With tech money pouring into the region and driving up housing and real estate costs, it can be increasingly hard to find a neighborhood watering hole that won’t break the bank.
But those in search of a community dive bar in Redmond need look no further than Palmers East in the heart of the city.
Dive bar isn’t a label owner Thomas Wilhite runs from, he explained at 10 a.m. on a recent weekday, describing the bar as a clean dive.
“I love the fact that we’re not corporate, it’s not super fancy,” he said sitting at the wooden bar.
The bar opens early compared to others in the area, and already a few patrons were grabbing a bite and a drink.
Wilhite bought the bar in 2005 from the former owner who he’s friends with. The bar was established in 2000, but there’s been various watering holes in the location since 1956.
Wilhite said before the building was a bar it was a meat market and grocery store.
Palmers East offers a full menu ranging from breakfast to burgers and pasta, all with a surprisingly affordable price tag. It’s hard to find a meal for $6 anywhere on the Eastside, least of all at a bar.
Most of the cooks come from larger chain restaurants, but Wilhite said he provides his cooks with high-quality ingredients and lets them flex their culinary skills.
The drinks are reasonably priced, too, and Wilhite strives to keep costs down for his patrons.
He said when he bought the bar, a keg of Bud Light cost around $70. Now they cost upwards of $100, but he didn’t raise prices until just this year.
This commitment to keeping food and drink accessible has led the bar to become a neighborhood staple, Wilhite said, with people of all different walks of life and economic fortunes coming through his doors in true dive fashion.
He said he’s tripled the annual sales at Palmers East since he bought it, but said the real key to success is simple: keep your workers happy.
“Take care of your employees,” he said. “They’re not my employees, they’re my family.”
This includes perks like medical benefits and the fact that he said many of his employees have stayed at the bar for more than 10 years speaks to the fact that he’s got a winning strategy.
“You take care of them, they take care of you,” he said.
The bar also offers karaoke every night of the year and hosts trivia on Wednesdays.
Wilhite himself comes from a long line of business folks, with his grandfather running a club in his day.
Wilhite moved to Redmond in 1995 to help his cousins open a restaurant, and since then he’s opened seven restaurants with his siblings.
While this is the first bar he’s owned, he’s been involved with launching and running 11 others, including a friend’s in New York.
The work can be exhausting, Wilhite said, but he’s not planning on going anywhere any time soon, especially since he owns the building.
“I plan on running it until I can’t handle it anymore,” he said. “…I still love coming to work every day.”
Palmers East is open from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily and is located at 7853 Leary Way.