West Valley Bar & Grill has become a second home to Jim and Roxanne Lowry over the past 29 years.
The longtime owners of the popular neighborhood watering hole on South 80th Avenue spend so much time there that they no longer keep up with the hobbies of their youth. They don’t have children, so there aren’t any grandkids to chase around.
The Lowrys bought the place in 1989 and still spend a lot of time at work these days. But that’s OK, they say. Retirement is overrated.
“What else would we do, sit around and die?” asked Jim, 74. “I’d rather come in here and have a beer with all my friends.”
The couple used to go camping and fishing, but they sold their camper years ago. Jim still has his golf clubs and fishing poles lying around, “but it’s been at least 20 years now,” he said.
Hanging out at the West Valley Bar & Grill is just what the Lowrys enjoy. So why mess with a good thing?
“This is just who we are,” said Roxanne, 66. “It’s what we do, and without this place, we wouldn’t have much else going on. I love coming in here every day and being around everyone.”
Their employees also seem inclined to stick around. Two of the bartenders — manager Tina Hammer and Shonie Baker — have been on staff for about 15 years. Another, Janet Green, started back in 1993 and works as both a bartender and a cook.
It takes 15 employees and the Lowrys to keep the business going seven days a week.
“We have a good core group of girls, and they have made things a little easier for us as time has gone on,” said Roxanne, who moved to Yakima when she was 10 years old. “We’re still here a lot, but our staff does whatever we need them to.”
A steady stream of regular customers has also given the Lowrys reason to come to work every day.
They see hundreds of regulars from all over the Valley — not just Yakima — every week. Some stop in for taco night or prime rib night. Others come by to watch football on the weekends or have a beer after work.
Their clientele is somewhat mixed, they say, especially as the demographics continue to change in the West Valley community.
“We’re a working man’s bar,” Jim said. “We see a lot of construction workers and laborers. But we also get a lot of farmers and professionals, too. This area has been built up a lot since we’ve been here, so it’s starting to change.”
The couple looks forward to the weekends most of all because they see so many familiar faces. And on Fridays, they all have one thing on their mind: prime rib.
“People come from Ellensburg and the Lower Valley for our prime rib because they know how good it is,” Jim said.
“It’s the way we cook it. Everything is homemade,” Roxanne added. “Making the prime rib is a two-day process, but it’s worth it. That’s what brings people back.”
A Place To Settle Down
Roxanne has known her way around bars and restaurants for the better part of 50 years.
Prior to becoming a bar owner, she spent years working in cafes and diners around the Valley. But she hadn’t thought much about buying a bar until Jim decided to change careers in 1986.
Jim’s career in retail management required the couple to move around frequently — 13 times in 10 years, he said — and they were ready to settle down.
“When the mall closed, we had a decision to make,” Jim said. “We were tired of moving, so it was either stay in Yakima or move to Spokane, where my family was. So we stayed here and bought a tavern.”
The Lowrys’ first foray into bar ownership was the former Happy Hour Tavern on South Third and Yakima avenues. They named it Roxi’s and owned it until 1992.
They purchased the West Valley Tavern in 1989 — it became West Valley Bar & Grill in 2001 — and, in 1991, a place called The Pub, located in the basement of the Yakima Mall.
“There was a time where we had all three places going at once,” Jim said. “But we eventually settled here because this is such a great place.”
The couple — who have now been married for 43 years — sold Roxi’s in 1992 and The Pub in 1996, choosing to focus all of their energy on their West Valley establishment.
That turned out to be the best move the Lowrys ever could have made. And not a day goes by that they don’t feel grateful for all the folks who support their business.
“Our customers out here are so great. We really value them,” Roxanne said. “There are so many places to choose from anymore, and we appreciate that they keep coming back to see us year after year. We take care of them and they take care of us. Being part of this community is what it’s about for me.”