Commonly described as a Nordic fishing town and home of Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, WA is deserving of an expanded and perhaps more complete description, as it appears to be changing by the second. Think of it as a game of musical chairs- for businesses. As more and more condos appear virtually out of thin air, the vibe of this town shifts to accommodate and while many have pegged Ballard as merely up-and-coming, I think the changing storefront landscape tells a more exciting story.
Many Ballard staples have closed in the past 2 or 3 years (Madame K’s, Guitar Emporium, 20twenty, Epilogue Books, and Market Street Traders to name a few) and while several properties remain empty, taunting Ballardites with sheer possibility, so many more have transformed (read: upgraded) and re-opened- hopefully to stay.
Recent home to the latest and greatest highly acclaimed Ethan Stowell venture, Staple & Fancy, and Bon Appetit magazine’s number three Best New Restaurant in America for 2011, The Walrus and the Carpenter, Ballard has hands down stepped up it’s game. On the historic tree-lined Old Ballard Avenue, new and recent businesses including the popular hiker’s craft beer haven, The Noble Fir, farmer’s market family magnet D’Ambrosio Gelato, and the divey Harlow’s Saloon are joining standbys with new ownership such as Conor Byrne. Acme Rubber Stamp Co. replacement and soon to open BBQ joint, Bitterroot, offering exclusively American whiskeys, bourbons, and beers, and The Sexton, a mysterious restaurant/lounge in prime mid-Ballard Ave are particularly exciting as these locations have been desolate for some time. Just about a block west on Ballard’s main thoroughfare, The Market Arms pub opened in 2010 for the World Cup, replacing an antique store, and over on 49th st., partners Ryan Hilliard and Adam Merkl are busily preparing their freshly re-habed warehouse space for the grand opening of Hilliard’s, a micro-brewery and taproom. Perhaps most notably, another installment of the famous Red Mill burgers is slated to open this month in the old Totem House seafood and chowder shack, a Ballard landmark dating back over 70 years and unfortunate victim of the economy. Opening as Red Mill Totem House, Ballard managed the upgrade while staying true to what the neighborhood is at it’s core- a historic fishing town that’s not afraid to evolve.
This list just scratches the surface. Some boutiques barely make an impression before they post their “going out of business” signs and predicting how long a venture will last is something of a sport these days. I simply urge visitors to Seattle to check out the neighborhoods, Ballard in particular, for themselves and do it carefully. If you blink you might miss something.