On Saturday night, a couple sat down next to me at the bar at Urban Family Public House, Ballard Avenue’s newest beer destination. She asked for a chardonnay; he wanted whatever came the closest to a light beer. The chardonnay wasn’t a problem, but the server was slightly challenged to find a beer one could honestly describe as light.
It was the pub’s second night in business, and owners Tim Czarnetzki, David Powell and Sean Bowman have posted a Belgian-centric beer list, full of strong, yeasty and sometimes delightfully sour beers. Some of the 25 taps are familiar, like Upright’s 4 and Saison Dupont. Others were intoxicatingly new: A Femme Fetale sour ale from Bend, Oregon’s Boneyard Beer Company, and the jauntily named Before, During, and After Christmas beer from the even more jauntily named Evil Twin brewery in Denmark (there’s a good story there; ask the bartender).
The spare space is designed for exploring; the restaurant has no bottle or can list, and the lightest (read: safest) beer on offer is Belgium’s St. Bernardus wit, which still packs a good amount of yeasty flavor. But most of the bar’s occupants whiled away the night just sitting around with their variously shaped beer glasses, talking, hanging out and treating the space like any old watering hole. There’s even a TV, something you won’t see at a snootier sort of beer joint. And…it was tuned to football on my Saturday night visit.
The titular “Urban Family” doesn’t refer to the scores of actual families who populate Ballard, but the close-knit groups of young adults (and just plain adults) that often become just as much a support system as one’s blood relations. Czarnetzki and Powell, both big homebrewers, met as housemates in Washington, DC. Czarnetzki arrived at the house via a Craigslist ad and later convinced his fellow beer-loving roommate to come out to Seattle. Bowman, who grew up with Czarnetzki, is in the process of moving here from Florida.
Urban Family is also in the process of hiring a brewer to produce some small batches of house beer to join the mighty tap list. The establishment expects to start its own brewing in the spring. In yet another charming idiosyncrasy of our state’s liquor laws, the bar is 21 and over until brewing begins on premises.
But back to that couple, and their chardonnay and light beer. I listened unobtrusively, more focused on my Bellegems Bruin, as the couple spouted maxims guaranteed to make the bartender at an uber-geeky Belgian beer bar cringe: "I don’t like strong beer," "that sounds like it has a lot of alcohol," and my favorite "these sorts of beers usually have too many flavors going on for me." Instead of twirling his mustache and glaring through his monocle (of which he had neither), the server engaged the pair in a friendly conversation about beer and served up no fewer than five different samples of styles he thought they might actually enjoy. And when they failed to become converts, he happily poured a chardonnay (Urban Family offers three wines currently) and one of the gentlest beers he could muster.
The accompanying slideshow includes some details on the space, a photo of the blackboard beer list, and an explanation of why there’s a porch swing in the front window.