Seattle's Ballard Neighborhood Mixes Hip with Old

Seattle's Ballard Neighborhood Mixes Hip with Old

Fogies with Hipsters

Yesterday in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood there was Norwegian pride parade.  Not a parade for Norwegian gays—Seattle isn't that flush with homos—but a parade for Norwegian people to display symbols of their heritage.

The whole thing was weird. 

First, I haven’t seen anything so Midwestern since I left the Midwest.  People were dressed in those big sweaters with grandma patterns and carried miniature Norwegian flags on sticks.  Cheerleading squads choreographed routines to match the marching band’s songs and paraded through the streets.  Everybody ate hot dogs and members of various clubs waved like they were celebrities.

Second, it was Tuesday nights. Everybody knows parades are supposed to be on Saturdays. This is self-explanatory.

Third, I thought people went to Ballard because it’s pretty upscale, with specialty cocktails and fine, ethnic-fusion restaurants.  It’s like the grown-up version of Fremont with cobbled streets and low-slung awnings.  A lot of artists seem to live there.

But when I stopped to think about it, a parade isn’t that strange for Ballard.  A goofy parade at a weird time that mixes homeland old-foginess with modernity is the perfect representative of Ballard. 

Ballard got its name in the late 19th century from Captain William Rankin Ballard.  After the dissolution of a land partnership between himself and three other men, they decided to flip a coin to divvy up their holdings. None of the members of the former partnership wanted the area in Salmon Bay, now Ballard. The four men flipped a coin and Captain Ballard lost, granting him the 160-acres of unwanted land. Mill working opportunities later in the century led to families moving north to Ballard to work in the mills.

As evidenced by the parade, Ballard is the epicenter of Seattle’s Scandinavian community.  Many of its early members moved to the area because of salmon fishing.

Here are some of the best things Ballard has to offer:

 --Root Table/Enlightenment Café.

This Thai-fusion restaurant/ coffee shop combo has some of the most interesting decoration in the whole city. Most of the décor is made from natural, untreated wood used as tables and chairs. Both shops have strange and cool sculptures of animals made from wild, dried branches and wooden, painted figurines throughout.  Root Table, the restaurant, really feels like you are dining in the forest as you eat in a sunken dining room, sitting on wooden tables.  The food is Thai-related—we ordered delicious deep-fried chicken lollipops with a sweet chili sauce and a bruschetta with a chicken topping.  Enlightenment Café is relaxing; it seems like a yoga studio more than a coffee house. 

--La Carta de Oaxaca.

This place is usually jammed and has a waiting list on every night of the week.  The restaurant’s décor is very modern—its high white ceilings are full of black-framed, black-and-white photographs of Mexican settings with a few Madonnas and other colorful replicas sprinkled throughout. They offer a killer margarita that will put you on the floor in a few sips, a salsa bar and tamales with a mole sauce. What else do I need to say?

--Bergen Place.

This sort of Town Square is home to four weird mushroom-looking sculptures. The sculptures, installed in 2008, are called “Witness Trees” and the area was named after Seattle’s sister city, Bergen, in Norway. “Witness” trees were used as points for U.S. Land Surveys in the mid-1800’s. The artist, Jen Dixon, used five cedar trees branches that were part of the original park plan to hold up her tree sculptures, called Fossil Tree, First Tree, Clam Tree, Immigrant Tree and New Growth Tree.

 --Ballard Farmers’ market. 

I believe that the Sunday Ballard Farmers' market is the biggest in the city, completely closing down an entire street for blocks.  The farmers sell bread and cheese, chocolate and herbs to grow at home, as well as handmade crafts.  There are always musicians, usually fiddlers, playing on the side of the road.  This farmers' market attracts all types of people from artists, to young families to older couples going to brunch. 

Sources and further reading:,_Seattle