Bucoda Bar Celebrates 115 Years of Business

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BUCODA — One-hundred-fifteen years ago, Joe’s Place became the watering hole for a one-horse town.

Today, much has changed — customers talk on their cellphones in the neon-lit bar, a DJ rolls his gear in a few times each week — but more has stayed the same.

Joe’s is still the Bucoda hangout, the original wooden bar remains and Olympia beer is still on tap.

Judy and Robert Wall are the fifth generation to run Joe’s, which has been family owned since 1898.

That family history, the timeline of Joe’s Place, hangs on the walls.

The decor commemorates the bar’s founder, who died behind the bar and was laid out on a nearby couch. A prison roster chronicles the names — and crimes — of many of the original local residents. And photos memorialize the many iterations of the bar, including the current building’s wooden predecessor, which burned to the ground during a 1930 fire that destroyed the block (per regulation, the building is now concrete).

Judy and Robert never were sure they wanted to step into the family tradition.

But when Robert’s mother died three years ago, she left them the bar — and they took the helm.

Judy is glad they did, she said Thursday.

“There’s a lot of history here, a lot of old friends,” she said. “We just go from day to day, and we’ve managed to keep going.”

The couple has continued, and in some cases established, a host of events throughout the year, including an annual chili cook off, a live charity auction and frequent seasonal parties.

That doesn’t mean it’s been easy though.

“Business-wise, it’s been rough these last few years. If we didn’t own the building or the properties, we would have been closed a long time ago,” Judy said.

The loss of many loyal customers also has been difficult.

A traditional south Thurston County reunion, for example, is now getting “a pretty small comeback,” Judy said. “All of the people are elderly and most have gone on.”

But Joe’s Place still has loyal customers.

Most of the steam plant  mine workers who used to go to Bucoda to cash their checks or get a bite have moved away, but many come back to visit the bar.

“They’re maybe from Wyoming or Montana, and they make a trip over here,” Judy said. “They have to stop to see if we’re still here.”

And the bar actually is having a bit of a renaissance.

“It’s starting to get better, (young people) are starting to hear about us, we’re on Facebook, we’ve got a website,” Judy said.

“There’s a  new young couple who moved into town,” she said. “They really fell in love with Joe’s Place, so they come in and  feed their kids, BS with the rest of us.”