Ladies and gentlemen, raise your glasses for the place where generations of Wenatcheeites have gathered to do just that.
The Igloo, the legendary tavern near the corner of Miller and North Wenatchee, is celebrating its 75th anniversary. Inaugurated in 1944 under the ownership of current owner Bill Mickelson’s uncle, the place may have lost some of its early days’ igloo-ish shape, but its name remains as recognizable as Saddle Rock for those who call the Valley home.
Mickelson, though not too taken with the 75th anniversary hoopla, still marvels at how it all transpired for him. Trained as an accountant he never thought he would instead spend most of his adult life in the tavern business.
“It just kinda happened,” he said. “I didn’t have a plan.”
After three years working at the state department of revenue, (“it’s kind of tough being the bad guy all the time,” he says), he went to work for his wife’s family, which owned a wheat ranch in Waterville. Three years later, he pulled his first shift at the Igloo, working for his cousin, the son of the original owner.
The switch from auditor to wheat farmer to bartender meant little to Mickelson, who prided himself in his work ethic and his desire to put in eight hours (or more) of honest labor. A grown man works, he says. No big deal.
What followed were 17 years pulling a shift at the legendary watering hole on Miller and North Wenatchee. In 1992, his cousin announced his retirement and offered to sell him the bar. In October of 1995, the tavern was his.
Asked about his tavern’s longevity, Mickelson credits the location, sound finances and “the fact that people like us.”
“We are like that comfortable old shoe,” he said. “People are creatures of habit.”
At the North Valley Mall, businesses come and businesses go, but the Igloo remains. He credits a careful management of the finances and the loyalty of the customer base as reasons for the longevity. A third reason may be a steady hand when dealing with rambunctious customers.
“Somebody fights, they’re barred,” Mickelson said. “Barred for life.” And time does not erase your name from the bad list, he adds. The staff at the Igloo can remember an unwelcome face for a long, long time.
The miscreants, brawlers and derelicts are among the few. Far longer is the list of people who have made the Igloo their favorite hangout. And that list includes three customers who went on to marry Igloo barmaids.
Mickelson talks about the stress of being a tavern owner for decades, but the truth is, he will not move, change the name or open a second one. “One headache is enough” is his pat answer.
“I’m glad it’s there and as far as I can tell, it will be there for as long as the building is well maintained,” he said. Which is no small feat, considering how few of the building’s walls are straight. The place is not collapsing, just quirkily built.
Having finished seven decades of life on this planet, Mickelson looks forward to the day he hands over the reins to his son Keith, who has worked at the Igloo since 2001.
“The only constant is change,” he says.
One needs only look at the beer taps to realize how much the world has changed inside the little tavern on Miller and Wenatchee. In 1994 only a few brands of microbrews had made a blip on the radar, but not enough to merit moving Budweiser from the Igloo’s four taps. Now the tavern offers 12 taps, only one with Budweiser.
Shirts with the Igloo logo have been spotted on the Big Island of Hawai’i and in Japan. People have told Mickelson “get to the Igloo and hang a right,” without knowing he was the owner. All anecdotes worthy of a watering hole that has become an icon.
"Our greatest accomplishment? Staying in business. I have never paid a tax late, my bills are paid and I'm always the first in paying my fee here at the chamber."