The Watering Hole: Ballard Station Public House 2236 NW Market St, 999-5600. BALLARD
Photo by Keegan Hamilton "George" and The Sundance Kid
The Atmosphere: Back before Seattle coerced Ballard into annexation by threatening to cut off its water supply, a train ferried passengers back and forth between the two towns. Kind of. The train stopped on the south side of Salmon Bay, and commuters hoofed it across. The people would "make their way across the creaking bridge to one of the many saloons or bars before heading to their homes in the woods on Salmon Bay."
That last whimsical bit is how the owners of the newish Ballard Station Public House put it on their website, citing it as the inspiration for their railroad-inspired theme. (Substitute "woods" for acres of condos, and a train for a fleet of not-so-rapid busses and things haven't changed all that much in Ballard since the late 1800s.) Formerly the ever-empty Ballard Ave Pub, the rebranding and makeover by the establishment's new owners seems to be working. On a soggy Tuesday night there's a respectable group of trivia players and a few guys, a couple 20-somethings and the rest older in post-work business casual, playing darts and shuffleboard.The barkeep: With most people seated at the tables and numerous empty seats at the bar, Rog (as in Rodger) is happy to chat but not excited to talk about his last bartending gig. "I'm over it, just call me George." He's been at Ballard Station since the owner of Targy's on Queen Anne and another partner opened it about two months ago. Rog sums up his cocktail philosophy thusly: "All drinks are bastards...like the love children of old and new ideas. Every drink I make is a bastard love child."
The drink: Told he can make whatever he fancies, Rog asks for a base. I tell him it is most definitely whiskey weather outside. "I like where your'e going with this," he replies, opting for The Sundance Kid, one of several $8 specialty drinks with vaguely train-related names.
The drink a blend of Old Overholt rye, the French aperitif Lillet, and Italian artichoke digestif Cynar. All three are vigorously stirred with ice, then strained into a tumbler and garnished with orange zest. The result is potent, citrusy and nearly dry enough to absorb all the rain pouring down outside.
The verdict: Nothing warms the soul quite like a stiff pour of Old Overholt, but the Sundance Kid is a tad too bitter on the finish for my tastes. The Ballard Station, however, seems nice enough. The railroad thing is relatively understated (the wood bar has railroad ties hammered into it; there are no miniature trains), and there's a nice assortment of craft beers and a modest wine list. "We're just trying to make it like a community gathering space," enthuses the other bartender, this one pleased to give his name as Mark P. Edwards.
No doubt that's what the owners envisioned as well with their Ballard rail nostalgia. And, with the Ballard boom providing a seemingly endless supply of thirsty drinkers, the bar might be around long enough to see another rail line connecting Ballard to downtown.