Happy Seventh Anniversary, Hazlewood

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Alchemist Sara Fisher, Bieber-lover.
The Watering Hole: Hazlewood, 2311 NW Market St., 206-783-0478. BALLARD.

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The Atmosphere: There are two Ballard institutions I cannot imagine living without: the classic, old-school fisherman's bar known as The Smoke Shop, and Hazlewood, the old-world cocktail den that serves as an auxiliary living room for a fiercely loyal stable of 30-40-something regulars. Established in 2005 and operated by rock-and-roll renaissance man Drew Church and beloved Bostonian curmudgeon Keith Bartoloni (Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd and bar biz vet Steve Freeborn are also co-owners), this neighborhood lounge has a sense of history and warmth that belies its relatively young age. Church's affection for pre-prohibition cocktails and affordable wines by the glass figures prominently on the menu, as does the collective humor of himself and Bartoloni in the décor (should you take seriously the framed posters declaring The 'Wood to be "The Paris of Ballard," you obviously haven't read the fine print at the bottom that lists their phone number as "1-800-ZIMA"). Hazlewood is postage-stamp-sized by design and necessity (it was previously home to a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop), which means it's insufferably full on weekends, but blessedly quiet on Mondays. The start of the week is the best time to go there, not just because of the absence of ill-mannered, "New Ballard" oafs, but also because of the presence of this city's most beguiling bartender, Sara Fisher.

The Barkeep: Fisher is hamming it up with a copy of a teen magazine featuring Justin Bieber as the centerfold, but it's the thoughtful dialog she continuously maintains with patrons that makes her an unflappable alchemist when it comes to balancing spirits and picky adult palettes. Give this girl a liquor preference and a timely adjective, and she'll create the cocktail of your darkest dreams. Regulars show up like clockwork on Sundays to partake in her signature brunch cocktail, "Sarah's Sorry," a bittersweet champagne cocktail inspired by a blowout row she had with an old flame.

The Drink: The "Georgie Bailey" is comprised of ¾ ounce of Cocchi Americano, ½ ounce of habanero-infused tequila, ¼ ounce of Suze (a gentian-based aperitif), ½ ounce fresh lime juice, two dashes each of Scrappy's grapefruit and Boker's bitters, topped with champagne, and garnished with a flat orange twist. She's been making drinks for this writer for years, and intuitively knew that habenero-infused tequila was a good road to head down. "Especially with the change of the seasons, infusions really interest me right now," says Fisher, pulling out a bottle of her own lemon-thyme bourbon that's been steeping for two weeks and encouraging me to try a sip. "I did want to do something that speaks to your palette--because that is what I'm about--I'm more of a patron's choice kind of bartender. But I wanted to challenge you," she tells me with a sly smile as she switches the iPod to a Dusty Springfield song after the previous barrage of gangster hip-hop. "Every bit of information is useful--I rather make you a cocktail that you'll like more next time. It's a puzzle, but it's lovely puzzle."

The Conclusion: Hazlewood is wise beyond its years, and this precociousness shines most sweetly in Sara, but also in the people that surround her on their seven year anniversary this Thursday, October 18. Five DJs will help celebrate the occasion, including local music legend Kurt Bloch (MF Cake) . The bar opens at 4 p.m. for happy hour, but expect spontaneous, patron-inspired specials all night long.

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