by Lorena Landon
Ajax Café is one of the most unique dining venues in all of Puget Sound, offering excellent cuisine and presentation. The Café is housed in the historic Galster House, built in the late 1800’s, located within steps of the public dock at Irondale in the northwest corner of Port Hadlock. Boaters can tie-up at the dock or anchor out and arrive by dinghy. Boats can stay at the dock up to 4-hours while guests dine at Ajax and visit the adjacent Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding.
Today’s Ajax Café was once the home of Samuel Hadlock, founder of Port Haldlock. Samuel came to Port Townsend Bay in 1870 after building the Tacoma lumber mill. He then built a new sawmill on the Port Hadlock waterfront around which was a general store, post office, hotels, and saloons. The Galsters later moved into the Hadlock home and lived there until 1949. Mr. Galster tended bar in the saloon located on the first floor of the house, now the Ajax Café.
Over the years, beginning in 1977, Ajax became known for its excellent meals and party atmosphere. Hats hang on the walls of the café, representing various periods of time and professions. Patrons are invited to select and don one of the hats, transforming their persona and character. There’s something about this simple activity that starts conversations between people and even across the room — “oh, that hat is you,” “you look great in that hat,” “where are you from?” Soon the entire café is one big happy group of friends. Even the old record album jackets, used as menu covers, evoke conversation; we were presented with a John Denver album cover, which of course launched a conversation about snow skiing, piloting aircraft and other subjects. Photos of famous musicians and movie stars on the café walls complete the fun atmosphere of the then-and-now conversations.
When the Ajax Café closed in 2016 due to needed plumbing repairs, the community and the café’s many patrons were heart broken. A campaign to raise funds and save Ajax soon ensued. Time was passing by and it was feared that Ajax might be lost, until the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding began raising funds to purchase the house, make repairs, and provide a long-term lease for Ajax. After being closed for two years, the Ajax Café reopened on April 6, 2019 and picked up where they left off, with great food and good times. Most restaurants would never survive after a two-year closure. It’s a testament to the quality of the cuisine and patronage found at Ajax Café.
The quality of the cuisine at Ajax’s is due to the talented chef using fresh, local ingredients, including locally grown fruits and vegetables from local farms; home-made breads; and local beef and poultry. Chef Graham has a knack for creating juicy, flavorful dishes that leave you wanting to come back for more. Nightly specials include seasonal dishes and fresh seafood like the Northwest Fishermen’s Stew with mussels, clams, prawns and fresh fish in a saffron bouillabaisse. I chose the baked, encrusted salmon placed over a risotto cake topped with a flavorful fruit/veggie sauce; and my husband chose the Pork tenderloin with tomatillo chutney and fresh prunes served with a three-potato au gratin. We topped off our culinary experience with a warm pear compote, a la mode. And, yes, we were left with the desire to return and try more of Ajax’s tasty dishes.
The Ajax Café is open for dinner Tuesdays through Sundays, starting at 5:00 p.m.; call 360-385-1965 for reservations; you’ll not want to miss this special venue with good food and fun times. Reservations are a must at this popular café.