A young writer and bartender named Josh Potter wants to turn the Ballast Bar at Capitol Cider into an "institution of Seattle literature," not just a rustic-looking hangout for gluten-shy people who want to flirt. To that end, he curates the Literary Happy Hour reading series, which runs from 5 to 7 p.m. on the last Tuesday of every month.
For a downstairs bar spot, you couldn't really ask for a better setup. Warm woods and golden lamplight give the place a cozy feel. A well-lit, modest stage sits opposite a long bar where drafts are $1 off before 6 p.m. If you have no truck with cider, you can order a whiskey neat, a craft beer, or any old regular thing and let your eyes fall on the surprisingly high-quality art along the walls, much of which comes from bar owner and arts philanthropist Julie Tall's personal collection.
Each reading is loosely organized around the theme of "drafting." (Get it? Drinking drafts and readings drafts. It's great.) Over the course of two hours, the four participating writers are encouraged to use part of their time onstage to read an old draft, give a craft talk about some element of literary composition, or else show their work in some way. Potter says novelist Peter Mountford, one of the earlier readers in the series, described in detail a narrative structure he'd copied from another writer and used in the story he read that evening. Writers rarely let you in on their secrets like that! Getting a peek behind the curtain in this way usefully democratizes literature—writers get free tips (and a possible dash of schadenfreude), and people unfamiliar with the art get new modes of understanding and thus appreciating it.
I've long held that readings in bars ruin both readings and bars, but Capitol Cider feels like an exception. Also, I am sympathetic to the romantic dream of maintaining as many non-academic, non- literature-specific venues for literature as possible. Low-key, consistent nights like this one can help readers find their writers (and vice versa), and a city of this size needs places for happy, un-dumb literary accidents to happen.
Such accidents are likely to occur with the particularly excellent lineup Potter has arranged this month (January 30). Jekeva Phillips—the magnetic Lit Crawl organizer, comedian, and publisher whose face graced the cover of City Arts this month—will read along with fiction writer Jarret Middleton, author of Darkansas and founder of Dark Coast Press. They'll be joined by Anca Szilágyi, who will read from her well-received debut novel about a young woman making her way through 1980s Brooklyn, Daughters of the Air. Also reading is Bill Carty, who will soon hit us with a tremendous new poetry collection called Huge Cloudy.