It’s tricky distinguishing between a dive and a blue-collar joint; it tells you something if, say, the clientele is paying in cash or stolen merchandise. But the Boxcar Alehouse, née Roadhouse (3407 Gilman Ave. W., 206-286-6000), in beautiful Interbay has both ends covered. A wild dive turned blue-collar, it borders on respectability with new paint, fixtures, and an outside remodel. But it remains inspired by—and inhabited with workers from—the Burlington Northern rail yard across the street. Hence the name.
The new owners unfortunately rode the train theme off the tracks, adding Pullman Pasta and Trainyard Tacos to the menu and ordering all cigarette smokers to completely exit the Boxcar. Happily, the railroaders and longshoremen along with assorted loungers and the idle poor can still find a stool. It is also much easier to get into the place without all those cops and liquor inspectors milling about.
In a similar vein—joints named for their nearby industry—you can squeeze into the crowded bar at Ballard’s Lockspot Cafe (3005 N.W. 54th St., 206-789-4865) and sit elbow to elbow with customers who work at—surprise—the locks (short for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Hiram M. Chittenden Locks). They’ll tell you how long it takes to fill the locks, then empty them, and what an exciting thing that is to watch 100 times a day. Then there’s the attraction of 5,000 drunken boaters on a three-day weekend. Speaking of getting sloshed: For that Saturday night hangover, there’s an agreeable Sunday bacon-and-eggs cure awaiting Lockspotters who stumble back.
In Georgetown, though it may be more a punk-rock dive than blue-collar, 9 lb Hammer (6009 Airport Way S., 206-762-3373) certainly sounds working-class, and it’s not uncommon to spot someone in airplane-greased coveralls, either, at the Hammer or at Stellar Pizza and Ale (5513 Airport Way S., 206-763-1660, www.stellarpizza.com). In West Seattle, Poggie Tavern (4717 California Ave. S.W., 206-937-2165) has long been a working-class joint, while on Capitol Hill, the Garage (1130 Broadway Ave., 206-322-2296) is a fix-it shop turned into a vast bar, pool hall, and bowling alley where, let the record show, I held the shuffleboard table for most of one night against an onslaught of median-wage writers and editors. At Fishermen’s Terminal, the Highliner Tavern (3909 18th Ave. W., 206-283-2233) is a gathering place for, voilà!, fishermen. And women. And fish. And chips. Meanwhile, the Tin Hat Bar & Grill in Ballard (512 N.W. 65th St., 206-782-2770) is no longer a pure working- person’s joint, having switched from tavern to hip bar. Still, it can put swagger into any yuppie’s phone call: “Hey, I’m hanging at the Tin Hat. Gonna do some pinball.”
Conversely, nearby Hattie’s Hat (5231 Ballard Ave. N.W., 206-784-0175, www.hatties hat.com) does draw a working crowd, all of them fishers and dockworkers named Ole. It’s also a late-night spot for cabbies to drink their lunches. At the other end of town, Kettells (5800 Fourth Ave. S., 206-767-4777), in the SoDo industrial area, draws postal workers to its cozy bar. It’s fun to hear the carriers talk about how the freakin’ mail just keeps coming and coming and coming! until someone slaps them out of it.
Many great true-blue-collar joints have faded away, including the Blew Eagle Tavern and, indeed, the old Blue Collar, but the venerable U District Blue Moon (712 N.E. 45th St., 206-675-9116) continues to harbor the workforce along with students, professors, and socialist bomb throwers. Failing all else, there is always the blue and Western ambience of the Little Red Hen in downtown Green Lake (7115 Woodlawn Ave. N.E., 206-522-1168, www.littleredhen.com). It was once a hangout mostly for nearby dairy workers; now it’s got a more horsey crowd with live country music, line dancing, and chicken-fried steak. Do not leave without inspecting the basement, a 600-square-foot former Cold War bomb shelter stocked to the ceiling with beer. Everything you need to survive the Bush presidency.