Friday, February 1, 2008

Under The Needle: Working-class tavern goes upscale

This is from today's PI. Ballard is a-changin', and I hate change. :)

With the shift change came the steelworkers, regular as clockwork: The 6 a.m. crowd fresh from the graveyard; the 3 p.m. day shifters; the post-midnight swingers who drank faster than the rest because a 12:30 a.m. arrival meant last call was staged at the back of a bartender's throat.
These waves of workers, mostly from nearby Northwest Steel Rolling Mills, for decades floated Harvey's Tavern in Ballard and helped put John Grant and seven brother and sisters through Seattle Catholic schools.
The Leary Way Northwest tavern had one tap -- it poured Rainier -- four pizza ovens, a dozen-seat horseshoe bar, a handful of wooden benches bracketing tables, a balky, often silent jukebox, a flock of more than 100 Tweety Birds gathered over decades and a no-profanity edict.
In all, 782 square feet and 73 years of inertia.
No moules in the house. No frites to be found. Not yet, anyway.
"We did good," said John Grant, now 42. He was 10 when his parents bought Harvey's in 1974, then began working there as an adult. "It was a good living. Not rich, but we did OK."
But the mill went to two shifts, changed owners, then one shift, then none, then closed -- torn down and replaced by a Fred Meyer.
And Harvey's, which opened in 1934 and hung on as Ballard seesawed through fishing booms and busts, the rise and decline of heavy industry and the cultural shift from labor to white-collar condo-professionals, finally shut its taps in October.
And those moules? They're musseling in.
"We're pretty excited about the place," said Scott Laney, 31, of Seattle. "We think we'll do well."
Laney, a Honolulu native and University of Washington graduate with a degree in political science, has put his degree to "its best use" as a bartender in town for most of the past 10 years at upscale places such as Serafina and midscale spots such as The Great Nabob.
Laney, riding around town on a borrowed motorcycle a few months ago, saw the for-rent sign in the window of the closed Harvey's. For a year, he'd been thinking about opening his own bar, so he stopped to look.
Two partners and a lease later, he's begun work on "The Traveler." He sees the same 782 square feet as a potential "gastropub," though he hesitates to use the term, thinking it both overly foodie for a cocktail joint and a bit pretentious.
"We want to have good food, mussels, different styles of frites. We'll have a TV on showing the game. We want it to be a neighborhood place, but with a more contemporary feel," he said.
Laney knows he's an agent of change in Seattle, even as he admits to internal conflict over it. "I did go in Harvey's a long time ago. I remember it had a dive-bar character -- something I enjoy -- but that's not going to be my style of bar."
Laney, who hopes to have The Traveler open in April, said he knows how some people lament Seattle's upward mobility, its new pretense. But just as his bar might have failed 30 years ago, staying with a downscale tavern might not be what people want anymore.
"Look around," he said. "What do you see in Ballard?"
Which is a fair point. But for John Grant, that hardly takes the sting away.
Harvey's, he said, still made money and had regulars, but the new landlord wouldn't renew the lease under the old terms. The rent was going up; the town is changing. It took his mom -- who regularly tossed people from the place for swearing -- more than a year for the bitterness to fade.
Sure, Grant said, progress is fine, but what is lost on the march? "The community," he said, "loses a bit of itself."
Harvey's tables, made from fishing-boat hatch covers, now cradle drinks at Jules Maes Saloon in Georgetown. The Harvey's Tavern sign sits in the garage of one of the members of the former house band, John Henry's Hammer -- its namesake, as legend goes, also lost to progress.

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