Before Stu Weitzman bought the Waterwheel in Ballard, it was a simpler place--basically a glorified double-wide with a few cheap lagers on tap and good fried chicken. There was no parking-lot beer garden, no emphasis on barbecued cuisine or karaoke, no yard-long beer receptacles that look like chemistry beakers, and no hard booze.
Curtis Cartier A grumpy Laundromat bar no more.
Weitzman's alterations have done little to diminish the Waterhweel's charm; in fact, many would argue that they've enhanced the experience. But there's something missing. Someone, actually: Susan Hailey.Hailey looks to be in her 60s, and has a sweet, matronly air about her, like a great aunt who fed you lemon drops (the candy, not the drink) until the eight-year-old you dropped. For years, Hailey patrolled the tiny Waterwheel as its afternoon bartender, often dressed in a sweatsuit and flip flops, like she would in the comfort of her own home. And that's exactly how she made her customers feel: like they'd come home, even if their entire point of visiting was to be anywhere but.
Before Lou Brauer bought Sweet Lou's in Greenwood, it was a tavern called the Sundown, which had all the aesthetic charm of a Laundromat. Fair or otherwise, it developed a reputation as a place where only prodigious male beer drinkers with enormous chips on their shoulder came to drown their sorrows after a really shitty day of being yelled at by their foremen.
Suffice it to say, Brauer had an upstream swim ahead of him beginning with Lou's grand opening in June. But he had pedigree on his side, having enlisted the owners of Ballard's Old Pequliar and Maple Leaf's Reservoir--two established neighborhood watering holes with iron jaws--as business partners at Sweet Lou's. Brauer spiffed the interior up considerably, devoting an entire wall to portraits of famous Lous (Rawls, Piniella, Diamond Phillips, et. al.) and adopting a clever slogan: Lou's Yourself.
But most importantly, Brauer hired Hailey as his afternoon bartender (her shift extends through happy hour). Her mere presence has instantly exorcised the Sundown's demons. And while the potato salad and macaroni and cheese are so-so at best, Sweet Lou's kitchen pumps out some seriously scrumptious beef brisket; so generous are the portions on the sliders that what's usually a snack of three White Castle clones can easily serve as dinner.
The bar business is tough, folks, and there's no guarantee Sweet Lou's will stick to its neighborhood's gut. But so far, Brauer's made all the right moves.
Sweet Lou's, 820 NW 85th St, 782-9690 GREENWOOD