We seem to be gradually rediscovering the lost art of just hanging out, a sensibly contraindicated activity during the worst of the pandemic. Isolation, caution and a sense of responsibility kept us from gathering in the familiar public settings where we could sit around and talk with people we knew, or didn’t, for the sake of casual socializing.
The valley has always been blessed with welcoming places where people knew they could drop in for food, drink, company and spontaneous interaction. Different spots in each community draw different groups. It could be a restaurant, bakery, bar, coffee shop, convenience store, the deli at Hank’s, the counter at the Tenderfoot, sports events, festivals, community celebrations, on the trails, at the Farmers Market — even in the library (I’ve never heard anyone shushed at either the Twisp or Winthrop libraries). They change over the years, but we manage to find our favorites.
As COVID restrictions have eased, it’s been fun (and a relief) to venture back out into the world of personal connectivity — even for a habitual recluse like myself. People are migrating back to their favorite haunts, or trying out new ones.
What draws people to such spots? A comfortable, welcoming atmosphere without frilly expectations will usually do it. A pleasant setting, good service and an accessible financial threshold help in the hospitality sector. We are attracted to places and events that have a genuine vibe — which is not as easy to create as you might expect, and arguably subjective. Trying too hard can turn people off. Most of us don’t want to be instructed in how to have a good time or be bombarded with artifice or gimmickry.
Without intending to sound like a huckster or marketing shill, or playing favorites — as if the valley’s most-frequented spots really needed my help — I feel confident in reporting (I am a reporter, after all) that the recently opened Mazama Public House seems to have quickly become a popular destination point. The pub’s opening was eagerly anticipated by residents of Mazama and environs, and my two initial visits suggest that an amiable mix of tourists and locals is keeping the place hopping.
I’ve been one of the anticipators. The past couple of years, since my partner Jacqui bought a cabin near Mazama where she now spends as much time as possible, I’ve inhabited most weekends at that end of the valley. I joke that I can now claim dual citizenship in Twisp and Mazama, and don’t need a visa to move between them.
Perhaps oddly for a journalist, I’m not much of a social creature but rather something of a homebody. I’m more likely to attend an event than to simply hang out somewhere for a while, and I’m too infrequently an instigator of just getting together. It’s a failing I need to keep working on, especially with people I value as friends.
So when some Mazama neighbors graciously invited me to join them last Saturday afternoon at the Public House, I parked my usual reticence and accepted. Good decision, Don.
What started as an open-ended get-together turned into three-hour stay, and I would have hung around longer if I could. My neighbors introduced me (or in one case, reintroduced me) to other Mazama neighbors who were also interesting and engaging. The conversation carried itself, as the best ones do.
We stayed long enough to enjoy live music by singer/guitarist Nic Allen of Leavenworth, whose powerful vocal range, excellent picking and eclectic song repertoire enlivened the already convivial atmosphere.
By the time I left, the Public House was at or near full capacity inside and out, with a mix of tourists (many with kids) and locals. I recognized quite a few valley people and so undertook a certain amount of table-hopping, shoulder-tapping or yelling across the room to do the polite thing and say hello.
It was especially fun to chat with Casey and Laura Ruud, who I haven’t seen for a while (sadly, I can say that about too many valley friends, and it’s not all the pandemic’s fault).
The Ruuds formerly owned the Old Schoolhouse Brewery, which now operates the Mazama Public House for the group of investors — led by Mazaman Bill Pope — who backed the venture. Casey, who was frequenting the Public House for the first time, told me that he and Bill talked about the idea of a friendly pub in Mazama many years ago, when the Ruuds still owned OSB. Seeing it come to fruition has been gratifying to them in what Casey continues to call his “un-tirement.”
So don’t be a hermit like me. If you feel safe in a public setting — and some people don’t yet, which is OK — find your comfort zone and honor people with your company. They’ll likely appreciate it.