While Belltown is still something of a frontier—the manifest destiny of the young urban professionals ever pushing against the manifest utility of the crack dealers—the Frontier Room succumbed to gentrification back in the early aught-aughts. In the olden days, the place was beyond shabby. The bar's decor was brought to you by darkness, which was fine; you wouldn't have wanted to see anything in there too well, anyway. The bartender, Nina, was famously surly and awe-inspiring. (A representative exchange: "Will you make my friend a special birthday drink?" "I'll make her a drink that'll make her nipples hard.")
At the bar today, you'll find mile-long shelves of shiny bottles illuminated, for no apparent reason, in very bright green, while pointedly western stitched-rawhide lampshades hang in a row overhead. Above the liquor is a very large enlargement of an olden-days logging photo: immense sections of tree lying on flatbed railroad cars, with three damp workers looking dwarfed and baleful in the gathering mist. Elsewhere, there's an assemblage-style portrait of a bull, its flanks meaty and its reproductive parts gigantic, and a woodpile sculpture with coat hooks and a fake fire embedded in it. The booths have cowhide-patterned trim. The stick-tons-of-old-timey-stuff-to-the-walls school of masking a makeover has been bypassed in favor of a more postmodern, restrained approach (with the exception of the unrestrained green light), with generally favorable results.
One evening last week, the only thing truly old-timey was the four young men loafing out on the patio in dapper-yet-slightly-scruffy style—newsboy caps or lightly worn bowlers, abbreviated-length ties, tweedy jackets. They proved to be a band, Pokey LaFarge & the South City Three from Saint Louis, Missouri. They were not playing at the Frontier Room (which features sweaty '80s dance parties, not cute old-fashioned bands, later at night), nor were they eating any barbecue (which the place has been serving since the 2002 remodel). They were just cooling their heels: drinking, smoking, and graciously deploying their old-timey accents.
Inside, a few tables' worth of people enjoyed the tail end of happy hour (Tues–Fri 3–6:30 pm). The $3 snacks are a noteworthy deal: three quite decent mini barbecue sandwiches, served with a squeeze bottle of nicely vinegary sauce; three big prawns wrapped in bacon; wood-smoked Saint Louis ribs; for the vegetarians, a fine rendition of macaroni and cheese. The bartender was no Nina, but she had curly hair and angular glasses and a way of calling you "sweetie" that made you feel as right-at-home as you can in a postmodern western bar. And she poured pretty stiff well drinks—not as stiff as Nina's, but pretty stiff.
The Frontier Room, 2203 First Ave, 956-RIBS
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