This last weekend, my partner and I decided to really take the time to out to see the surrounding areas around Walla Walla wine country and the Blue Mountains of Oregon. With only a couple more weeks left of my work in this region before I return to Chicago, I figured it was now or never. Ask anyone about what they know of Walla Walla, and they’ll most likely say “sweet onions!” The sweet onion has long defined Walla Walla – even the local baseball team is named: The Walla Walla Sweets. What most people outside of the state don’t know is that the wine industry in Walla Walla has taken off and is transforming the area in really profound ways. No longer a sleepy town in the middle of nowhere Washington, the wine industry has ushered in an interesting moment in the town’s history. Wine tasting shops dot the surrounding Main Street area, along with high-end restaurants. My hair stylist – my local informant! – pined for the slow days when nary a wine tourist could be seen. ”Things were a lot slower, but nice,” she told me. Though immediately she admitted, the money that the tourists spent in town was ultimately good for local businesses. ”A Target store would be nice,” she confessed. I agreed.
Our mission involved stepping outside of the prettiness of Main Street in Walla Walla, and seeing and exploring several small towns around it, both in Washington and Oregon. You’ll notice on the map that Walla Walla sits right at the border of Washington and Oregon, which makes traveling between the two states rather easy. As I was already in the mindset of taking Instagram shots of landmarks, this became the inspiration for our weekend excursion. Surely, I thought, there were landmarks to be Instagram’ed even in the smallest of towns. And lo and behold, there were.
Our first stop was Waitsburg, WA (pop. 1,217). Featured last fall in the Seattle Met magazine as one of 10 small towns in Washington to visit, Waitsburg is a little gem, brimming hipster charm. The drive from Walla Walla is stunning, with rolling hills on either side of you. You’ll spot a vineyard or two on the drive. The 2o mile drive on Highway 12 will take you about 25 minutes from Walla Walla, passing through the even smaller town of Dixie (pop. 197). I’ve driven through Dixie on a number of occasions, it’ll take you less than a minute to traverse town, and have always wanted to snap a few photos of the place. This time around I took a photo of the town’s one grocery store. For as small as it is, Dixie even has its own post office! The most impressive landmark in Dixie is the high school, which I snapped as part of the #landmarked Instagram weekend.
From Dixie, it’s about 10 minutes to Waitsburg. You’ll notice charming Victorian-esque houses on either side of Highway 12. Main Street is where you want to be. I like Waitsburg for a couple of reasons. While I consider myself more of a city dweller, the smallness of the town feels ok to me, in part because there’s actually stuff to do in town. On Main Street, you’ll find a couple of restaurants, a library, a few shops (including a fairly impressive garden shop), a gym, a contemporary art gallery, and the requisite “cool” bars.
My favorite of the bars is the jimgermanbar (119 Main Street), started by a duo of Seattle expats, who also started the Amo Art gallery, which is next door. With taxidermied animals on the walls, a separate room for larger parties, and a lovely wooden shelving unit behind the bar, the jimgermanbar feels like it’s out of place and just right where it is.
After a few fantastic classic cocktails, you’ll forget that you’re in Waitsburg, but part of why the drink taste so good is because you’re actually in the small town in the middle of nowhere Washington. It’s a difficult paradox to describe, but trust me, the jimgermanbar is the place to go if you’re ever in town.
The bar also serves food; though on the day we visited, we opted only for refreshments. The Bloody Mary that I ordered was just divine. Every time that I’ve been to jimgermanbar, the place has been full of people, which is surprising given how small the town is. I can only think that word has gotten out to folks traveling to Walla Walla for the wines to make a stop to Waitsburg as part of their trip. Whatever the reason, it’s comforting to know that a hipster place like the jimgermanbar can survive even in a small place like Waitsburg.
After our drinks, we decided to walk around Main Street. I snapped a few more shots before we went on our way to our next small town. Stay tuned.