Growth Potential

The Tiny Mountain Town of Mazama Gets a Little Bigger

Methow Valley residents rallied to raise a new brew pub in their small settlement. But is the quiet corner of the Cascades ready for the big time?

By Allison Williams May 27, 2022 Published in the Summer 2022 issue of Seattle Met

Goat Wall towers over Mazama and the rugged Methow Valley.

By almost every measure, Mazama hardly counts as a town. What passes for a business district consists of a cheery country store, an outdoor gear shop, and a few hotels. Here at the top end of the Methow Valley in north-central Washington, the population hovers somewhere around 150 people—though it’s hard to pin down a real count of an unincorporated area popular with second-
homers. But this summer brings an addition that tips the scales of Mazama’s identity from roadside stop to honest-to-goodness town: the Mazama Public House.

In winter, Mazama is the end of the road, where snow plows U-turn on Highway 20 in the face of the towering North Cascades. But come spring, crews clear the state’s northernmost connector, linking Mazama to the Skagit Valley in a picturesque drive that transverses North Cascades National Park. Hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail stop here before their last northward leg toward Canada, eating premade sandwiches or gourmet trail snacks from the Mazama Store before hitching a ride back to the trailhead. Summer also means rock climbing on Goat Wall, the stone massif that hovers over Mazama, and mountain biking through terrain that was once dotted with gold, silver, and copper mines.

The new Mazama Public House under construction.

 The whole Methow Valley explodes with Nordic ski trails in winter, and a heli-
skiing chopper hauls downhill skiers to otherwise inaccessible backcountry. Between the stunning natural beauty and the endless recreation, it’s long been a tourist destination, the central town of Winthrop adopting an Old West theme much like Leavenworth’s Bavarian shtick.

As a result, the Methow population looks very different from the rest of Okanogan County, a largely rural swath of Central Washington where the average income is half of King County’s. Blooming with second homes and million-dollar “rustic” cabins, Mazama is perhaps the most elite corner of the Methow—while Winthrop hosts not one but two summer rodeos, Mazama is home to the satellite campus for Seattle’s exclusive Bush School.

For all the part-timers in the area, the community is tight—and the brand-new pub is basically a town project. Bill Pope, who worked as a lawyer at Microsoft, had been coming to the area for years before settling in Mazama full time, owning a hotel there for 26 years. After selling his inn in 2020, he pivoted to the hole he saw in Mazama’s minuscule downtown and convinced his neighbors to see it too.

“Mazama is kind of a quiet place after 6pm,” says Pope. “There’s been this persistent call for a gathering place.” He enlisted 34 local investors to fund a pub and Ballard’s Cast Architecture firm to design it. Construction began in April 2021.

Pope recruited the co-owner of Winthrop’s Old Schoolhouse Brewery to run the new Mazama Public House; Jacob Young is another relocated Seattleite who skis, bikes, and deeply appreciates his adopted valley community. “Our connection to the outdoors is part of ourselves,” he says. “Whether you’re super liberal or super conservative, you care about the land—the amount of nonprofits we have here is insane.”

That deep-rooted nature vibe led Young to imagine a Mazama pub without, well, pub food. The kitchen has no deep fat fryers, meaning greasy fries aren’t on offer; the menu will trend toward rice bowls, soups, and pizzas. Young throws around words like “sous vide” and “sushi” when describing what he’ll serve, with a beer list distinct from the pours at his two down-valley Old Schoolhouse locales.

Jacob Young eyes his Old Schoolhouse brew—though the Mazama pub will offer unique pours.

 An outdoor space looks out right at Goat Wall, as well as a mural on the side of North Cascade Mountain Guides’ building, one of the town’s few other businesses. They share an architect and a singular style, ultra modern with dark wood, crisp lines and slanted roofs visible all over Mazama—and distinct from Winthrop’s cutesy Western storefronts. 

Outsiders do still tend to pronounce Mazama wrong—it rhymes with gamma, not llama—and like so many tourist destinations, affordable housing has all but disappeared. Locals hold the best mushroom foraging locations with the secrecy of nuclear missile codes. Many longtime residents speak with caution about the shiny new building in their slice of mountain heaven.

But Young and Pope predict crowds when the pub opens in summer, and both expect the throng to include locals among vacationing hikers and climbers. Says Pope, “I think this is going to enable people to do what people want to do, which is to get together.” And after all, a sizable chunk of the locals already make up the investor pool—for a public house that truly lives up to its name. 

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