Grog may be the first nautical-themed bar that comes with a back story, complete with an itinerary that can be plotted on a World Atlas.
This Ballard bar opened in mid-November, or rather that was its maiden voyage, bound for the South China Sea on the Spice Trade route, picking up Sichuan peppercorns, five spice and tea for its menu — which changes periodically to reflect the spoils of these “voyages.”
Hence, it currently serves southeastern Asian-inspired cocktails and snacks.
(Next voyage: Grog heads north to the Sea of Japan. Expect lots of sojus and sakes on its next cocktail menu.)
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Its schtick seems a bit silly, but Grog was also one of the most interesting bars I’ve visited lately — the quirkiest, for sure.
Located in the back of The Ballard Annex Oyster House, it’s owned by the folks behind the wildly successful Matador Tex-Mex chain, the Annex and Kickin’ Boot Whiskey Kitchen nearby.
The bar looks like a captain’s quarters, with round nautical windows and fog lights. Its dimly lit, cozy room puts you in mind of another time and place, making this voyage concept seems slightly plausible.
Give me five margaritas, and I might be convinced I was bound for Puerto Vallarta.
There’s no happy-hour discount, but the portions and prices ($3-$8) are reasonable, the food excellent. Its eclectic offerings play on the current “South China Sea” theme. There’s a juicy and spicy Sichuan peppercorn pork belly done banh-mi style. There’s the salty and addicting Chip Butty, a sandwich stuffed with crunchy fries and curry mayo, British comfort food. The deviled eggs with sweet-and-sour crab meat were a nice twist on a familiar hors d’oeuvre.
Grog is in much rougher waters when it comes to cocktails. There are ambitious and imaginative drinks with green tea, sherry and Chinese spices, but the execution was problematic. The bartender neither measured the pours with these-six-to-seven-ingredient drinks nor bothered to taste the final product.
If he did, he would have known that the Fernet cocktail I had was awful, no hint of the orange tea, orange liqueur, lemon and aquavit listed on the menu. Time and again, my cocktails bore little resemblance to the listed ingredients, as the bartender free-poured while looking away to schmooze with the server or patrons. The pre-batch hot cocktails were better, spiked herbal tea, served in a pot as if you were at dim sum in the Chinatown International District on Sunday.
The Grog, 5410 Ballard Ave. N.W., located in the back of the Ballard Annex Oyster House. Open only Thursday-Sunday from 5 p.m.-2 a.m. (206-783-5410 or http://ballardannex.com/).
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @tanvinhseattle