There’s year-round fun to be had on Mount Baker, and as the days grow longer, it’s almost time to trade ski boots for hiking shoes. For those looking to relax after an outdoor adventure, Holly Street’s newest addition is the perfect place to celebrate a spring day well spent.
Bar 542 is more than a bar: It’s a love letter to Pacific Northwestern recreation, culture, and community. Owner Helen Neville is also the mind behind Seven Spice Cafe, and while Seven Spice’s menu was inspired by her world travels, Bar 542 is about “[recognizing] the sense of place we have here.”
Neville’s family is no stranger to the great outdoors, so when brainstorming a name for the bar, she turned to them for inspiration.
“[My husband] said the happiest times of my entire life have been on the highway,” Neville says. “He’s done Ski to Sea 21 times, my son’s done it three times, and it just started to make sense.”
With just one look inside Bar 542, the Nevilles’ appreciation for Baker is made clear. The walls are decked out with maps, vintage posters, and other nods to the titular highway. The atmosphere is laid-back, and General Manager Tony Clemmons says he wants the space to be welcoming for visitors and locals alike.
“I think we have the best people, we have such good food, and a real honesty that comes across,” adds Neville. “And that’s all I’ve ever asked for.”
The camaraderie among staff is also palpable, and Neville made a point to introduce me to each member of the team. Head Chef Jake Belcaster is the mastermind behind the menu, and he’s joined in the kitchen by Chef Cash McClaine. Lydia Davis is head bartender, whereas Hayley Compton is a server and social media member.
Bar 542’s food is elevated bar fare, and the Queso Tots ($9) were an immediate standout for our taste testers. These perfectly seasoned bites come smothered in pickled peppers, bacon, scallions, and a dreamy goat cheese sauce.
The wings selection is also formidable, ranging from classic BBQ Wings ($12) to more unusual takes such as PB&J Wings ($12), which come tossed in peanut sauce and served with berry compote. On the lighter side, the House Salad ($8) is zesty and filling, especially when topped with a piece of flaky salmon ($6).
Beyond the bar food, Bar 542 offers non-traditional dishes that feel perfectly at home on Belcaster’s innovative menu. Clemmons cites their rotating egg roll specials, including the Cheesesteak Egg Rolls ($9), as a fan favorite.
No article on Bar 542 would be complete without mentioning drinks– and Davis’ roster of house cocktails is especially noteworthy. The San Juan Paloma ($9) is made special by the addition of pomegranate liqueur. My personal favorite sip was the Baker Martini ($9), crafted with vodka, cassis noir, fresh lime juice, and blueberry shrub.
Bar 542’s first months in business may have been complicated by snowstorms and the pandemic, but Neville expressed her gratitude for Bellingham’s continued resiliency. Despite a challenging winter, she knows that warmer days are just ahead.
“I’d love to see another celebration this summer,” she says. “And I’d love to sponsor Ski to Sea when it comes back!” 215 W. Holly St., Ste. 103, Bellingham, 360.922.0663