Sometimes The Best Things Come In Threes

Back in January, in my post Enough’s Enough, I stated that if something noteworthy came up I would post about it. One of the things uppermost in my mind when I made that comment was Elliott Bay Brewing’s soon to open third brewpub in Lake City on Seattle’s north side…

As readers of this blog know, when I arrived at my choice for Puget’s Perfect Pint, Elliott Bay (EBBC) was only narrowly beaten by Elysian for the top honor, and it was an extremely tough choice. Because of this I have been eagerly awaiting the opening of Elliott Bay’s Lake City pub even though the neighborhood is not one I expect to find myself in all that often. Well, they opened on March 26th and at the first opportunity, The Spouse, The Daughter & I paid them a visit.

The first observation I’ll make about this new brewpub is that in choosing Lake City I believe Elliott Bay has shown the same genius for investing in under served, untapped neighborhoods as they did in Burien. That location is widely acknowledged as one of the catalysts that has fueled downtown Burien’s ‘back from the dead’ resurgence. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize that EBBC’s coming to Lake City could have the same impact. I’m not the only one who sees this and I hope the local community sees it this way too by spending their hard-earned dollars there as often as they can.

Prior to the opening of Elliott Bay, Seattle’s far northside was totally devoid of brewpubs: from the Ram at Northgate Mall there were no more brewpubs until you reached Big-E in Lynnwood, a distance of over 8 miles. Within the roughly 4 mile radius of Lake City that I believe Elliott Bay can safely expect to own, there is a huge, mostly residential population of untapped discerning beer drinkers and diners. These are the people who need to reward Elliott Bay’s investment in the community.

I can only hope Elliott Bay or Elysian will *soon* find it in their interests to put Bellevue on their radar. It can be argued that the eastside is even more under served by brewpubs than Seattle’s north side – we could really use a great family friendly brewpub close to our side of the Lake – and now may be the window of opportunity.

No disrespect intended to the great folks at our local Rock Bottom, but their corporate masters are killing what made them good. As for Bellevue Brewing Co (BBC), assuming they open; it is unlikely they will attain the scale to offer something akin to Elliott Bay or Elysian anytime soon. Issaquah Brewhouse and Snoqualmie Taproom are both great brewpubs but they’re too far away to merit anything more than the occasional visit.

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But back to Lake City: take a look at these two photos that show the before and after appearance of the building Elliott Bay Brewing acquired and renovated for their newest pub. Quite a transformation isn’t it!

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Some folks who know the area have told me that they recall how it was with the model shop that formerly occupied the space. They described it as a kind of run-down geek emporium like what you see in the Big Bang Theory TV show. Model trains, Sci-Fi action figures, and comic stuff.

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I’ll bet that went down like a lead balloon considering what was/still is across the street: tattoo parlor, indoor flea market, barbershop, run-down pub of the PBR/Bud-Lite variety (yuck), Vietnamese grocery; all these in decaying 1970s storefronts that have definitely seen better days.

However what this neighborhood has going for it is its diversity and a blue collar sensibility – exactly the same ingredients found in places like Columbia City, White Center, Burien, just to name three neighborhoods that are experiencing rebirth.

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While Elliott Bay’s transformation of the street is impressive by itself, they have done a gorgeous job at the rear by leveraging the parking lot on that side of the building and making it their main entrance. Here is a picture from that side.

Now let’s talk about what’s inside. First off there’s Elliott Bay Brewing’s longest and largest bar and bar seating area of their three locations.

And the family friendly dining space is larger than Burien’s too I believe, which itself is already pretty big. The original West Seattle brewpub is smaller in every respect, but its intimate scale and vibe is a large part of its attraction for me.

Despite Lake City’s spaciousness it fills up quickly. When we left during the peak of Saturday night dining hours, the line waiting for tables stretched from the front of house podium all the way to the rear entrance. Nice touch: the dining space is divided with a passage between to facilitatate the wait line without intruding on the tables. Somebody really thought this through.

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Of course this being a brewpub, there’s beer, and lots of it. Elliott Bay Lake City has more taps than at their other pubs: 30 plus two hand pumps for cask ales. During our visit there were 16 EBBC brews, the rest being guest brews from some of the Seattle area’s best.

As I’ve mentioned before in other posts, I love it when a brewery has enough confidence in their own brews to put them up against the very best available.

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And Elliott Bay pubs are consistently among the most flexible when it comes to tasting. You can buy a 5×5 oz tasting tray, or individual 5 oz tastes, and you can mix and match to your heart’s content. The Spouse and I purchased two 5×5 oz sample trays and selected our favorite 10 from the 16 house taps. Among these was the first truly ‘house’ brew, the Lake City IPA.

Elliott Bay scored big when they secured the services of Bill Jenkins, formerly the brewmaster at Big Time in the U-District. The new Lake City IPA is said to be based on a recipe Bill used at Big Time; it’s a beautifully balanced brew with a nice citrusy floral nose, and a hoppy taste, but of the more finessed type I prefer.

What it’s certainly not is just another in your face, mouth-puckering overly-hoppy NW IPA. In fact it’s not unlike one of my favorite IPAs, Skip Madsen’s Breakaway IPA at American Brewing, and I liked the Lake City IPA enough to take a growler fill of it home with us.

Every other beer in our sample trays was solid – exactly what we have come to expect from Elliott Bay. They consistently rank among the top three or four breweries in the Seattle region for across the board excellence – ’nuff said!

Food service was also up to the usual high standards we have come to take for granted in West Seattle and Burien. The Lake City menu is broadly similar but with enough differences to make it interesting. If I didn’t know better I would never have guessed the Lake City kitchen had been open barely two weeks: on the evidence of our visit, it already operates like a well-oiled machine. Great stuff!

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Finally, if you’re wondering where I stand regarding Puget’s Perfect Pint: I’m going to hold off awhile before I make that determination. At this point I can safely say it is still a two-horse race but I’ll likely have to make repeat visits to Elysian and Elliott Bay to decide if Elliot Bay has now overtaken Elysian. Now, if one or other of them would announce plans to open a brewpub on the eastside, that would seal it for me. :)

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Use the Google map below to get driving, transit, or walking directions to Elliott Bay Lake City from any starting point. Lake City is a 25 minute one-seat ride from downtown Seattle via Sound Transit’s 522 express bus service; from Bellevue Transit Center there are a number of different connections to get you there. Allow about an hour each way, and as always I recommend using Sound Transit’s trip planner to figure your optimum transit itinerary – Google transit is good but sometimes misses certain route options.

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