Saturday, December 15, 2018

We walk into a pie-shaped bar

Pie Bar, Seattle, Washington (Capitol Hill neighborhood)

It really isn’t fair to visit a bar if we’re in a rush. In a good bar visit, we generally relax and observe, order our drinks, and eventually talk to the people around us. But we were in a rush the night we went to the Pie Bar because our daughter and son-in-law were treating us to dinner and the theater. We’d taken the bus from their apartment, but another passenger warned us that we’d landed on one of the slowest routes at the slowest part of the day. We’d probably get there faster walking, she said (and Google maps agreed). So we got off the bus and did just that, but we were still pressed for time if we wanted to be at the theater when the curtain rose.

Grant was concerned that since Pie Bar is a small place, we might not find seats, but there was room at the bar, where we prefer to be. And the bar was the best place to watch Patrick mix the drinks. While he did, Mindy asked him about his t-shirt. It needed a little translation for us (not Paige) because math was involved.

All four of us ordered savory slices to go with our drinks; Mindy had steak pot pie, I had ham and cheese quiche, Grant had the Seattle pie, and Paige had a chicken pot pie. For drinks, Mindy ordered a Butter Baby (butterscotch schnapps, hot chocolate, and whipped cream) and Paige chose Peppermint Heat (another hot chocolate selection). Grant ordered a key lime pietini, and as an appreciator of the arts, I ordered a Bob Ross (apple moonshine, honey, lemon, orange bitters, and an ice ball reminiscent of Bob Ross’ fro). I probably should have gone with a more pie themed drink, the Apple Pie Mule or the Lemon Meringue Pietini, but I enjoyed what I ordered.

Our drinks safely in front of us, we asked Patrick our two questions.

He said a good bar needed “Ambiance… Do you want more than one word?”

“Sure,” I said, and asked, “What do you mean by ambiance?”

Patrick had many words to add. He said an important part of it is the relationship between the staff and the customers. He isn’t a fan of big bars -- he prefers one that is “cozy,” an adjective that could definitely describe Pie Bar.

He said attention to detail is important, in the drinks, food, and decor. “Is there garbage in the corner?” He said he’s been to places that shove everything to the side of the bar. He said this is much more true of the West Coast. In the East “they know how to make people come back, for 50 or 60 years.”

I asked what came first, the Pie or the Bar? Patrick said that as in the name, the pie came first. Years ago, someone taught him how to bake pies. When the space in Capitol Hill became available, he thought it would be a great place to bake pies. He later realized the place was shaped rather like a slice of pie. (Not unlike our bar last week, The Triangle Pub). He soon realized that the Capitol Hill area had a lot of evening foot traffic, making a bar a sensible choice and bringing together two great things, pie and drinks. Most of the drinks are pie influenced (though I don’t think the pies are alcohol influenced.).

Patrick needed to attend to bar business before he could tell us what he thought made for a good church. When he came back, he said the same word, “ambiance,” would work. He added that the music was important to him -- a good choir. He likes to sing. He mentioned he was Catholic (which makes sense with the name, Patrick).

Patrick asked if we’d be having dessert. All of us really wanted a slice of dessert pie -- the menu has suggested pairing for drinks -- but there wasn’t time for me to decide between the Apple Crumble and the Peanut Butter Chocolate pie, let alone eat either before the show began. We'll have to go back for dessert. We will definitely have to go back for dessert (our treat this time, Grant and Paige).

“Pie” and “Bar” are such short words, but there is so much in each of them. When you put them together, well, that is one tasty recipe.

And we made it to the play in time.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

We walk into a very small bar

Triangle Pub, Seattle, Washington (Pioneer Square)
The topic of conversation was country music as we sat down at the bar. Someone was expressing a preference for old school -- up to the Barbara Mandrell, Charlie Pride years. People talked about how depressing country music could be when the songs were about job loss, romantic abandonment, and the death of pets. Mindy asked whether the loss of a truck bothered anyone, which it didn’t. In fact, someone expressed fondness for Carrie Underwood’s destruction of a vehicle.

Mindy and I aren’t exactly country music fans (Mindy has a higher tolerance for the genre than I do) but we were pleased that everybody in the place seemed welcome to join the conversation. When talk moved on to something we knew more about (Jason Bateman’s sitcom history, which moved on to Nellie “Little House on the Prairie” Oleson’s autobiography, and eventually Carrie Fisher’s challenges living her entire adult life in the shadow of Princess Leia.

The intimacy of the bar is a given; the website points out that it’s one of Seattle’s smallest bars. The bar is in the point of a flatiron building. (The original Flatiron Building is, of course, in NYC and was built in 1901. But this flatiron, built in 1910, wasn’t far behind.) The website also brags about the building once housing a brothel, but it was a bar first, and that remains (not the… other thing).

The bar is close the Seahawks and Mariners stadiums. Tracie the bartender told us that the bar is a madhouse on game days, with many people taking the five-minute walk from the parks. Plenty of Seattle fans come, but also fans from rival teams. Tracie said they try to make those fans feel welcome (rumor has it that’s not the attitude of sports bars in Philadelphia).

I noticed pomegranate cider on tap, so Mindy ordered it. I went with a rum and coke. There wasn’t much in the way of food available, though there were chips on the wall for sale.

Because conversation flowed easily, we had no trouble getting answers to our two standard questions, “What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether you go or not, what would make for a good church?”

