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We found the city sanctioned graffiti alley oddly compelling.

Downtown — Spars, Cigars and Rooster Combs

Olympia is surprisingly small for being the capitol city of the West’s second most populous state. When we saw the elegant dome of the Capitol rising from the city’s low rise skyline, we anticipated finding an equally elegant downtown. We were literally shocked and disappointed when we found an urban core that was somewhat seedy … with grungy sidewalks, narrow congested streets, and vacant deteriorating buildings. Upon multiple visits, our initial negative impressions softened and we found ourselves enjoying the numerous boutiques, coffee cafes, used bookstores and ethnic restaurants tucked into the renovated 19th century brick and masonry buildings. Many of these establishments serve as hangouts for the college-aged students who wander the streets with their distinctive gothic look … all black clothing and multiple body piercings.

We soaked up the atmosphere of Olympia’s past at the historic Spars Café, Bar and Tobacco Merchant. Spars is a classic 1930’s style café that retains many details from its early days such as wooden counter chairs with clips on the back to hold patron’s hat … and walls decorated with historic photos and cigar memorabilia.

Cigars are still sold from the original cigar counter, while a cigar lounge and pub now occupies the former pool room. At the entrance is a spring fed drinking fountain ...  downtown is riddled with springs that bubble up in basements. Be forewarned, although the café itself is charming, the food is average and the waitresses can be somewhat cranky … yet they pack in a crowd daily.

In the middle of downtown is the flamboyant 1881 Old Thurston County Courthouse (a.k.a. "Old State capitol" since it was used as the Capitol from 1903 to 1926). We love this Richardsonian Revival Style behemoth and enjoyed gawking at its towers, turrets, gargoyles and magnificent stone masonry. Although the interior has been remodeled, there is just enough vintage details to make for an interesting tour.

For a bit of detail ... click on the photo.

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