Way back in 2012 I visited Ballard’s the Gerald and, I must admit, it wasn’t my favorite bar stop. I can only imagine how hard it is to run a bar or restaurant, and know how hard it is to work at one, so perhaps the staff was having an off day, or the cook was sick… really, there could be any number of explanations. Some folks must have enjoyed it in the intervening years, because surviving that long is tough. But due to that visit, it fell off my radar, and I never stopped in again, until recently, when learning that the bar had a new owner, Wes Yoo.
Yoo (an outgoing guy who appears to be having lots of fun) took on the Gerald in June of last year, somewhat circuitously. His background is corporate – working for Subway on the corporate side – but he realized he wanted his own restaurant. Returning to Seattle from NYC, the plan was to build a concept from the ground up, but our tight real estate market led to looking at purchasing an existing place. Once he heard the Gerald was available, he stopped in for dinner, and decided quickly.
He hasn’t made massive alterations, instead repainting, reducing some clutter, and slightly updating it (all in five days!), providing a lighter touch that’s both more modern and cozier from what I remembered. The comfy booths, red wire bar chairs at the wooden-topped bar, tall tables and wall-bar seating near the front windows, all maintain an openness and welcoming feel.
Some of the welcoming feel comes from the friendly staff – Yoo kept the staff, adding consistency during the changes. At the beginning he kept the same menus, but has since begun implementing modifications with loads of staff input. The drinks menu will be rotating quarterly now, as an example, with a driving focus on delivering inventive drinks that maintain approachability.
Of course, for drinks straddling that line you need really good bartenders. Luckily for Yoo, friendly bar manager Katie Frazier stuck around. At the Gerald nearly three years – with past shaking and stirring at Gracia, Pennyroyal and the Loft – Frazier has put together a menu of about 20 drinks in the Seasonal and House Favorites sections (plus enticing flights of specific spirit groupings), with a tempting range of options utilizing house-made ingredients and choices from the over 500 bottles displayed nicely on remodeled bar shelves. It might well be the biggest selection in Ballard.
While every drink my party of four tried was worthy, my top choice was the Needful Things. The list of ingredients was too fascinating to pass up: gin and brandy, Ramazotti amaro, Ancho Reyes ancho chile liqueur, Black Walnut bitters, lemon, rosemary and a house sweet potato shrub. The unique and delicious flavor unveiled a slight vinegar zing, the palling up of gin’s botanicals and brandy’s grape, a hint of spice and a vegetal underpinning.
Other drinks show the same creativity, while still tasting yummy. The Peace Among Worlds, served just above room temp with Cognac, Carpano Antica vermouth, fig, Cedar bitters and burnt thyme, and the on-tap Keep Summer Safe, with Montenegro amaro, lemon, herbally Becherovka, Fever Tree Mediterranean tonic, and fresh thyme, were two other hits taking very different paths.
The food has been altered as well, with menus for weekend brunch (when kids are okay), happy hour, dinner and late night, all expanded a bit from what you might remember. It’s still not overwhelming – at dinner you’ll discover short sections for bar snacks, share plates, salad/soup and six larger mains. It leans a little meat-heavy, but Yoo and crew seem happy to adapt and served us the beer battered cheese curds and Brussels sprouts sans crispy bacon bits.
Both proved smart choices, with the sprouts accompanied by a lush whole grain maple mustard and bee pollen, and the cheese curds unmissable bar nibbles. Coming with half a charred lemon, honey sriracha and an almond cilantro gremolata (don’t miss scooping a little of this up with your curds), they’re a classic fried favorite elevated beyond the usual level. Leave a little room for the Boozy Milk and Cookies, which adult-up the bedtime treat via a rum and bourbon-based milk punch that you can dunk brown butter chocolate chip cookies in.
There’s an entertaining back room, foliaged in leafy wallpaper and a window of plants, which serves as nighttime overflow and all-ages busy brunch seating. It’s open for private bookings, and they’re starting to do events there. Currently, they’re hosting Butchery 101 classes with Kristina Glinoga. The whole spot displays imaginative touches from Yoo, Frazier and the staff alongside a jolliness and an inclusiveness that was missing for me on my first trip all those years ago. I’m glad I came back.