The new Hillman City spot caters to the beer and bike (pedal-powered) crowd.
On a cold, damp recent evening, the Slow Boat Tavern owner, Ken Provost, held court behind his bar, listening earnestly to one patron (“I feel like I’m the only millennial listening to The Dead”) while pitching me a hangover cure: “Two shots of espressos in a Rainier.
“It’s like a tasty Americano, creamy with a velvety texture from the beer,” he explained.
All the while, the avuncular owner eyed every customer walking through the door. “Welcome … first time here?”
The answer, for much of the night, was “yes.”
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Slow Boat Tavern is the new dive in Hillman City, drawing lots of curious passers-by and beer geeks from around town.
His locale seems out of the way — a dark stretch some 300 yards south of the hipper Columbia City — but Provost’s network in the beer community serves him well. A former beer buyer for PCC Natural Markets and bartender at the excellent microbrew joint Uber Tavern in North Seattle, Provost has access to some sought-after brews.
The cult Holy Mountain Brewing is always available here. And the much-talked about Cloudburst Brewery, which isn’t even open until later this week, has given him kegs to put on tap now.
Slow Boat’s craft beer list is 10 times better than a dive bar’s needs to be. And thanks to saner real-estate prices down here, his selections are a couple bucks cheaper than on the Hill.
It’s a no-frills, 15-tap bar without a kitchen, though he can boil water for ramen ($5) if you don’t want to brave the cold to grab carryout at Big Chickie or another cheap-eats spot nearby.
On a recent visit, a group strolled in with a bag of beef jerky and a deck of playing cards. Others snacked on the complimentary peanuts.
It’s a two-floor bar, with dollar bills stuck to the ceiling (an homage to his favorite dive The Comet Tavern) and peanut shells crushed like sawdust on the concrete floor (an homage to his other haunt, The Stumbling Monk).
The room is filled with obscure references to other beer meccas — The Avenue Pub in New Orleans and Toronado in San Francisco among them — which only a well-traveled aficionado would recognize.
But Provost said he’s really more about the bike. Three years ago, he checked his bike as luggage for his trip to Belgium and rode it 450 miles to six Trappist monastery breweries for some R & D.
He intends Slow Boat to become a hub for the cycling community. (Unless there’s a big football game, the flat-screen is always showing some race from Europe.)
His idea of a rotating art exhibit is using a rope-and-pulley to hoist a different vintage bike up along the front wall as display, “like coffee-shop art,” he said.
Slow Boat Tavern, 5701 Rainier Ave. S., Unit D, Rainier beer $2.50, microbrews $5-$6 and Belgian ales $8-$9 (206-235-6023 or facebook.com/slowboattavern).