LAST SUMMER, YOUNG IMPRESARIO Laura Olson and partners opened Auto Battery in the vacant space neighboring her Po Dog hot dog restaurant on Union Street. Along cinder-block walls they mounted flat-screen televisions—10 total, aimed toward 20 or so tables scattered about. Behind these, in the back section, they installed two wood-lined shuffleboard tables. Beneath those, a cache of silver kegs bears witness to the large volume of brew moving in and out. Olson’s signature Po Dog wieners—one dressed in potato chips and nacho cheese, another with banana slices and peanut butter—are also up for order at Auto Battery.
It’s a sports bar, guests are meant to understand from the banners and beer signs celebrating the Seahawks, Sounders, and Huskies. But in a manner befitting the neighborhood (where bars decorated in non-sequitur-ish themes seem to proliferate daily) the place has a second, less straightforward theme, borrowed from the car battery repair shop whose lease it assumed. From a white corkboard dangle tools intended for removing busted car batteries and installing cooling fans. An apparatus once used to measure electrical currents and voltage now houses the beer taps. And an advertisement for Interstate Batteries, “built to last and priced right,” still hangs below the bar.
Auto Battery (1009 E Union St, Capitol Hill, 206-322-2886; autobatterybar.com) opens at 8am on weekends, 11am on weekdays. Between televised games and appropriate drinking hours, bartenders offer espresso, omelets, and, of course, hot dogs. There’s free Wi-Fi, and cable news on the TVs. These attractions prove weak on wet winter weekdays, when a solitary imbiber may suffer that member of the staff who cranks symphonic metal bands from Finland. But stick around into happy hour, and, like a basement rec room when the kids come home from college, Auto Battery changes from dreary to joyous. Seattle U students surround shuffleboard tables, draining pints as they play. Office mates arrive and order mini corn dogs and pitchers. Their conversation drops, now and again, to a conspiratorial whisper, then erupts into that liberating laughter that comes when coworkers acknowledge some hitherto tacitly understood truth about their place of employ.
But it’s at game time, all eyes trained on the screen, when this bomb-shelter-looking bar reveals its true beauty. Because besides two beams supporting the bar, there is nary an architectural obstruction to separate sports fan from televised competition. More beautiful still is the discordant wonder of watching Capitol Hillers—the flannelly, bearded fellows and the rat-tailed smokers in their tight jeans and the girls with their socks sticking out of their boots and that old oddie who carries around a typewriter in its suitcase—turn suddenly, and without warning, into screaming sports fans.