Ballard Smoke Shop
Ballard: local capital of Nordic culture, a maritime history populated by wind-worn faces, capable hands, and stories that would make mothers blush. Or so it’s said. You’d be hard pressed to find any such evidence among the caravans of young people rolling through Ballard Ave for gastropub fare and boozy milk shakes. But visit the Smoke Shop, tucked away on the strip’s northwest end, and you’ll find where the Vikings and the fishermen have been hiding this whole time. The interior, decked with a poodle-size mounted crab, an iconic ship’s wheel, a whole wall covered in photos of fishing boats like family portraits—all orbiting a larger autographed Deadliest Catch print—make it pretty clear that this is a seaman’s pub. Smoke Shop isn’t where you go to make decisions; you drop in when you know what you want. And if that happens to be aquavit—the herbaceous Scandinavian liquor—then by all means. Patrons, huddled around the horseshoe-shaped bar, hopping between groups, order it like tap water. Because who knows the next time they’ll see land?
The Noble Fir
When most of the 18 taps pour West Coast beers uncommon even in the city’s most beer-obsessed neighborhood, drink orders are usually preceded by a conversation—about a brewery, about the merits of sour ales, about the great imperial IPA that nearly knocked you on your ass last visit. As a bar, the Noble Fir began as a base camp for outdoor exploration (there’s a library of trail guides and Northwest travel books) but doubles as a destination for exploring of a boozier sort.
If Hattie played baseball she’d be a five-tool athlete, proficient at every position. As a bar, it’s a good place to have a few beers on a do-nothing Friday, a popular late-night stop for industry folk looking for a pop after work, and somehow also a resilient breakfast destination. Hang out under the inexplicably ornate bar or wander to the surprise dining area in back, with a full menu until late.
Maybe charred rosemary and hand-chiseled ice are a bit much for the after-work beverage. Maybe you just don’t have a bourbon preference right now. Cue Hazlewood, a friendly craft cocktail bar, slinging surgically precise manhattans without fuss. There are just a few seats downstairs, so escape to the couches in the loft, only occasionally occupied by couples engaged in varying degrees of PDA and nurse a Hazlewood cocktail—whiskey, peppermint tea, and amaretto. 2311 NW Market St, 206-783-0478
The Waterwheel Lounge
It’s easy to miss this North Ballard treasure, tucked away in a gravel lot along 15th Avenue Northwest, the wood paneling painted like a small town mural’s ode to pastoral living. But inside is a shrine to the simplicity of beer. Neon signs of all the reliable brews bathe the bar in electric blue and red. People gather round diminishing pitchers, soon to be swapped out for a fresh one. thewaterwheellounge.com