Bivalves of the Heart

During my first trip to Seattle, everyone told my parents and I to eat at Ivar’s. When we did, this beloved local seafood chain served us wild salmon cooked on a native cedar wood plank, and the the Pacific Northwest stole more of my Arizona heart. The Ivar’s water glass featured an Indigenous salmon design, so I shoved the glass in my hoody pocket and took it home to the desert I was now planning to escape for the PNW. The salmon, like the restaurant, was the most Pacific Northwest thing I could cling to besides memories. I drank from that glass during the six years it took me to finish college before moving to Oregon.

For Eater, Northwestern and journalist Tove Danovich explores her own intimate relationship with Ivar’s to tell the chain’s history and examine its enduring allure to locals and tourists. Founded in the 1930s, Ivar’s now has a total of 23 little seafood bars and sit-down restaurants around the state. Founder Ivar Haglund pulled all sorts of cheeky gimmicks to get publicity, from advertising clam broth as an aphrodisiac to describing the freeway above his “Ivar’s Acres of Clams” restaurant as “Acres of Parking.” As with so many beloved chains, the appeal is as much about flavor as it is the role the place played in our lives.

Hanging onto a relationship with [my step-father] has sometimes felt precarious, a loose knot that I don’t want to test by pulling too tightly. I’ve never visited both him and my mom in one trip, even when they both lived in Seattle. I knew I’d feel guilty for taking time away from one by visiting the other. And when they lived so close, going to Seattle without seeing both of them felt like a snub, too. So instead, I didn’t go at all — not to Seattle, and not back to Whidbey Island, either.

An assignment to report a story about Ivar’s seemed like an excuse to see them both. Sure, I could have woken up early, driven to Seattle, eaten my fill of fish and chowder, and been back to Portland before bedtime. But instead I made a week out of it. I asked my mom if I could visit her on Whidbey after I stopped for a meal at the Mukilteo Ivar’s. Then I asked my stepdad if I could stay with him in Seattle while I visited Ivar’s on the waterfront. Of course, he said, anytime.

When I arrived, he seemed glad to see me even though lately I’ve noticed there’s often been a month or more between our phone calls. Am I overstaying my welcome by not doing my reporting then heading out the door? I offer to meet him for lunch at Ivar’s but he doesn’t eat much meat or dairy anymore and he has to work. “I understand,” I say. I’m surprised by my disappointment. I join the gulls at the Ivar’s Pier 54 seafood bar, a party of one.

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