Pioneer Square’s revitalization means new bars. Seahawks home-game day, as in the hoped-for trouncing of the 49ers on Sunday, means all Pioneer Square bars are packed.
What are the glossy newcomers — a stylized neo-sports bar, a rustic-chic German beer hall and a place for raw oysters — like when they’re overrun with fans? How do they perform compared to the old favorites? Two rabid Hawks fanatics and I went to find out.
You can get a pregame table at brand-new Quality Athletics without a wait — if you get there early enough. At 9:25 a.m. on the late November day that the Hawks beat the Cardinals 19-3, almost every seat is occupied by a bleary-looking 12th Man or Woman. Bloody Marys are being delivered everywhere, stat; around 250 total will be served.
The stylized, sportif décor seems lost on the crowd; eyeballs are on the Falcons losing to the Browns, not on the tasteful vintage trophies, the shiny wall of lockers or the door with the ping-pong-paddle handle.
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Josh Henderson, the founder of Quality Athletics (along with Skillet and Westward), didn’t want the TVs to dominate the room, so some sightlines are suboptimal, meaning some necks are craned.
Henderson was anti-hamburger when he opened in September. “When a burger’s on the menu, that’s all people order,” he said. “We want to broaden the idea of what game-day food is.”
Those guns proved hard to stick to. The menu now lists, maybe a little resentfully, “A Burger,” and it smells like the primal combination of beef, salt, and grease is selling well, irrespective of the hour.
Quality Athletics’ metaphysical crises aside, it’s game day, and eating and drinking whatever you want feels like victory.
A neighbor at the communal table (booths are available, but you’d have to get here really early) is eating what the menu calls a “sexy waffle.” Does it taste sexy? He ponders at length, apparently having started his morning with our state’s newly legal recreational drug.
“I dunno …” he says slowly. “I wouldn’t go ‘sexy.’ ”
The chipper server brings the check in record time, and as we depart at 10:20 a.m., the wait for a table at Quality Athletics is a full hour.
Over on First Avenue, the German-style beer hall Altstadt is dark, cavernous and occupied by only 17 people. The moody indie rock playing sounds like the opposite of winning. But where there are liter-sized, boot-shaped steins of beer, there is hope.
Initially regarded with suspicion, a $6 pretzel is eaten with alacrity and pronounced worth the price; Altstadt will sell more than 150 of them on an average game day, and around 400 sausages. The latter are house-made and inspirational: Both the smoky-hammy bratwurst and the fatty-rich bockwurst are tender and not even slightly dry.
Altstadt’s somewhat somber atmosphere provokes discussion of Seahawks anxiety dreams: the one where the security wand at the gate detects contraband you didn’t know you had; the one where you’re suddenly in the game, both elated and terrified to be playing; the one where we trade Jermaine Kearse to the Eagles. A tall wheat beer helps, and by 11 a.m., a growing crowd makes things festive. That extra tang in the Bloody Marys at Altstadt? A little sauerkraut juice.
The J & M Cafe is only steps away, and it’s only fair to include a Pioneer Square classic, for comparison’s sake. Like the Central, Fuel, the Triangle and F.X. McRory’s, the J & M’s all about unpretentious, unabashed game-day party time. The place is full, the soundtrack day-drinking laughter and the Steve Miller Band.
A makeshift auxiliary bar offers tubs of High Life and Hawks-blue shots of vodka and Red Bull; the cash box is an empty Miller 12-pack. Plenty of tables are topped with 100-ounce, self-chilling towers of beer. There’s a $12 all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, but the secret here is the Reuben; it’s got house-made corned beef and sauerkraut, just like at a fancy joint. Under the pressed-tin high ceiling of the 1889 space, fun is unquestionably being had, and triumph is clearly at hand.
As noon approaches, we’re bound for Taylor Shellfish Oyster Bar on Occidental Avenue South. Do people eat oysters on the half-shell on game day? Yes: Taylor usually sells about a thousand of them, and its pro-level shuckers have no problem keeping up.
Oyster and shrimp po’boys are even more popular. The place is at capacity, but the wait is short. The raw oysters are so good, a joke about scalping game tickets to get money for more is allowed. (Oysters are also judged sexier than any waffle.)
Taylor wisely goes the classic-rock route: Stevie Ray Vaughan plays, and the atmosphere is celebratory, if more sedate than the J & M. The brick walls hold black-and-white photos of the region’s yesteryear.
Pouring shots of Fernet at the marble-topped bar, a bartender explains that it’s “jaeger for grown-ups.” The bar didn’t used to stock Jim Beam and Fireball, but after many game-day requests, those fan favorites are now on hand. Patrons asking for Budweiser are guided to local Chuckanut Pilsner, and no one complains.
Just before kickoff, the place empties almost instantaneously. The crowds will be back in a few hours, of course. Meanwhile, there’s a game to win.
Bethany Jean Clement: firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter @BJeanClement