The nachos at the College Inn Pub, the U-District's excellent subterranean dive, are nothing special. This, I think, is precisely why they're so special. The Inn has no aspirations of culinary greatness. Instead, they are simply one of the city's best, most comfortable bars. And they boast the city's best plate of straightforward, unfussy bar nachos. Better still, said bar nachos are a mere $4 on Mondays ($8 otherwise).
For your $4, you get a plate of basic white corn chips covered in an ample but not excessive blanket of expertly melted cheese, fresh tomatoes, pickled jalapeño, olives, and housemade "Pub Chili," which is a humble marvel in its own right. Onions are optional, but always welcome at my table. A side of red salsa and a hefty dollop of sour cream complete the picture, along with enough napkins to see you through the messy adventure you're about to have.
Indeed, the hallmark of good nachos is that there is no way to eat them with your dignity intact. However, washed down with a cold can of Pilsner Urquell or one off the Inn's many microbrews, and it's a meal well worth sullying your beard for. It never promises anything more than satisfaction and it never delivers anything less.
The nachos are a favorite, perhaps, because their own consistent goodness is a symbol of the College Inn's dependability. It's the type of place where, despite the hard wooden booths, you still feel like you're sinking into your seat every time you sit down. The bar has been there for what feels like time immemorial, and I find its weatherbeaten charm irresistible.
I've also never found a place that is so accommodating to so many different situations. I've gone there to work quietly on my laptop, I've gone there on dates, I've gone there to shoot pool and talk shit with my skate crew, I've gone to drown my sorrows alone. Pretty much any scenario you can imagine, really. No matter what the occasion, the Inn fits it like a glove. I live halfway across the city now, and I still make it a point to go, because it still feels like home away from home.
It is easy, as the city changes at such a rapid place, to feel out of sorts as a native. I went to high school on Capitol Hill 17 years ago, and it can be jarring to look around and realize that 90 percent of what I'm seeing wasn't there then. The property values in the neighborhood I grew up in are so high I don't think I'm even allowed back. The College Inn is, for me, a bit of firm ground to stand on. It has the feel of a universal truth, something that has always existed and always will. I've said before that if they ever shut down I'll start packing the same day, and I was only half-joking.
However, I also love the Inn because, as ancient as it is, it's always been a bar that is as welcoming to salty old regulars as it is to college kids fresh off the farm. To anyone, really. Being the best bar by the biggest college campus in the city means you're going to see a lot of new faces.
I love that, because I love the idea that people who are new to Seattle will find the same joy in it that I have for so many years. I can't imagine moving to a new city and not having a good, comfortable bar. We all need one sometimes. The Inn is one of Seattle's quintessential ones.