Squirreled Away at Ballard's the Dray
The Dray, Ballard's new pub/bottle shop/cafe, is paneled in wood, but it's not wood-paneled in a '70s-rec-room way. The reclaimed fir planks are a toasty cedar color; the owners, Jamie and Travis, did most of the build-out themselves. The place is small and narrowish, with a seven-seat bar. Being at the Dray feels like being inside a dresser drawer, one you don't necessarily want to be removed from. It's very relaxing, and there's a lot of good beer in there.
A dray is a horse-drawn cart used in olden days for delivering goods (like kegs). It's also the name for a squirrel's nest and for a group of squirrels (like a murder of crows). Jamie once befriended an injured squirrel. The bathroom has a hiphop-meets-Van-Gogh's-Starry-Night mural featuring a squirrel with pointy-clawed feet and a stone-cold glint in its eye; its front paws clutch a bottle of beer. The barkeep said there are squirrels hidden all over the place. They are very well hidden. On shelves behind the bar: a rotary phone, souvenir steins and growlers from other beer shops, kerosene lanterns, a model of a human heart. No visible squirrels. Elsewhere: an ancient-looking wheel, maybe from a dray; a pull-down map showing the USSR; European tin beer signs; two TVs silently, endlessly showing soccer; a handsome print of a pigeon. Still, no squirrels. A piece of lettuce fell out of my sandwich onto the floor, and despite understanding that no live squirrels are within the Dray, I still felt anxious about my ankles.
That sandwich: a stand-up version of lemony-flavored tuna salad, it had dill, slices of fennel acting as celery, and cucumber, all on a massive Macrina potato roll. (The barkeep/sandwich-chef said the rolls were especially big that day. He looked happy about it.) The food menu is just a few more sandwiches—like grilled cheese made with extra-sharp English cheddar and "beer-plumped" raisins—which cost around $8 and come with a "rotating accompaniment," like potato salad with curry and tiny bits of green apple. (The potato salad did not perceptibly rotate.) I'm a supporter of the (always!) $1 hot dogs and Flatliner fries (with cheese, bacon, and optional "death wish" gravy) at the Tin Hat down the street, but for more foodlike food, the Dray's sandwiches are nice to have around. (The pan-Asian small plates at Tigertail next door aim higher, sometimes falling short.)
Also nice to have at the Dray: an international beer selection that rivals that of Capitol Hill's Stumbling Monk—a dozen rotating beers on tap, three dozen more in bottles, all sorts of styles, underdogs and wild cards and aficionado-favorites alike. Tin Hat regulars might find it a little pricey, but beer freaks will want to live upstairs. (There is no upstairs.)
The Dray, 708 NW 65th St, 453-4527.