Travel Stories

Ballard by the Bars

In which we encounter the dreaded party bus, and lose faith in the magical powers of the fabled yohimbe herb.

May 26, 2009

I live just off 15th Street, the Capitol Hill enclave whose several bars are largely patronized by people who still love to go out but are maybe feeling a bit old for Pike/Pine. These are my people. But you won’t find me there most weekends, lamenting the slow service but loving the right beers at Hopvine, lamenting my wine-in-a-juice-glass but cozying up to the jukebox at Smith. For one thing, it gets old. For another, I like to see what’s happening in the other hamlets.

This Friday, I traveled to Ballard.

The night started out at La Isla, a restaurant whose happy hour I’ve touted here before. I ordered a mojito—the guy behind the counter worked the mortal and pestle with such cheerful tenacity that I couldn’t resist partaking of the mint he had muddled. At the time I thought it had a bit too much lime, but later in the weekend when I had another (awful) mojito I realized, retrospectively, that the mojitos at La Isla are exceptionally delicious.

After dinner we went to Hazlewood, another bar whose praises I have previously sung. But I have to say this again: beyond having really inventive delicious cocktails, Hazlewood’s staff (all of them are adorable) is super adept at making tourists (like me and my party) feel welcome, while also cultivating a coterie of happy regs—neighborhood types and old friends, I imagine—who lend the place atmosphere and charm and authenticity without intimidating the rest of us. “Hazlewood welcomes all kinds of people,” said a lady on the porch, shortly after confessing that she was a member of the GOP. (I gathered she was some sort of libertarian.)

Moving on to King’s Hardware, we had just settled into a corner table and a pitcher on the back porch. (This is the first time I’d been before dark. It’s a near facsimile of the one at Linda’s), when they arrived. “They” were polo clad (boys) and be-high-heeled (ladies): rich in numbers, bold in voice, and all very drunk. I don’t know where they came from, but somewhere in their story a fraternity house surely figured. They called themselves the party bus (“Partay buh-US!” They shouted.) and oh man, did they make that deck full of 30-ish Ballardites unhappy. The Ballardites pulled their pork-pie hats down low on their foreheads and hunkered down, not quite ready to give up their open-aired playpen to these oblivious invaders. This partay buh-US would have to move on eventually, wouldn’t it? But it was not to be. The massive, tinted-window monster idled stubbornly outside on Ballard Avenue. So we traveled on….

To Fun Kun Wu. Where we lost our steam very quickly after being served what tasted like straight Campari, and decided to take our leave of Ballard for the night.

So here’s the update: La Isla: good mojitos, go for happy hour. Hazlewood: even if you’re a dork, you can still have fun here. King’s Hardware: excellent back porch, but not partay buh-US proof. Fu Kun Wu: I’m starting to think the whole yohimbe thing is a marketing ploy. But somehow, I still want to believe.

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