Some see downtown Bellingham’s Foxhole as a goth club, and others as a witch’s lair. People have described it as European, otherworldly, and as an American parlor from a bygone century. It’s possible to view it as a bar, and certainly true that it is one of the few places the curious can go to sample and learn about absinthe. Best of all, it’s easy to experience it as a piece of inhabitable artwork, created by two Bellingham artists and a crew of their friends.

Jordan Jenson was born and raised just north of Seattle, then spent most of her adolescence and young adulthood in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. Jenson doesn’t fall easily into any artistic category, but seems to be more of a creator in general. The thing that drew her into fine arts was not necessarily a drive to express herself, but more of a curiosity, a desire to try new things and learn new skills.

“My hobby has always been collecting hobbies,” she says with a laugh. “I’ll pick something up that I’m interested in, dive into it, and then three or six or eight months later, I’ll decide that I want to try something different and dive into that. ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ definitely applies.”

She moved to Bellingham for a break from being so immersed in downtown Fremont, with its landscape of bars, restaurants, and nightlife.

The idea of a relaxed and dreamy space was at the top of the list when Jenson and Carter began to conceptualize. Illustration courtesy Foxhole

“I wanted an adaptability challenge, so I moved here without knowing anybody, without having any connections whatsoever, just to prove to myself that I could do it,” she says.

Upon arriving, she found herself on the 200 block of West Holly Street, with a job at the well-known taco bar Black Sheep. As she grew into her new surroundings, she soon became the manager there, and then at its sister business, Goat Mountain Pizza. It was there she would meet her future partner in crime, Mack.

An Artistic Force

Mackenzie Carter is originally from Syracuse, New York, but began work on an art degree in Seattle. “I was the kid who was making designs with my macaroni in my high chair, and then building little cities out of sticks under the bleachers at my brothers football games,” she says. Carter’s mother was a photographer, and that influence led her to a degree in photography and digital media.

Jenson collected new skills in the process of making Foxhole a reality, including the carpentry needed to create the upstairs seating. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

She finished her degree in Albany, New York, and it soon became clear that spending time at a computer editing photos was not the future she desired. Then, against all odds, her partner at the time was offered a job in Skagit County, and Carter decided a change of pace — and a return to her old stomping grounds — was in order. She first took a job at L&L Libations, and by July of 2021 found herself on the 200 block of West Holly Street, working at Black Sheep.

Carter had been developing a style of illustrating interior spaces for several years, so when COVID lockdowns kicked in, she solicited friends and family to send photos of the places where they were quarantined. As businesses reopened, she added a handful of bars to her pool of inspiration, and soon she had an art show at one of those bars. She also offered prints for sale at a monthly market operating in the old Lorikeet restaurant, which happened to be organized by Jenson.

Carter’s background in chronicling real spaces was put to use when sharing the vision for a place that did not exist yet. Illustration courtesy Foxhole

A Team Comes Together

In December of 2022, members of the group of businessmen that owned a string of businesses on the 200 block of West Holly Street approached Jenson with an intriguing question: One of the businesses was closing, and they wanted to know what she would do with the place, if it were hers.

The ideas came quickly, mostly revolving around the brainstorm of a comfortable, lounge-style wine bar, full of class but not pretension. Fortunately, she knew someone turn to for help bringing those ideas to life: a stylish figure with a clear aesthetic, who happened to have a talent for drawing the interiors of bars.

A wild array of artwork decorates the staircase, and its impressive chandelier. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

Jenson invited Carter to collaborate, and the two quickly discovered they fit together naturally, and balanced each other well. Jenson brought the concept of decorating the place as if the visitor were in a dream state, and introduced whimsical and hallucinatory concepts.

“At one point I wanted a fish tank, but inside an old-school, 1950s TV set,” she says. “Just things on display that make you say ‘Wait a minute, where did that come from?’”

Carter brought a different flavor, mixing a goth counterculture style with Gothic art, as well as newer aesthetics like dark academia, to add a cooler tone to the overall feel. Although the group of owners had some ideas of their own, they couldn’t deny that Carter and Jenson were making very attractive and convincing suggestions.

The neon “cootie-catcher” is the only indication of Foxhole’s location, and marks the door that transports visitors to another world. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

Transforming the Space

After an intensive few months spent perfecting their concepts, Jenson and Carter pitched their idea three weeks before the existing business was set to close; they began work the first day the space was empty. They touched up some areas that needed attention, and quickly began adding to their skill sets. “There were lots of firsts for us. I’m a mason and Jordan’s a carpenter and a seamstress now, because of this,” says Carter. “And we’re both plumbers and electricians as well as interior designers.”

With repairs and upgrades in place, the two started hunting down the materials that would transform the space. They frequented thrift stores from the northern border to the Seattle metroplex, and ordered tons of fabric and material samples.

Beware of snakes when ordering absinthe, snacks, or non-alcoholic mixed drinks. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

For the mosaics that spread across the first floor, Carter visited masonry stores to collect castoffs, and saved every scrap that came off the walls. Other materials were purchased new and — no matter where the materials came from — the pair were relentless in finding the exact colors and textures they wanted.

They brought in a small army of friends to help, trading favors for assistance with construction and decoration. When it came to decorating, they say they couldn’t have done it without the help of their friend Sam Boroughs.

“Sam is an antiques dealer at Penny Lane, and he would walk by every day while we were doing the build out, and when we finally opened he fell in love,” says Carter. “He said he wanted it to be his living room, and started coming by and bringing us goodies about once a week; little trinkets, like the miniatures we have downstairs, or candle holders.”

Carter collected cast off pieces of ceramics throughout the region, then spent an estimated 100 hours to create the mosaics that cover many of the downstairs surfaces. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

The Finished Product

From homey touches, like baubles donated by friends, to the edgier oddities, like the shards of broken mirror set into the staircase, there are countless small details to admire. There are also some massive pieces, like the mosaics that took Carter around 100 hours to create, and the monolithic, two-story-tall curtains that Jenson custom-made.

One wall is filled with framed artwork, some of which was created by friends, and some of which was discovered in second-hand bins; another is made of white-painted bricks and a faux fireplace, which stands next to an impressionistic altar of sorts.

Equally as interesting is Foxhole’s menu. In addition to a curated mix of wines is a selection of beer, cider, and liquor. But what really stand out are the mixed drinks. Some are familiar and others are adventurous, but all of them bear evocative names. And because they want to welcome all who are interested in coming, there is also a well-thought-out section of non-alcoholic mixed drinks.

Candles only enhance the moody atmosphere that envelops anyone that enters Foxhole. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle

“Our clientele is a wide range of people: 21-year-olds in college, the queer community, some of our goth friends come through,” Carter says. “We had a book club come in last Sunday [whose members] were all dressed up and got the absinthe drip together. Someone else just had their 75th birthday, and we were their first stop.”

Carter is emphatic that Foxhole is not for anyone — it’s for everyone.

“So long as you can be accepting of everyone when you’re here,” she says. “And if you can’t do that, then you can’t be here. That’s the only real rule.”

215 W Holly Street
Opens at 4 p.m. Monday – Friday
Open until 12 a.m. Friday & Saturday
View Mack Carter’s art on her Instagram page

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