Ballard might be the best neighborhood in Seattle to drink. There are more breweries than any other area in the city, late-night food options are seemingly endless for when you can’t fit any more alcohol in you, and the whole neighborhood is flat. That last one seems unimportant, but trust us - when you’re a few flights deep, you’ll appreciate it. Whether you’re planning a birthday bar crawl or a low-key seventh date, there’s a bar for every situation in Ballard.
Stoup Brewing used to be a well-kept secret for those who lived in the neighborhood, but now it’s a Seattle staple. Drinking here is like having a beer in your buddy’s garage where he brews it himself. There’s a wall covered completely in bumper stickers, the bar shares a room with the massive beer-making tanks, and you can count on a rotating food truck parked outside for when you need to put something non-alcoholic in your stomach. You won’t find any mango-guava sour here - just seriously well-done classics like pilsner, IPA, and saison.
Sometimes you get stir-crazy after bouncing around the same 11 breweries in Ballard. Cool off at Trailbend Taproom. It’s in the middle of the brewery district, but it isn’t a brewery - they just serve beer. The tap options come from everywhere from Belgium to Bellingham. And if you’re really just sick of beer, maybe a taproom wasn’t the right plan of attack for you, but an Aperol spritz or some spiked coldbrew aren’t bad ideas. Neither is a ricotta garlic bread boat.
The Sunset is a music venue that hosts mostly local artists, but we’re here to talk about the front bar area, which goes by “Betty’s Room.” Even though lamps are blaring and guitars are screeching next door, Betty’s Room is a calm dive to grab a few beers or well drinks with friends. The whole space is decorated with vintage board games and red lighting, and the best part is that your eardrums will be safe.
Essex is a dark and romantic little spot that you visit when you’re serious about cocktails, and you want the person you’re with to know it. The drinks here have ingredients you probably don’t have at home, like Becherovka or artichoke liqueur. There’s also the option to get wasted on the incredible burger they serve and call it a night.
It feels good to be surrounded by like-minded people. It’s why Sakura-Con, dog parks, and theatre camp exist. At Pie Bar, you’re in a room full of people who like to eat pie. This place serves sweet slices like cookies and cream and key lime, as well as savories like steak or chicken pot. In addition to all of the pie, there’s a full bar where you can find classic drinks, plus a bunch of “pie-tinis” which, despite sounding like a corn syrup-infused gimmick, are actually good.
Hotel Albatross is like a Reel Big Fish song personified as a bar. It has a tiki theme, and is best enjoyed with tater tots, and tropical drinks - all that’s missing is your black-and-white checkered Vans. Show up with your friends from middle school and order a round of puffy tacos, frozen cocktails served in coconuts, and if you’re starving, a six-pound plate of tater tot nachos is calling your name. Long live ska.
Rueben’s has the most diverse selection of beer out of any Ballard brewery - you’ll find everything from a sour cherry Berliner Weiss to their classic salty gose. It’s all refreshing, especially if you’ve been pedaling on a Cycle Saloon for what feels like an eternity but was actually only three minutes. It’s always busy at Rueben’s, so you might have to do some passive-aggressive table-stalking. If you’re lucky, the Cheese Wizards food truck will be parked outside.
This is the sister bar to The Walrus and the Carpenter, and while we usually find ourselves sipping an amaro while waiting for a table next door, Barnacle is worth a trip on its own. They serve snacks like cured meats and cheeses, so it’s a good go-to for drinks and a light bite with someone you’d probably want a second date with.
Usually, day drinking is way more fun when the weather isn’t awful, but if it’s pouring out, The Noble Fir is where you should be. You could probably uproot it from Ballard, leave it in an evergreen forest, and no one would notice the difference. The large selection of beer, cider, and charcuterie makes it easy to settle in, and the large selection of books in the reading nook makes it hard to leave.
King’s Hardware is an extremely lively and very dimly-lit bar in Ballard with taxidermy, huge baskets of buffalo wings, daily-rotating alcoholic slushies (hope for mango lemonade), and two skeeball machines. On weekends, it’s packed with just the right amount of people so that you’re not hearing crickets or feeling like a ball in a ball pit.
Having a drink at The Sexton makes us feel like we’ve found ourselves in the middle of rural North Carolina. In a good way. It’s folksy, there’s no wifi, the bar top is like a cassette tape DIY project, and you can have the bartender surprise you with a custom cocktail to go with your chicken pot pie. If you learned quickly after that one birthday that you hate surprises, anything they make with tequila is really good.
You should be mostly taking advantage of Peddler during the summer months, when the large patio opens up for movie nights and pun slams. Their tangerine hefeweizen would please anyone when the sun is out, and if you’re hungry, you could bring in takeout from Mean Sandwich next door or grab some vegan ballpark food from the Cycle Dogs food truck parked in the backyard.
Percy’s & Co. reminds us of that one friend who’s a little too into renovating brick buildings to look like old-timey apothecaries. There are plants sprouting out of test tubes, old tchotchkes you’d find on any deteriorating sunken ship, and cocktails that have ingredients like sage-infused bourbon and Benedictine. Hang out on the back covered patio, and order anything off of the Southern-style menu.
If you’re considering a trip to Scotland, but spent all your money on plaid kilts and DVD copies of Shrek instead of a plane ticket, go to Macleod’s Fish & Chips. The inside feels thoroughly British, right down to the puffy fried fish and perfectly thick fries. That, and the big list of scotch makes for an ideal final stop on your Ballard bar crawl.
Considering how casual The Gerald is, everything is pretty expensive. But as long as you know that up front, you’re in for a good time and no surprises. The cocktails range from your basic and reliable Old Fashioned to something with kiwi, Pisco, and passionfruit foam (that tastes delicious). Use this place if you’re looking for quality snacks alongside the booze like crispy mac and cheese wedges or fried chicken and funnel cake.