Horse & Cow Pub celebrates its storied history with a block party

The Horse & Cow Pub & Grill celebrated its second birthday last week at its location on Fourth Avenue in downtown Bremerton. And like for any proper 2-year-old, they threw a party to celebrate.

BREMERTON — The Horse & Cow Pub & Grill celebrated its second birthday at its location on Fourth Avenue in downtown Bremerton. And like for any proper 2-year-old, they threw a party to celebrate.

But not just any party. Owner Mike Looby blocked off the street (yes, he obtained a city permit), brought in a bluegrass band, put up canopies, set out tables and chairs, displayed food and cranked up the music to celebrate the storied history of possibly the most beloved (and notorious) hangout for submariners in the U.S. Navy.

The Horse & Cow has, through various iterations, been in operation since 1953, when a big personality named Jimmy Looby opened the first Horse & Cow with his brothers in downtown San Francisco. Over the years, and through several changes of location, the pub acquired a legendary reputation as a place where submariners could go to relax, trade stories (some repeatable, many of them not so much), recover from being at sea for three months and, to be frank, tie one (or two) on.

Jimmy Looby knew his customers — both who they were and where they were. They were, first and foremost, the young men (and now women) who crewed the boats of the Navy’s submarine service. The pub is welcoming to all, but it’s clear: this one is for the folks who serve underwater.

But what made this pub special was the objects on the wall. At its first location in the 1950s, sailors would bring in memorabilia and hang them on the wall. After a while, it became a competitive activity for the crews. And after 63 years of this non-stop tradition, the walls of the pub are now festooned with banners, hundreds of autographs, priceless historic photographs and other relics and artifacts from the various boats whose crews have made the pilgrimage. Between what hangs on the walls and the thousands of other objects in storage, this memorabilia collection has come to be seen as a submariners’ museum of historic significance.

“We’ve checked around, and we believe we have the largest private collection of submarine memorabilia in the world,” said Mike Looby. The pub’s office staff, headed by Looby’s fiancee Bonnie Church is now in the laborious process of cataloguing each and every piece hanging on the wall.

For a first-time visitor to the Horse & Cow, it doesn’t take long to grasp its theme. On the wall of its kid-friendly dining room is a huge poster of a submarine performing an eye-popping emergency surface test from the depths. Taken in 1952, the photo has not lost any of its emotional and visual impact. If a visitor wanders around for a bit, they may even find a small wooden plaque honoring John Philip Holland, the Irish engineer who effectively invented the modern submarine 120 years ago.

The torch of ownership has long since passed from Looby to son Mike. The son proudly maintains the tradition and feeling of a now more slightly upscale dive bar with secrets to keep and stories yet to be told. When the boats are in town, there are a lot of silver dolphins (the pin signifying a qualified submariner). Now working with his partner, Larry Timby, Looby lives in Bremerton and has no plans to move the pub again.

“My dad had a dream of having a sumariners’ bar in every Navy port in the world,” said Looby. “I’m just trying to carry on his dream.”