Skein and Tipple: Whidbey Island’s newest craft cocktail bar is also a yarn store
May 6, 2022, 5:45 AM | Updated: 6:48 am
(Photo by Rachel Belle)
Earlier this week, a new craft cocktail bar opened on Whidbey Island. But just like James Bond’s famous martini, Skein & Tipple has a twist: it’s a yarn store up front and a cocktail bar in back.
“It does confuse people at first,” said Marsha Owen, co-owner of Skein & Tipple. “Bar and knitting, it’s not, that I know of, been done before. It melds both of our passions together.”
She owns the place with her husband, Matt Owen.
“I’m a hand dyer, so I sell all the yarn and I dye it all myself,” Marsha said. “And in the evening I’m a cocktail waitress, bar back.”
Matt’s the cocktail nerd and resident bartender.
“That’s called a Whidbey Bramble,” says Matt, referring to the cocktail in front of him, garnished with a handful of fresh mint and a toothpick strung with blackberries. “We use Whidbey Island Distillery, which is about a mile and a half up the road here on the island. It’s using their blackberry liqueur, which is amazing. And a little bit of their Bunker Rye. I muddle fresh mint and blackberries, it gets lemon, and it’s poured over crushed ice.”
Matt and Marsha transformed the small space themselves. They covered the old, popcorn ceiling with copper tin tiles, installed a copper-plated bar, and in his smart vest, tie and hat, Matt perfectly matches the 1920s speakeasy vibe.
“Since you can’t walk in the front door and walk into the bar, you have to go through the yarn store,” said Marsha. “The building tells us it’s supposed to be a speakeasy. They have to go through the velvet curtain.”
Matt worked as a graphic designer for 35 years and Marsha was a longtime postal worker, but throughout the pandemic, her job started to become undoable.
“Ninety-four hours a week through Christmas and then after Christmas it went to about 75 to 80 hours a week, no overtime,” said Marsha. “You don’t get paid for overtime, and so after two years of that…”
She was ready for something new.
“We always wanted to have a cocktail bar,” Marsha said.
Marsha quit her job and then Matt got laid off. Together, they embarked on completely new careers.
“In middle age. It’s not scary at all!” Marsha laughed.
They found the perfect little spot near the ferry dock in Clinton.
“It was the original post office. I’ll never get out!” Marsha joked.
And they applied for a liquor license.
“They said, ‘Okay, we’ll give you your liquor license. You’re going to need eight entrees made-to-order, no heating up of food.’ Well, our kitchen isn’t a kitchen. It’s about 100 square feet of a storage closet,” Marsha said. “So we said, ‘Huh? We go to a lot of bars that don’t have food, how is that?’ They said, ‘Oh, well they are considered nightclubs. And to be a nightclub you have to be open late and have live entertainment.’ ”
Never specifying it had to be music, just live entertainment, Matt built a stage.
“Every Tuesday, the live entertainment will be knit night,” said Marsha. “Everyone’s knitting, we’re all talking about knitting. Any time anyone wants to come up and talk about what they’re making, or their newest pattern, they can go up on the stage. There’s a little stage light.”
This past Tuesday was the grand opening and the tables overflowed with knitters and skeins of yarn.
“I’ve never knitted at a bar, but I do drink at home when I knit,” laughed Langley’s April Ellis, knitting needles in hand.
Owning a small business isn’t easy, but now Matt and Marsha are putting long hours into doing what they love.
“We got married two and a half years ago,” said Marsha. “I was 49. It was my first marriage, he didn’t move in with me until the day we got married. Then COVID hit and we’re together 24/7. Now we’re opening a business together and then he got laid off. So, if we can do this, we can do anything! We think we’re good!”
On the nights when no one’s knitting, Skein and Tipple’s little stage will feature live, local music.