The Thin Blue Line

It all hinges on the gravy.

Many great pieces of man-on-the-run literature or band-on-the-run songwriting focus on bail jumpers attempting to make it across state or county lines in order to avoid apprehension. State lines represent a more obvious delineation, marked by a river, a visitors center, or fireworks stands and/or strip joints in jurisdictions whose blue laws don't measure up to those of their neighbor to the south (or north or east or west). County-to-county borders are usually far more subtle. Blink and you'll miss whether you've crossed into Skagit from Snohomish County, or Lewis from Thurston. The topographical indicators are often nonexistent—only the cop cars are different colors. But nowhere in the States is there a county line quite like the County Line, a South Park roadhouse near the shores of the Duwamish that represents a strange little sliver of unincorporated King County that should be in Seattle, but somehow isn't. (Reportedly, the city's failure to annex the land the County Line occupies has something to do with a maintenance dispute involving the 16th Avenue drawbridge.) Hence, the County Line's county line doesn't represent a border between King County and an adjacent county, it represents the border between a tiny slice of King County and the city of Seattle, which is still in King County. Whether this makes sense or not is somewhat beside the point; the important thing to remember is that it definitely behooves you to be on the County Line side of the county/city line if you're a ne'er-do-well and bumping into an SPD patrol car might endanger your freedom. This reality, in addition to a smattering of firearm-, drug-, and prostitution-related incidents over the years, goes a long way toward explaining why the County Line has earned a reputation as perhaps Seattle's most dangerous restaurant-lounge. For most, the danger factor makes the decision to visit the County Line a nonstarter. That's unfortunate, because the vibe in the quaint diner portion of the complex is remarkably different than in the lounge. On a recent Wednesday, four tables and a countertop stool were occupied during the lunch hour as an episode of Judge Alex rotated with a recurrent Wilfred Brimley pacemaker infomercial on a small TV. Coincidentally, the case Judge Alex was dealing with involved two Seattle women who'd gotten in a fender bender on the Alaskan Way Viaduct, described in the quasi-courtroom as "a very dangerous roadway." Though biscuits and gravy is seemingly one of the simplest dishes to pull off, experience has taught me that it's typically one of life's bigger culinary crapshoots. It all hinges on the gravy. At the County Line, I expected to be served pale, bland, institutional goop. Instead, my pucks were covered in dark brown goodness. But back to danger: Places that boast the potential for trouble are usually also a helluva lot of fun, and the County Line embodies this dichotomy to a T. At 11 a.m. on a Saturday, the bar is packed, Latin music blares from the speakers, and conversations between the multilingual, working-class patronage teeter between adoration and quarreling. It could just as easily be 11 at night when a nicotine fiend opens the side door and lets in a blinding sunbeam. Let there be light? I think not: The County Line is a bar straight out of a Robert Rodriguez flick, meant to be drenched in blood, sweat, liquor, and promiscuity.

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