When Bad Albert's opened in the mid-'90s, Ballard Avenue was nowhere near the bustling nightlife and retail utopia that it is today. King's Hardware was actually a hardware store, and more people showed up for first call at 6 a.m. than for dinner at 6 p.m. Back then, an entrepreneur had to buy into an "If you build it, they will come" philosophy, so sleepy was the historic thoroughfare.
BAD ALBERT'S 5100 Ballard Ave. N.W., 782-9623, BALLARD
Yet even when the strip boasted a mere half-dozen watering holes, Bad Albert's flew under the urban spelunker's radar, a simple, clean bar and grill situated amid a scene which radiated either diviness or artiness (or, in the case of Hattie's Hat, both) and turned up its nose at televised sports.
Owned by native Ballardite Steve Katsandres, Bad Albert's served a signature burger and prime rib on Friday, always had the big game on, and centered its live-music programming on blues, blues, and more blues. It was notable for its ability to retain employees in a high-turnover industry, and humbly stood as an Old Ballard bar on a strip on its way to epitomizing New Ballard in all its gentrified glory. Ultimately, Bad Albert's pioneer status couldn't save it, closing this past summer after weathering a string of financial hardships.
Shortly afterward, it was announced that the twin Rockey brothers, Shawn and Cory, had purchased the business from Katsandres and would reopen it after a subtle face-lift. When the doors were unlocked in early December, Bad Albert's was still serving its signature Dock Street Burger and had an identical floor plan. But the interior now has a darker hue, and what was once a collection of half-a-dozen small televisions has been upgraded to a fleet of a dozen high-def flat-screens, signaling the Rockey brothers' intent to compete head-to-head with the Ballard Loft for the sporting buff's buck.
There have been a few updates to the menu, too, including bacon-wrapped asparagus as an appetizer, delicious bacon gravy as a topping for fries, and breakfast, now offered every day instead of being restricted to weekends. The music has gotten no hipper: On New Year's Eve, Bad Albert's welcomed Ed Taylor, "the Northwest's smoothest jazzman," to its stage.
The news of Bad Albert's closure was greeted by a chorus of sorrow, but admirers clearly took the bar for granted while Katsandres, who named it after an overweight cat, was its proprietor. Thankfully, they've been granted a rare reprieve now that the Rockeys have faithfully restored the establishment. The lesson, which hopefully will be taken to heart this time: There's no sense waiting until a bar's in peril to show it your appreciation. Show up early and often, and you'll never have to cry in your beer.