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Revival at the Wig Wam Tavern
Had the original plan come together, the iconic Wig Wam Tavern might be little more than a relic.
But as Erik Sweet, 41, and George Wood, 63, canvassed the West Sound looking for places to open a brewery, and settled on buying the 1.44-acre property in 2011 with no intention of operating a tavern.
The business partners — they met at a brewing club in Bremerton — wanted to make George’s craft beers, but people kept asking if they planned to reopen the pub.
Sweet contacted his father, Mike, who had operated taverns there since the 1960s.
“I saw some potential here,” said Sweet, who decided to commit to the project when he moved in to his son’s Port Orchard home in March.
Sweet said there was extensive cleanup and repair work from a flood that stemmed from 2009, when the pub closed. In addition to refurnishing the Wig Wam, Sweet and his partners had to spend $30,000 to move the Wig Wam from a septic tank to sewer.
He said that will push back plans for the brewery, which is slated to be behind the Wig Wam, to go into operation. Because of the unexpected expense to get the Wig Wam into operation, Wood said the brewery likely will not be running for another 18 months.
Because Wood and his son want to focus on that portion of the business, Sweet said he is in the process of buying out the tavern from them.
Lately, he just has been busy with operating the pub, which opened in May. In addition to adding his own flair — a Texas Longhorn antler hangs from the back wall in the bar — Sweet said most of the decor comes from customers, including an antique Pabst Blue Ribbon light.
Many historic photos and other items that decorate the walls were in the Wig Wam during its previous incarnation.
The Wig Wam also has generated some attention from the Native American symbols in the establishment. The Wig Wam sign, which is modeled after the old yellow and red one, features a tepee similar to those used by tribes on the Great Plains. Those also are featured again on the new wood-carved restroom signs that feature a chief in feather war bonnet.
Sweet said he only has received one complaint about it.
“The place had a reputation that we’re trying to maintain,” he said. “The tepee was part of the original logo. We’re just trying to maintain history.”
And the atmosphere.
“Wig Wam means basically means gathering place,” Sweet said. “We just tried to make it a comfortable place to sit down.”
Perhaps the part Sweet has enjoyed most is the stories. To feature as much seating as possible in the Wig Wam, Sweet said he elected not to put in a pool table or shuffleboards. That leaves about 70 seats inside the 1,700-square foot establishment where guests ranging from bikers to shipyard workers on their way home and others on their way to Gold Mountain Golf Complex, which is a little more than two miles away, congregate.
“Everyone who comes through that door is a friend,” Sweet said.
Others simply gather to reminisce. Sweet said he has heard stories that date back to the original Wig Wam, which was built in 1933, before it burned in the 1950s and was replaced by the current structure. He said some of “the Gorst kids” have stopped in from various locations to share their experiences with Sweet.
“They get tears in their eyes talking about memories,” he said.
The tavern’s old patrons — Sweet said one calculated that it is “600 paces” from his house to the pub — still can find their traditional beers, such as Miller, on tap. But both Sweet and Wood said they have visited several Northwest microbreweries and have featured several of those ales and beers, including ones from Kitsap County.
Sweet, who also working in catering in the past, brought his specialty to the Wig Wam — Texas-style barbecue. He said he competed in numerous competitive barbecue events in Texas.
“We’re combating Taco Tuesday with Texas Tuesday,” Sweet said, laughing.
Sweet said that promotion, which usually starts at 5 p.m., features a variety of barbecue, including baby back ribs, chicken and game hens, and his “Texas-style beans” that incorporate brown sugar.