Across the street from the Depot Market Square, home of the Bellingham Farmers Market, Boundary Bay Brewery and Bistro has been a go-to beer spot for Bellingham locals and visitors alike since it opened 21 years ago. This kid-friendly bistro not only has amazing food and a bevy of award-winning beer brewed on-site, but it also hosts a variety of local and touring bands and makes a significant effort to give back to the local community.
After growing up in Southern California, owner Ed Bennett attended the University of Washington to study business. While there, he fell in love with the Pacific Northwest and knew then it would be his home long-term, but only after a stop at University of California-Davis to study Wine Chemistry. While there, Ed discovered a new malt brewing program and just couldn’t resist. At the time, the craft beer industry was just getting started. After much research and planning, Ed chose Bellingham because of its size and similarities to the feel of Davis. In 1995 he opened Boundary Bay Brewery in a historic Railroad Avenue building, breathing new life into an old space, and paving the way for so many in Bellingham’s brew community.
Shortly after the brewery opened, Ed met Janet Lightner. She used her background in fine dining to consult on Ed’s menu. A year and a half later, Janet joined the Boundary Bay team as its General Manager. Ed and Janet also became life partners and Janet’s children, Casey Diggs and Madison and Bailey Pugmire, grew up around the brewery and have worked there as adults. Boundary Bay is truly a locally-owned, family-run business whose employees stick around. At least one employee has worked there since it opened, and another for more than 15 years.
Boundary Bay has been through many changes over the years and it continues to evolve to meet the needs of its customers. In 1999 a deck was added to the existing bistro and tap room followed in 2000 by the addition of the beer garden. I’ve been going to Boundary Bay since it first opened with my soccer team after our rec league games because of their ability to accommodate larger groups. Since then I’ve returned for the diverse, satisfying menu that includes locally-sourced ingredients and gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options. My favorites are the hearty Yam Enchiladas, the vegan Tofu Banh Mi, and The Great Northwest Pizza with smoked salmon and whole cloves of roasted garlic. Many of my friends with children choose Boundary because the menu is fresh and healthy and the bistro, deck, and beer garden are all family-friendly. The desserts are also decadent but worth every calorie.
Boundary Bay is also the perfect stop for the beer connoisseur. They’ve won over 100 awards for their beers over their 21-year history and in 2016 were named the “Largest Brew Pub in the Country” by the National Brewer’s Association. With 10 choices on tap, and two cask beers, their mainstays are accompanied by seasonal and new options changing regularly including sours, harvest specials, and even a gluten-reduced beers. Their recent Cedar Dust IPA was voted Best Beer and Best IPA in Bellingham by public poll through Bellingham’s Tap Trail.
I also head over to dance in the beer garden from June through October. I’ve been back for the local bands that Ed and Janet welcome including Baby Cakes and Polecat but I’ve also come to shows of the touring bands that play as the sun sets in the beer garden including Brothers Comatose. Boundary is partial to Americana, folk, and blue grass but also blues-rock and other genres, with both local and touring bands on Friday and Saturday nights.
“Sometimes the event drives the music and sometimes the music drives the event,” explains Janet. “Because the dining room sits above the stage, and some of those customers didn’t come to see the show, we choose music that has something for almost everyone. But there are other events that are all about rocking out.”
Boundary has some regular performers and shows throughout their summer season. Irish and folk music on Monday nights, Happy Hour BBQ with Robert Sazarin Blake every Thursday. The Legendary Chucklenuts, a classic rock band made up of Western Washington University Chemistry professors, staff, and alumni, plays monthly Friday Fish Fry’s. Out of the Ashes, a band inviting people of all abilities to participate, plays on Tuesday afternoons. The beer garden is also hopping with big bands for holidays and special events like Halloween, New Years Eve, Ski to Sea Block Party, and Bellingham Traverse.
When the weather turns, they bring the music inside with live piano three nights a week with varying performers including long-time regular, Paul Klein.
Boundary Bay has built a following among locals while continuing to welcome new customers. That success has allowed them to be very generous to the local community, through free and reduced-cost use of spaces, and donation of product or a portion of sales to more than 75 local non-profits in at least 100 events each year. In 2014, Boundary was named Outstanding Philanthropic Small Business in Washington State by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Its clear that Ed and Janet enjoy giving back through the beloved business they’ve built together.
In addition to celebrating their 21st Anniversary in September 2016, Ed and Janet are also excited to be adapting another space within the brewery for future use. An additional room across from the beer garden is being equipped with televisions and a quality sound system so that it can be used for Monday night football viewing and smaller future music performances.
Every time I dance in the beer garden, I’m thankful that Ed and Janet chose Bellingham as the home for their family-run businesses. Their presence in our downtown and their dedication to giving back are what make our city one of the best places on Earth.
1107 Railroad Avenue
Bellingham, WA 98225