He was a real estate agent and she was an accountant. Neither had any intentions to buy a martini bar, but a decade ago, Becky and JD Merris did exactly that.
Located near Bellis Fair Mall, Fireside Martini Bar was brought to their attention by a real estate friend who thought it would be a good fit. After checking out the locale, the Merrises became the new owners within two months.
The couple play off of each other’s strengths. Becky takes care of the business side of things while JD, known to friends as the “martini guy,” is the person who shows up to the party with a travel bartender kit that “looks like a typewriter.” A gin fan, JD’s favorite drink is The Last Word, a classic Prohibition-era drink originating in Detroit and reborn in Seattle. Usually made with equal parts gin, lime juice, maraschino liqueur, and Chartreuse, JD makes his version more gin-forward.
Over the years, JD and Becky have kept the Fireside’s name and overall atmosphere intact. Their staff is small, and they foster a collaborative environment so that team members — both bartenders and chefs — have a say in the menu items.
“The early menu, we had help on that. It was a menu that was appropriate for the size of the kitchen we have, which I always call it the size of a rabbit hutch,” JD says. “The cooks we have are just so strong and creative and they come from such different backgrounds, but they produce some great food.”
Fireside’s rabbit hutch may only be big enough for one chef, but they make many menu items from scratch such as sauces, dressings, and naan bread. This year, they started a rooftop garden and plan to incorporate home-grown herbs, tomatoes, and peppers into their food.
While they do have rotating specials, their regular menu includes wonderful dips, soups, salads, and house-made naan flatbreads. These snacks pair perfectly with a drink from their grand cocktail menu, which includes the best Lemon Drop in town.
“There’s no reason to have it just be ho hum, because people can make their own cocktails at home. People can make their own little charcuterie board at home, but our goal here is to make it extra special,” Becky says.
Fireside is a staple in the community, having cultivated a loyal customer base. The Merrises notice how much patrons and staff care for one another, and they even have a memorial plaque on the wall for regulars who have passed away.
“[Joan] became a regular stand-by, she’d sit at the bar and everybody knew her,” Becky says. “I don’t think she paid for a drink in probably years. She drank chardonnay, and people always wanted to buy Joan’s chardonnay.”
One couple, who have been customers for as long as JD can remember, donated their stimulus checks to Fireside during the pandemic. The money went toward the cost of a canopy tent and heaters for outdoor seating. With capacity restrictions and limited hours of operation, Becky and JD have stepped back from bartending as frequently as they used to. They feel fortunate to have not only great customers, but also a great staff, many of whom call them Mom and Pop.
With the mask mandate lifted for vaccinated individuals, bar service reopened, and capacity limits no longer enforced, Becky and JD are looking forward to getting back into the swing of normal business operation. Before COVID-19, Fireside held special events like weekly trivia and live music. They’re also discussing hosting a board game tournament.
Despite a rough year, the Merrises agree on one thing: Failure is not an option. In June of 2021, they celebrated 10 years of ownership. This anniversary is symbolic in more ways than one given the couple’s first introduction at a fundraising auction.
JD donated a martini tasting basket that everyone was bidding on — including Becky. A mutual friend eventually introduced the two. After asking if Becky was married, JD told her about an option for his basket that included a free in-home clinic on how to make the perfect martini. Smooth, Becky thought.
“It’s only fitting that a few years later we would have our own martini bar,” JD says.
416 W. Bakerview Rd., Bellingham, 360.738.1000, firesidemartini.com