The Watering Hole: The Nickerson Street Saloon, 318 Nickerson Street, 284-8819
Jason Stauffer: BAMF
The Atmosphere: The Nickerson Street Saloon sits right on possibly the most convoluted corner of the city, neighborhood-wise: the corner of Dexter, Nickerson, Westlake and the Fremont Bridge. It's not really clear whether it's in Fremont, Queen Anne or South Lake Union -- but if this neighborhood had an anchor, it would be the Nickerson. Its big, wooden structure, surrounded by a sizable parking lot, is a butte rising out of a low-rise concrete desert. A large patio sprawls out of one side. It's difficult for one structure to stand out so glaringly yet be so easy to ignore given the right mindset.The most notable thing about the Nickerson, affectionately referred to as the Nick, is that it's not notable, really. It's not glaringly boring or anything, but it was built for good, unencumbered, old-fashioned hanging out. An overwhelmingly wooden decor -- bar, tables, chairs, walls, accents -- makes for a warm, inviting feel. Decor is minimal, mostly unintrusive booze signs, but there is one small, uncharacteristic wall full of blues posters. One wall is full of vinyl tree decals. But these are all accoutrements that easily fade into the background. The food is standard pub fare, but each item has just a couple of extra steps of giving a shit: their veggie burgers and sauces are housemade, and their burgers are hand-formed.
One other thing about the Nick: for a bar without a neighborhood, it seems steeped in local identity. It's as if it just grew there, right in that spot, bartenders and all one day. One of the few decorations in the larger dining area south of the two-sided bar is a vintage sketch of the Fremont Bridge -- and, looking out the windows at the canal as the ships pass by, you can't help but feel it has grown stronger, deeper roots than most similar establishments, certainly than any in that area.
The Barkeep: A barkeep by night and a sculptor by other times, Jason "Pelon" Stauffer has been at the Nickerson for over seven years -- which is saying a lot for him. "I had bartended across the country for 12 years before, from Alaska to New Orleans," he says, never working at any one bar for more than a year. At the Nickerson, unlike other bars, he is master of his domain. "I have a lot of liberties here," he said with a grin, explaining that he "worked for tons of corporate bars... and never imagined this kind of freedom... cutting people off, kicking people out, making things fun for other people."
He certainly does keep an iron grip on the casual atmosphere of what he says customers call "an oasis." When posing for a photo, he went for looking like as much of a solemn, badass motherfucker as he could, but between questions he joked with regulars, enthusiastically pulled pints at record speed, and was generally the life of the party. He takes pride in the Nickerson's position as a staple of their non-neighborhood, and revels in how "it's not a scene," despite all the regulars. He takes pride in this environment. The ability to be in control of his bar -- and his own iPod -- are what keeps him around. He even admits, "I don't think I would last a year on the other side of the canal."
"If you come here to the Nick," he notes, "you came here to the Nick. You didn't get here on accident." But he points out that people from all walks make the place a destination: "You'll sit next to someone at this bar," he gestures, "and say you go to give bars and they go to five bars... this is the only bar you have in common."
The Drink: Jason's drink is a 7 and 7 -- "otherwise known as a 14," he jokes.
For the uninitiated and those who have apparently never, ever been to a bar before, a 7 and 7 is Seagram's 7 whiskey and 7-Up (or the closest soda you have available). Colloquially, it may also refer to any whiskey and lemon-lime soda, but I clarified: Jason makes the real deal.
He's not fiercely dedicated to the drink, but after a long day, or when he's at a loss for what else to get, it's definitely his go-to. "It's never a bad option for me," he says, later adding that "it goes down easy -- too easy."
The Verdict: Jason, the 7 and 7, and the Nickerson are all wrapped into one, big chill-out package: friendly, welcome, versatile and ready to fuel any good time that you set your mind to. The Nickerson and the 7 and 7 are both equally suited to sitting by yourself and reading, partying tough on a Friday (as long as you're not a douchebag), dinner with your mom or a post-work happy hour.
They're all able to fit into so many different identities because they're all so secure in their own: a sturdy foundation to whatever else you have going on.