First, we asked Michelle, who was sitting next to Mindy. “A good bar...A good bar. Where the bartender remembers your name. And what you drink.” She expressed appreciation for Tracie.

Chris, a man sitting near me, added, “A good bar is where Tracie is bartending.”

I asked what a bar should do if they don’t have Tracie. Chris said, “They should have a bartender like Tracie.”

Tracie said it’s important for a bar to have an attentive staff who remembers the likes and dislikes of guests. She actually works just one night a week at the Triangle. She knows the regulars, though, because she was one herself when she began working six months ago.

Michelle and Chris both expressed appreciation for the feel of the Triangle. Chris said a bar should be “Cozy and comfortable; not too sterile. What’s the opposite of sterile?”

Michelle said that in a good bar, you should be able to “kick back and feel like you're in a living room that is not your own.”

Another thing that Michelle and Chris appreciate about Triangle Pub is the convenience of the location. They work in the same building, and they talked about regulars and “upper echelon regulars” (who vacation with the owner).

Michelle was the only person who answered our church question, saying a good church would be “accepting and inclusive.”

Suddenly, Chris announced that it was a special day. “It’s the 85th anniversary of the end of prohibition! Jello shots! Let’s put them on Ethan’s tab!” Ethan, at a table along a wall a few feet away, didn’t seem enthused about having them on his tab, but he was fine with shots. People argued over which color of shot to take (“The blue ones are the only ones with calories”). “Cheers!”

Not one country song played from the jukebox while we were there, though “Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” a celebration of unfaithfulness, did play. The regulars seemed faithful in their love for The Triangle Pub, and that love seemed well earned.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

We walk into the oldest bar (it was harder than expected)

The Central Saloon, Seattle, Washington
We thought it would be cool to go to the oldest bar in Seattle -- if we could just figure out where it was.

In other words, Mindy and I wound up at two different places when we tried to meet at Seattle’s oldest bar.

I’ve often passed a bar on First Avenue South with a neon sign reading “Seattle’s Oldest Saloon,” so when we agreed we’d meet at Seattle’s oldest bar when she got off work. Even though Mindy texted me to meet her at “Merchants,” which she’d seen listed as Seattle’s oldest bar, I figured that was the place with the neon. Turns out, that place is called “Central.” At the designated meeting time, Mindy and I texted each other to ask “Where are you?

Fortunately, Merchants and Central are only a couple of blocks apart, so Mindy walked over to meet me at Central. Eventually, we asked Zach, one of the bartenders at Central, about the discrepancy. “The history is murky,” he said. Google had already made that clear (or murky). He told us that Merchants opened in 1890, two years before Central. But in 1890, Merchants was a restaurant, not as a bar. Central opened in 1892 as a saloon, a place you could get a drink. In our book, that means Central qualifies as the oldest bar. (There is another bar in the Georgetown neighborhood, across the Duwamish Waterway from West Seattle, that claims to be the oldest. Georgetown wasn’t part of Seattle when the bar opened. So, no.)

Central does feel old. But good old. It feels like a dive. But good dive. There are photos on the wall that date back to the bar’s opening day. There are many band posters from the 1980s and 90s when grunge made the Emerald City the world’s musical hot spot. Central is still a music place with the slogan “Seattle’s best new music in its oldest saloon.” Three bands were going to play later that evening (after we planned to leave). The one that sounded the most tempting was an all-girl Weezer cover band. Which sounded awesome.

We talked a bit with Michael, Central’s music booker, who did the extra duty of fetching coffee for the bar staff. He also told us a great story about a bar trip in Scotland. The group of friends stood in front of a bar and flipped a coin to decide whether to go in or not. Once inside, they decided whether to have a beer or shots by a coin flip. They hit dozens of pubs this way, and in their final stop just before closing time, they ended up meeting the bar’s owners, who locked the door and all of them partied until 5:00 am.

The Saints and the Cowboys were playing on the TVs. Music was playing overhead, including Joan Osborne’s “What If God Was One Of Us?” You might remember the song, about meeting God on the bus.

We sat at the bar and ordered a few things from the happy hour menu (quesadillas for me and tots for Mindy, with cocktails for each of us). After we’d gotten our food and drinks, our server said, “We’re switching to the night bar, can we close you out and then you can start a new tab after that?” Zach the bartender was coming in then, and “Thank you, Zach, you’re the best!” said the departing bartender.

Zach told us that he’s usually a morning bartender. (There is something fascinating about the idea of a day bartender. It’s unexpected, like being a night lifeguard. Or, I guess, a night auditor.) He said he likes the day shift because then he has the rest of the day -- and the night -- to himself. Working the occasional night shift means recognizing a different set of regulars, and there plenty of regulars there. The bartenders greeted several people greeted by name (and one even got a hug).

Erin was also working behind the bar for the evening. We talked with her and asked her our two perpetual bar questions, “What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?” She said, “The staff makes or breaks a bar.” And she likes the staff she works with at Central. She likes other things about this bar, calling it, “timeless, with a lot of history. (It’s) not the Burger King of bars. It has the right amount of grit.” She talked about how, as Seattle continued to grow, this was a place where people still know each other’s first names.

Erin said she grew up on a reservation and had never been to church. But she thought a good church would have “a sense of community” as the most important thing. She said the strength of people is our tribal nature, our need to come together. That's something that can happen at churches and at bars.

As we left Central, I thought of that Joan Osborne song. If God was one of us, would He meet us at Central? (By the way, Christmas is coming. It’s the time of year when we can’t escape the reminder that God became one of us.)