Chris Ballew Shares His Favorite Seattle Spots
Chris Ballew has toured the world as the lead singer of alt-rock band the Presidents of the United States of America. He’s performed with the Sonics, released 19 kindie-rock albums under the stage name Caspar Babypants, even received three Grammy nominations. But Ballew, 57, now speaks with the measured calm of someone who’s supremely content with his career. “I’m pretty much retired,” he says.
Of course, Ballew also released Bone by Bone, his fourth solo album under his own name, in January. “The music I’m currently making is definitely designed to rock people to…maybe not sleep, but, like, a floaty, mellow place.” On a recent Wednesday afternoon, the musician shared his fondest memories about growing up in Seattle and why he and his wife, artist Kate Endle, call Vashon Island and the Pacific Northwest home.
Place to enjoy music
I love Benaroya Hall. I go there every year around my mom’s birthday, January 25. She used to take me to the symphony, and I just have such amazing memories absorbing classical music as a little kid. And my favorite thing was to fall asleep at the symphony and just, like, space out.
On Vashon, I love Snapdragon [Bakery and Cafe]. Our friends Megan and Adam run the place, and they have art shows there. They have really succulent vegetarian fare. Azuma Sushi is a sushi place in West Seattle, and we’ve been going there for years. And then Giddy Up Burgers in Ballard. They do a great gluten-free bun, and they do this kind of buffalo cauliflower thing that is amazing.
The Vashon Island Golf and Country Club has a cafe, and they have the greatest little cheeseburgers. I don’t do wheat, but they have a beautiful gluten-free bun that they toast up, and the burger-to-bun ratio is perfect. My dad was a golfing person, and Kate’s grandmother had a membership at a very fancy country club in Ohio. So country-club cheeseburgers are very nostalgic for my wife and me. We go there and pretend that we’re 12 and we’re signing our parents’ and grandparents’ membership code every time we get a cheeseburger. I still remember my dad’s number was 855. I got so many poolside cheeseburgers growing up. My dad was notoriously thrifty in other regards, but I never heard an admonishment for my thousands of cheeseburgers, not millions of peaches.
Music and food combo
Easy Street Records is kind of a slam dunk. I had a revolving crew of people that I would have breakfast with. Those are some of my favorite memories of playing live in that room. It was crowded and crazy and punk rock.
Venue to perform
It’s a dead tie between the Crocodile and what was Moe’s, which is now Neumos.
Way to get outside
Starting with Vashon, there’s Dockton Forest. It’s a fantastic hike because it goes through all kinds of atmospheres. There’s another hike that I love called Fisher Pond. It’s right near town, and it only takes about 20 minutes to do. So when you’re going in for groceries, you can have a really cool little nature hit right before you hit the grocery store. In West Seattle, Me-Kwa-Mooks Park is a really cool, underutilized park near Schmitz Memorial Overlook.
Seattle hot take
The fever pitch of development and new construction and old, familiar places being sort of steamrolled for brand-new construction is fine. You know, that’s absolutely what happens with cities and with time and with generations coming and going. It’s sort of common to bemoan the development, but I guess my unpopular or controversial take would be it’s OK, it’s natural, it’s what happens. Then, when you find something that’s the same, it’s so precious. It’s like this little hit of timelessness. So I embrace the change, but I also cherish the old.
Place to kill time
I love to walk around Green Lake if I’ve got 45 minutes. Kate and I have a game we call “Gridwell,” which is where we walk in neighborhoods that are laid out like a grid, and we try to spot Ridwell recycling boxes. Whoever spots it first gets a point. And then we have, like, 19 rules about different stuff: If it’s a Smith Brothers [milk box], you lose a point.
We love Steinbrueck Native Gallery. We’re good friends with [glass artist] Preston Singletary. Then we go to Georgetown quite a bit. We love Kirk Albert [Vintage Furnishings] and Susan Wheeler Home. And Kate’s art is up at Venue in Ballard.
Kate works at Pike Place Market—she’s been a vendor there for coming up on 10 years—and so we always tell out-of-towners to go visit Kate at the market.
Place to celebrate
For our anniversary, we’re staying at the Graduate Hotel in the U District and we’re doing a doubleheader at the Neptune.
Where to get inspired
It’s my own living room. It sounds kind of lame, but we have this really wonderful view facing west of Colvos Passage and the Peninsula and the Olympic Mountains. When the sun’s going down and twilight is coming on, sitting here in our big overstuffed chairs with the doors open, watching the night, is super relaxing. And I just feel so connected and relaxed and wide open. And that’s when ideas start kind of flowing.