Darlene Kaiser has been serving drinks at the Ballard Smoke Shop for 23 years (5439 Ballard Ave NW, 784-6611). (She doesn't have the most seniority at the neighborhood spot; her coworker Marsha has been there for 36 years.) She's still in love with her job. "We're like a family," she says over and over about her team of mostly female bartenders. "Even when I go to Florida on vacation, I call them because I miss them." Though cocktail trends come and go—Darlene says the Dark 'n' Stormy and other cocktails with ginger beer are popular at the moment—drink orders are pretty basic. "Most of our customers are salt-of-the-earth types and order things like screwdrivers. They're not into froufrou drinks."
Darlene insists she won't drink anywhere else in her downtime; her favorite indulgence is a twist on a White Russian with vodka, milk, and Tia Maria at her very own bar, where "the drinks are strong, and the prices are cheap, and the service is so friendly." Her regulars keep it interesting, too—like Barry, who'd barhop down Ballard Avenue wearing the biggest bra he could find on the outside of his shirt. The one sure thing that will get you kicked out of the Smoke Shop has to do with the giant bell that you ring to buy a round for the whole bar (and for which there is abundant signage): "If they ring the bell and say, 'Just kidding,' they get kicked out. That happens once every couple of months," Darlene says.