An Amazing Happy Hour at a Favored Dive
Laadla Bar doesn't look like much from the outside, but then the interior isn't exactly prepossessing, either. The place is nearly empty on a Wednesday night; it's marooned among the new condos (and, soon, the giant Amazon.com campus) of South Lake Union. One of the two men sitting at the bar (the one with the long hair in two Willie Nelson–style braids) gets up and goes around to the back of it, and—voilà—he is the bartender. If you love a dropped ceiling, a wall of smoked mirrors, a squishy brown vinyl banquette, a $3 well drink—the charms of a bare-bones dive—you have made a discovery. A place like Laadla Bar suffuses the dive-bar fan with a sense of well-being: There are still simple, cheap pleasures to be had in the world, and you are about to partake.
Laadla Bar is attached to a dinerlike, homey Indian restaurant by the same name that serves a popular lunch buffet; the happy- hour snacks, a menu of Indian favorites that cost from $1 to $4, come from there. The food can take a while, but anyone expecting anything to be expedited would know instantaneously that they were in the wrong place. What happens here is this: Drinks are had. (They are out of limes: "Will a lemon suffice?" Of course.) Conversation is struck up with the bartender and the other patron (who recommends the $1 garlic naan: "I have to say, it's pretty frickin' amazing") without any effort whatsoever. The discussion is peripatetic: the gentrification of South Lake Union, the dive bars of Los Angeles, the health of Seattle arts, boatbuilding. The bartender is studying to be a boatbuilder.
Eventually, the food appears. The gentleman is correct about the garlic naan, which is hot and light and blistery, though the spinach naan is arguably even better with its secret interior layer. None of it—a mild curry over rice, crispy-coated fish pakora, inhumanly large vegetable samosas, more—is guilty of diabolically great spicing or crazy-driving deliciousness, but it is all tasty. Six or so dollars buys more than it is possible to finish, unless you are a person of superhuman appetite (and even then, you would probably explode). Happy hour starts at 5:00 p.m., and happy hour does not ever end until the bar closes up around midnight: It is amazing.
This place used to be called the Family Affair; laadla means "favored son" (according to the voluble bartender, who also created a cocktail called the Sharabi Punjabi—the Drunk Punjabi). When a glassy-eyed regular stops in for a shot of tequila, he is treated with a familial tolerance. He makes a joke about Scrabble that seems unrelated to anything outside his own mind, but then he finds his conversational legs and talks about the good old days. He's a Seattle native, and he remembers when...
Laadla Bar, 234 Fairview Ave N, 223-1980