he plans to reopen the Oak Harbor Tavern in a new location with all of the (literal) bells and whistles still intact. He has bar stools and military memorabilia stored away. The signs, pictures and the actual bar itself are bubble-wrapped and strapped together in an indoor storage area.
“I plan on reopening another Oak Harbor Tavern, just not in that location, once COVID is over,” Peplinski said.
He hopes to find a location in downtown Oak Harbor, he added.
The Oak Harbor Tavern has a long and storied history in the city. It’s believed to be one of the oldest bars in the state. The building was built in the 1850s and was originally a warehouse/store/saloon established by Edward Barrington, a sea captain from Nova Scotia who once owned much of Oak Harbor waterfront, according to a local historian.
The tavern was opened between 1852 and 1856, according to the website seattlebars.org.
The building was moved across the street to its current location. In 1939, the name was changed from Forner’s Tavern to Oak Harbor Tavern.
Peplinski said he’s fielded multiple calls from tavern patrons looking to buy back some of the decorations that used to hang on the walls. He said he’s turned them all down and has no plans to sell anything.
“The stuff on the wall in the bar is not community property. What you don’t understand is when I purchased the tavern, I purchased the complete contents of the tavern,” Peplinski said.
He added that he did give a couple of things away to a few people he knows.
Peplinski explained that he took pictures of each item inside the building and inventoried it before he moved out of the building. It’s stored in a computer database, he said.
“I do not want the tavern torn apart to little pieces. I want to reopen the tavern with all the stuff in another location,” Peplinski said. “My hopes are that I’ll be opening downtown, which is where I want to have it. I want to keep the ambience and all the regalia, all the things that are on the wall and all this history in the bar.
“That was very important to me.”