For all of Seattle's famed sleepless-ness, you'd think we could get a later bar close, or a weed cafe, or at least a few more places to eat carbs at three in the morning. But most venues push people out onto the streets between 1:30 and 2 a.m. This is because state Republican lawmakers and the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board hate fun and happiness.
If you do find yourself drunk and hungry at 2 a.m. on a Friday or Saturday, you should know you have more options than street hot dogs, 5 Point, Beth's, Lost Lake, or whatever overpriced box you call a home. Not to knock Seattle's 24-hour diners—there will always be something special about waiting for a table in the scary holding room at Beth's—but sometimes a person wants a late-night bite that isn't diner food.
Enter, Ba Bar. The popular Vietnamese restaurant named not after Babar the Elephant but in honor of restaurant owners Sophie and Eric Banh's father ("ba" means father in Vietnamese) specializes in phở, bánh cuốn, classic cocktails, and late-night eats.
Its late-night scene is awesome. You just have to know it's there.
On a recent Saturday night at 2 a.m.—so actually Sunday morning—Ba Bar's Capitol Hill spot seemed closed. A few patrons fingered empty glasses and picked through scraps of Crispy Imperial Rolls (which are delicious). You'd be forgiven for walking past the restaurant and mistaking the waiters' nervous glances for looks that say, "We're closed."
They aren't closed; they're just waiting for the onslaught.
The bar in the Capitol Hill location is closed at 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, though, and Ba Bar's University Village and South Lake Union locations are always closed by 2 a.m. But on Fridays and Saturdays, the Capitol Hill restaurant is open till 4 a.m.
Even though it was dead when I got there at 2 a.m., by 2:15 the place was bumpin'. A rush of drunks flooded the dining area, ordering noodles, frites, and bánh nậm, which are rice tamales with pork wrapped in banana leaf (you don't eat the leaf, Becky). It was the kind of scene that's loud enough that you can cry or fight and no one will notice, but spacious enough for the experience to be intimate. This late-night noisy privacy is a magical, rare phenomenon in Seattle.
Maybe it's silly to go to a Vietnamese restaurant and order chicken wings, but goddamnit if Ba Bar's Sài Gòn Chicken Wings aren't the crème de la crème of drunk food. Coated in a caramel sauce with roasted garlic and bird's-eye chilies, the wings are made expertly—the skin is crispy but the meat remains juicy. Sticky but not messy, these little nuggets get the job done.
If wings don't satisfy your beer gut, get the steamed Manila clams—my favorite. They're made with Rainier beer, lemongrass, and dill, and are served with a ginger nước chấm. There's also plenty of phở, even in the late-late hours. The phở tái nạm, with its beef brisket and inexplicably tasty eye of round steak, is one of their best.
By 3:15 a.m., the scene seemed to be peaking. By 3:30, the kitchen was closed. A calm wonder replaced the commotion of the rush. The whole spectacle came and went like hail in a thunderstorm.