The Thunderbird Tavern, a favorite Ballard dive for more than 60 years, reopened in February under the ownership of Madison Eckendorf and Ian Smith. Ian runs a hot-dog cart called Secret Sausage, all of whose secrets are now available at the Thunderbird. Ian's background as a bouncer at the Owl N' Thistle and a semi-pro wrestler is unsurprising—he's friendly, easygoing, and the size of a backhoe. The building housing the Thunderbird and the Sands strip club has been owned by the Danilchik family for generations. Madison says the family's decision to lease them the space may have been related to their fondness for her and Ian's 1-year-old daughter.
On a Saturday afternoon, the bar was packed with NASCAR enthusiasts (and one adorable dog that looked like a feather duster) who have met there weekly for years. Both Ian and Madison's dads helped with the remodel, including the installation of a metal door handle shaped like a thunderbird from local Native American mythology. The Thunderbird's popular longtime bartender Fran (rehired when Ian and Madison took ownership) now serves Stoup and Two Beers in addition to the traditional Bud Light. I had a tasty "Meatless Secret," Field Roast chipotle sausage and cream cheese on a bolillo roll with house-made "Fir-Lander" hot sauce, which Madison says is Secret Sausage's best secret, and which I say makes Tabasco taste like sand.