Winter in Seattle makes me want to drink. I know I'm not alone in this—the interminable darkness, rain, gloom, etc., gets to many people. As I've gotten older though (and especially since having a kid), I've dialed back on the drinking. Hangovers, once an irritating but consistent part of life, now have the power to make multiple days very difficult.
But as I was driving home last night, heading south on Airport Way—rain coming down in buckets, windshield wipers on full blast, perched on the edge of my seat in the hopes of being able to see what was in front of me, shoulders scrunched up to my ears—I felt the very strong need for a drink. I mentally aimed myself toward Georgetown's 9 Lb. Hammer, but as I came upon the sign for Jack's BBQ, I found myself instinctively pulling into the parking lot.
Jack's is fairly nondescript—pretty much a giant black box by the side of the road—but the small row of windows peeking into the bar gave off a warm glow that was made even softer and more inviting by the condensation on the glass.
A few months ago, on a much, much sunnier day, my husband and I had stopped in randomly for an afternoon beer. Jack's, like so many bars in Seattle these days, always has a couple of beers on tap from nearby breweries like Columbia City's Flying Lion, Georgetown Brewing, and Machine House Brewery, which is located just one mile south on Airport Way. I was intrigued by a smoked orange pale ale from Machine House, made with oranges that are cured onsite in one of Jack's many smokers. I'm not usually one for fruit-infused beers, and I was a little wary of the smoke factor, but it was quite good: the smoke flavor was subtle, as was the orange, but it was there, imparting an unmistakable bit of brightness and sweetness.
That afternoon, we each drank two pints and ordered the Texas Trinity combo platter to go: brisket, pork ribs, and jalapeño-cheddar sausages, along with sides of spicy, tangy remoulade cole slaw and "Texas caviar," an earthy black-eyed pea salad sweetened with diced bell peppers. Jack's beef brisket—soft, moist, and fatty—is incredible. The meat, which is seasoned with just salt and pepper and has a smoky flavor, melts away on the tongue immediately. We sat in our dining room, all the windows open, and ate with our bare hands. As a warm breeze blew through the house, we watched our young daughter go to town on two pork ribs, sucking every bit of gristle and marrow that she could from the soft bones. The sun didn't set until after 8 p.m.
Yesterday, I was disappointed to find that the smoked orange pale ale was no longer available. "It was kind of a summer thing," the bartender told me, as though I needed another reminder that summer is long gone. I ordered a beer anyway, sat on my red vinyl barstool, and looked around.
I was comforted by the fact that everyone in the bar, which was more than half full, was over 35. They were all tearing meat with their hands, swigging beers, and talking very loudly. Everyone, regardless of where they're from, seems to inadvertently fall into a Southern accent at Jack's. A bartender who had just finished her shift sat down on the other side of the bar, greeted by a shot of bourbon and a beer. She was wearing plaid leggings made of fleece. Like everyone else, she looked comfortable, happy, and not the least bit self-conscious. The walls and tables, all made of blonde wood, gave off a warm, golden light. It may not have been summer, but it certainly didn't feel like winter—and it certainly didn't feel like Seattle. I sipped my beer and felt my shoulders relax.