/ The Seattle Traveler
Seattle — By Mary Jo Manzanares on December 8, 2009 at 12:05 pm

REVIEW: Shelter Lounge in Ballard

Every neighborhood needs a good bar, and in Ballard, Shelter Lounge (website under development), is trying to carve out that space.

With a lodge-like look and feel – complete with lots of wood, glass, and an outdoor fire pit, this former gas station offers upscale bar food and both indoor and outdoor dining.  In the middle of the building is a large bar that divides the indoor and covered outdoor space, allowing bartenders to work both sides of the bar.

Arriving around 5:30-ish on a Friday night, I expected the bar to be bustling with the after work crowd, ready to enjoy that end of the week happy hour.  That’s exactly what I found.

Shelter Lounge in Ballard

Shelter Lounge in Ballard

The inside seating area was full, and spying the fire pit outdoors, along with heat lamps placed around the bar, I thought I’d wander out and enjoy the outdoors.  Brrrrrr!  That was a big mistake,  The fire pit provided a little warmth for those seated directly around it, but it didn’t give off any additional heat.  Thinking that I’d just sit and the bar under the heat lamps proved to be another no-go, as the heat was so far away as to provide insufficient warmth to sit there.  Back inside I went.  Some more strategically place heat units, perhaps even some of the standing ones, would make this space more usable during the Seattle cold season.  We have some beautiful fall and winter nights, but I’ve no interest in wearing gloves to drink my beer.  I’ve seen lots of other reviews that claim it was warm and toasty out there, but that was not my experience at all.  Hopefully the owners will address this issue, because there’s lot more space to be enjoyed.

Going back inside I was lucky to snag a table where some guest were leaving.  A waitress immediately welcome us, took our beverage order (a Maritime IPA, $4 happy hour priced, for me and a scotch rocks, $9, for my guest), and brought us a menu.

That’s where we ran into the second issue of the night.  The menus are black ink printed on dark brown paper, impossible to read in the dark bar light, and even when holding a candle in front of the menu, it wasn’t much better.  Seeing our struggle, the waitress mentioned that a lighter paper menu was available, so obviously we weren’t the only ones who had this problem.  Looking around the room and it was clear that a lot of other people experienced this same problem.  Once the “lighter” menus arrived, it was only slightly better.  These menus were on a lighter brown paper, but still required holding a candle by it to read.  We mentioned it to the waitress who acknowledged that she gets lots of comments about it being hard to read.  HINT:  fix this issue!  Having a menu this hard to read is a big fail in my book, and when restaurants and bars learn to think about making decisions easy for guests, rather than arty or cutesy, I’ll be a whole lot happier.

As we were trying to figure out the menu, we decided to start with an appetizer of Avocado Fries ($4 happy hour price, $5 regular price).  These were slices of avocado, coated with a spicy breading, deep friends, and served with a spicy mayo-based dipping sauce.  It might sound a bit odd, but it was a wonderful combination of spicy, crunchy, and creamy goodness.  So good, in fact, that we decided to order another plate.

For dinner I opted for the spicy grilled cheese sandwich which was served with shoestring fries ($8).  The sandwich was served on sourdough bread, toasted enough to be crunchy, and was oozing with a combination of pepper jack cheese, peppers, avocado, red onions, and chipotle sauce.  It was comfort food on a cold night, and it hit the spot  I’d order it again.  Too bad the accompanying fries were unremarkable.  I’d order it again.

My guest chose the Shelter Signature Sandwich ($8), also served with those unremarkable fries.  The sandwich was served on a baguette, piled high with slow-roasted pork shoulder, caramelized onions, provolone, Serrano peppers, and cilantro.  This is a huge, impressive looking sandwich, and after two plates of avocado fries, was too much to finish.  He loved it, though, and said he would definitely order it again.  Leftovers made for lunch the following day.

A few additional items on the menu caught my eye, and I’ve put them on the list to try on a return visit.  PB&J Poppers, panko breaded jalapeno poppers stuffed with cream cheese, peanut butter, and jelly, ($7) sounded “interesting,”  I saw lots of these being served, so I figure they must be tasty.  The Shelter Cuban Sandwich, slow roasted pork, ham, pickles, and a tangy mustard ($8), looks like it might be as tasty as one you’d find in Miami.

Shelter is crowded and noisy, and this isn’t the spot for a get-to-know-you date or a romantic evening. Sports were on the television, and a sound system in the corner was for music later in the evening.  Patrons were primarily in the 20-something set, but tables of older guests out for an evening in the neighborhood kept it from turning into frat party ambiance.  It’s a good spot for meeting up with a group of friends, hanging out in your own ‘hood, or a casual after work happy hour.

Would I go back?  Probably.  There are a few things on the menu that I’d still like to try.  I most likely avoid a Friday night, though, as the noise and crowd are not typically my favorite way to spend an evening.

Check out Shelter and decide for yourself.

Location:  4910 Leary Avenue NW, Ballard (map)

Hours:  Monday – Friday, 4 pm-2 am; Saturday & Sunday, 11 am-2 am.

Price Range:  Moderately priced food ranging $3-12.  Lots of happy hour drink and food specials offered 4-6 pm.

Parking: Street parking in the neighborhood.

Photo credit: Justin P

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