It’s pretty much impossible to miss Ivar’s when visiting the Seattle waterfront. Massive signs cover Pier 54, announcing the seafood restaurant in letters large enough to be read by passengers on nearby ferries. Even the flagship location’s name, Ivar’s Acres of Clams, let’s you know that this place is a big deal. Over the top marketing is just one of the trademarks of this homegrown Washington seafood chain founded by an outrageous entrepreneur named Ivar Haglund in 1938.
The ‘Mayor’ of the Waterfront
Promoting the virtues of a company’s founder has been a common marketing staple for a long time. Ivar Haglund however was the real deal. The P.T. Barnum of the Pacific Northwest, he concocted one elaborate stunt after another to promote his business. His entertaining antics endeared him to the public as a favorite son of Seattle. A local entertainer and folk singer, he first entered the business world by opening an aquarium on Pier 54. The attraction was a huge success and he soon realized he could increase his profit by serving local seafood to his guests. After initially experimenting with a simple fish and chips bar ran by his friends, Ivar decided to open an upscale seafood restaurant. He named it after a lyric in his popular song The Old Settler and thus Ivar’s Acres of Clams was born.
Dancing Clams and Submarine Billboards
Ivar’s audacious self-promotion included such acts as strolling around town with a seal in a baby carriage, hosting a human versus octopus wrestling match, and helping out with an industrial syrup spill by serving pancakes. After a rival business owner put up signs asking guests not to feed the seagulls, Ivar plastered his business with signs encouraging people to share their meals with the gulls. A tradition Ivar’s continues to this day.
Decades before a similar internet meme would arise, Ivar promoted his food with the motto, “Keep Clam.” Starting in the 1980’s, commercials for the restaurant featured the iconic ‘Dancing Clams,” giant clams with human legs. In 2009, the chain ran the world’s shortest Super Bowl commercial with a 1/2 second spot only long enough to say “Ivar’s!” That same year, the company claimed to have recovered ‘Submarine Billboards’ from the bottom of Puget Sound. These submerged advertisements were supposedly installed decades earlier by Ivar Haglund in preparation for commuter submarines replacing ferries. The campaign showed the company’s commitment to continuing the spirit of Haglund’s ostentatious stunts into the 21st century.
Ivar’s Famous Fried Clams
Ivar’s has over 25 locations throughout the state of Washington. In order to experience a taste of history, I suggest you dine at the spot where it all started; Pier 54 on the Waterfront. The original Ivar’s Acres of Clams offers a great upscale seafood dining experience. However, if you are looking to just taste the famous fried clams first, I would choose the Fish Bar located to the side of the main restaurant. Order from the walk up counter and then choose a spot in their outdoor seating area. Every table has an amazing view of the water. Ivar’s fried clams are golden brown perfection. Dip them in the signature tartar sauce and enjoy over 75 years of seafood excellence. You can even feed your fries to the seagulls.