First Call: Company Bar Is a Rat's Problem

Fine martinis cause White Center to rethink its nickname.

The Watering Hole: Company Bar, 9608 16th Ave. S.W., 257-1162, WHITE CENTER The Atmosphere: Company Bar is the newest purveyor of intoxicating beverages in Wild West Crazy Cuckoo Land, also known as White Center. There are tables and chairs, booths, a floor, a door, a bar, bartenders, and other things you'd usually find inside a bar. The numbers and letters in the address on the window outside are written in that distinctive curvy, yet somehow also blocky, Grand Theft Auto font. But Company Bar owner Jesse Lovell apparently didn't know that it was the GTA font, so Company Bar can kiss those cool points goodbye. The Barkeep: Cleo Petra, a saucy lass whose punny stage name and abundant tattoos indicate her fondness for vaudeville. Cleo has been a producer of Burning Hearts Burlesque for nine years. She's also a bartender with a fondness for classic cocktails. The Drink: Cleo is "an aspiring mixologist." Still, she remains humble, even though master bartenders are allowed by law to act like total dicks in this state: "I'm not going to pretend I have an A–Z vocabulary of all cocktails." That said, her knowledge, while not completely encyclopedic, has at least as much information as an encyclopedia edited by Baptists, who removed the entire part about dinosaurs. Nevertheless, she's quite familiar with some pretty intricate drinks, such as the geriatric favorite, the Old Fashioned. According to Cleo, a true Old Fashioned must be prepared in a particular way: the orange wedges, bitters, and cherry must first be muddled together before anything else is added to the shaker. "If someone muddles the ice with the orange and cherry, they're doing it wrong." This is the exact same thing Steve Jobs says to incompetent bartenders when he orders an Old Fashioned. But despite her respect for the Old Fashioned, Cleo's making an even more classically classical cocktail: a vodka martini. She uses Luksusowa, a Polish potato vodka which retails at liquor stores for about $14 and, more important, is the OFFICIALLY APPROVED VODKA of the Surly Gourmand. She shakes a slug of Luksusowa with ice, rinses a martini glass with Cinzano dry vermouth, then dumps it out and pours the vodka into the glass. Three olives are impaled upon a toothpick and then cast adrift in that alcoholic sea. Then it's my turn to drink it. A good martini goes down like ice-cold quicksilver. Brittle shards of ice melt against the roof of your mouth. Even though they're roughly 40% alcohol, martinis are refreshing, with a vague briny draft in the finish from the olives. This is why you should drink them for lunch. Cleo's being diffident when she claims she's "just a dabbler"; this is a solid martini. The Gentrification: Many people have accused Company Bar of being the vanguard of gentrification in White Center. Why do people think that gentrification is necessarily a bad thing? It just depends what side you're on. After all, one man's gentrification is another man's ghettofication, or whatever the opposite of gentrification is. For instance, everyone knows that rats are lower-class than mice. So if your house has rats, then your house must be shitty. The rats that plagued your house brought all sorts of low-class accoutrements, like tribal tattoos, Jersey Shore reruns, and trampolines. But if you get a better job and gain some self-respect, then mice hear about how awesome you are and start to move in, and your class increases in direct proportion to the mouse population. And then the mice start doing things like insisting you buy better cheese; when the rats lived there, cheddar was good enough, but now you get Brie de Meaux. So at first you thought the mice were a godsend, but later you realized they were really a bunch of expensive cheese whores. Company Bar isn't a harbinger of the yuppie apocalypse that all White Center naysayers fear. But it can be a downer. I asked Cleo how Company Bar can justify the fact that they sell PBR tallboys for $3, while the competition across the street , the Locker Room, sells the same beer for one-third the price. "We don't sell $1 beers, and I think it encourages something we don't want to encourage," says Cleo. What don't they want to encourage? People getting drunk cheaply? I for one want to encourage the fuck out of that. Gentrification might not be the best thing for cheap drunks looking to get shitfaced, but the good news is that renewed interest in White Center real estate has brought a local landmark back from the dead. The Southgate Roller Rink first opened in 1937. It was, among other things, home to the Rat City Rollergirls until a 2005 fire forced the rink to close and the Rollergirls moved to KeyArena. But the Southgate Roller Rink, like the ghost of an alien vampire, or something even more badass, has risen from the grave. Skating-rink mogul Josh Rhoads was sitting next to me inside Company Bar, drinking with his lovely wife Erin. Rhoads told me he'd recently purchased the Southgate Roller Rink and was in the middle of renovating it. Rhoads, who previously managed the Lynnwood Bowl & Skate, and whose holdings have included the Marysville Roller Rink, lives north of Seattle, but was intrigued by White Center. "We looked at the property and we're excited to open it." And when the Southgate Roller Rink finally reopens in April, they won't be renting out inline skates—only quads will be available to the roller-skating public. The Verdict: Company Bar has come along at a crossroads in White Center's history. The influx of local investment certainly bodes well for the community. White Center, once the closest Seattle will ever get to 1920s Shanghai, is beginning to lose its edge. In fact, the numerous rats which once plagued the region have been replaced by toddlers, eating with their parents at Proletariat Pizza or getting ice cream at Full Tilt. As much as rats love pizza and ice cream, there is no place for them in the new White Center. The mice have moved in.

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