Drink up! Happy hour on the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry is back

More galleys are reopening as pandemic restrictions scale back. Get out of your car for concessions just like at the ballpark.

It was another long day for ironworker Matthew Barron, starting with walking on the 4:40 a.m. ferry from Clinton to the mainland.

Now, some 12 hours later, he was unwinding with a beer and popcorn in the galley on the ride home.

Happy hour is back on the boat. Or happy one-third hour in this case, where the Mukilteo-Clinton route sailing is 20 minutes.

Galleys have reopened on select ferries. Look for those giant red, yellow and green jugs of ketchup, mustard and relish by the cafeteria tables.

Ferry food, an attraction and ritual, was shuttered by the pandemic for over two years. Sure, there are vending machines, but it’s just not the same as a rootin’-tootin’ concession stand.

“It was an eerie feeling that the gates were closed and no one was sitting here,” Barron said. “It just felt weird because I rode the boat for nine years.”

For months, Barron and other walk-on commuters had the deck pretty much to themselves. Car passengers were instructed to stay in their vehicles.

Not anymore.

But happy hour at sea isn’t a given on every boat. It’s more like every other boat.

The galley is open Wednesday through Saturday on the Suquamish on the two-boat Mukilteo-Clinton route, but remains closed on sister ship Tokitae. A galley is open on one vessel on the Edmonds-Kingston and Port Townsend-Coupeville routes and others systemwide.

Monthly rider Steve Cahill was headed to the vending machines for a snack on the ferry to Clinton when he saw the light at the end of the aisle. It made his day to see the galley gates were open.

“I can get some good food,” said Cahill, a delivery driver on a run from Olympia.

He bought a hot dog, ice cream bar and a Twix. It set him back about $15. He didn’t mind. The ferry fare was his complaint.

“I’m driving a 30-foot truck and this cost me $36. That’s a lot of money. Put that in your newspaper,” he said.

And $15 for a dog and sweets wasn’t pricey?

“This is food,” he said.

The menu of regional items is basically the same as pre-shutdown: Ivar’s chowders and soups. Uli’s Famous Sausages. Whidbey Island Ice Cream treats. Alki Bakery pastries. Cafe Vita Espresso & Coffee. CB’s Nuts. Plus salads, sandwiches and a rotating selection of Northwest craft beers and wines. Alcohol must be consumed in the galley.

“Some people early in the morning want a beer,” cashier Maria Rios said. Beer is $7 to $9 a can.

Ivar’s chowder and plant-based red chili are popular all day, she said. A bowl is $6.75.

Rios worked in the galley before the pandemic and is happy to be back to work.

A bag of hot popcorn and fizzy fountain soda totals $7 before tax at the “ferry store,” as a 6-year-old girl called the galley.

It’s like going to a ball game.

The service is operated and staffed by Sodexo Live!, an entity of Sodexo, which acquired Centerplate, the former vendor. Sodexo Live! also provides grub at Seattle Mariners games at T-Mobile Park.

Sodexo spokesperson Paul Pettas said the ferry menu was popular before COVID so few changes were made. “We didn’t try to rock the boat too much,” he said.

Pettas said local suppliers are a priority, and that many are companies owned by women. The galley also sells USB cables and plugs.

Washington State Ferries spokesman Ian Sterling said eventually all vessel galleys will reopen and hours will expand.

“This is one more thing as we try to get back to normal, post-pandemic,” Sterling said.

For Dylan Wade, the galley was a food court oasis after an hour-plus wait for the ferry after driving from Olympia on Saturday to attend a wedding on Whidbey. He downed a hot dog, tater tots and a pretzel with cheese sauce.

“We are very happy,” he said. “This is the first time we’ve eaten all day.”

Food service at the Mukilteo terminal is in the works.

Washington State Ferries is requesting proposals for a concessionaire to feed the hungry masses. The 18-by-36-foot space up for grabs is for a stand that blends with the terminal’s architectural style, not a food truck, at the front of the holding lanes. It doesn’t get much better than having 266 cars lined up to order food at your business. The deadline to apply is Aug. 18.