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 did 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.
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 amidst a scene which radiated either diviness or artiness (or, in the case of Hattie's Hat, both), and turned its nose up at televised sports.
Owned by native Ballardite Steve Katsandres, Bad Albert's served a signature burger, 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 that was on its way to epitomizing New Ballard, in all its gentrified glory. Ultimately, Bad Albert's pioneer status couldn't save it, with the bar closing this past summer after weathering a string of financial hardships.
Shortly after Bad Albert's closed, it was announced that the twin Rockey brothers, Shawn and Cory, had purchased the business from Katsandres and would reopen the bar after a subtle facelift. They reopened in early December, still serving the signature Dock Street Burger, and with an identical floor plan. The interior has been painted a darker hue, and what was once a collection of half a dozen small television sets 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, including bacon-wrapped asparagus as an appetizer and delicious bacon gravy as a topping for fries and breakfast, which is now offered every day instead of being restricted to weekends. The music has gotten no hipper, however: 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 the bar 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, that will hopefully be taken to heart this time around: There's no sense waiting until a bar's in peril to show your appreciation for it. Show up early and often, and you'll never have to cry in your beer.
Bad Albert's, 5100 Ballard Ave NW, 782-9623, BALLARD