There is something about the Viking that reminds me of old Seattle: the lush and green and lonely Seattle of the 1970s, imbued with the infinite sadness of spent resources and industrialized, polluted, then abandoned riverbanks. In the old Seattle, there were weeds, and dogs without leashes. The paint peeled off houses and nobody bothered the city council about it. My grandpa, a lean man who sleeps with a gun under his pillow in his mossy rambler out in Preston, would drink at the Viking if he lived in Ballard. I imagine both my grandparents being very comfortable at the Viking, in fact, with their pair of Dobermans, Acey and Deucy, at attention next to several rib bones picked clean.

Perhaps because of this sense of familiarity, I found myself drawn to the Viking--a small marquee advertised "House-Smoked MEAT." As I stood peering in the dark window at the "Provisions" menu, Tim Cannon, who bought the place 12 years ago and runs it with his wife, Peggy, popped out to chat and before I knew it I was perched on a barstool that felt as if it had been molded to fit my contours. The daytime regulars come for the good, simple barbecue that Tim and Peggy prepare (in Washington state's smallest legal kitchen!), and the thirst-quenching selection of draft domestic beers (yes, Rainier lives here) for a mere $6.25 a pitcher. There are, of course, several fine micro-brews available on tap, but, as Tim so eloquently put it, "When it comes down to thirst, nothing beats Rainier."

Tim and Peggy's tiny kitchen consists of a shoebox-sized smoker, a fridge, and a microwave. I was awed by the abundance of savory delights produced from such a tiny womb. Back when they began smoking eight years ago, theirs was the only barbecue north of the canal. As I sat down and plugged into my first Oly stubby, I discovered I could gnaw on one big beef rib for a buck-fifty--evidence of Cannon's brilliant understanding of what a neighborhood watering hole needs. "People want a comfortable place to watch a game and eat affordable food," Tim declares. For a mere $4.75, I filled up on the delicious "Number One"--tender, hickory-smoked beef brisket, sliced thin, smothered in sauce and served up on a substantial bun.

While this sandwich made me very happy, I found myself dreaming about "The Number Two" sandwich ($4.75) long after it had made its way past my welcoming palate. Slow-smoked with apple wood, the mere memory of this lean pork butt gives me goose bumps. Tim imports their pork sauce--he refers to it as tidewater sauce--from North Carolina. I don't know what they put in that Carolina sauce, but the Number Two wrapped its shredded pork arms around my tongue and gave it a big hug. Which felt very good.

Smoked turkey sandwiches, smoked spuds, beef 'n' bean "Sloppy Svens," chili, and "Great Dane" hot dogs are also available from a menu where nothing exceeds $4.75. If I could tear myself away from my Oly, I'd sample from the weekly rotating wine menu--impressive for the fact that it offers decent, highly drinkable wines from $3 to $3.75 a glass. "Yeah, I speak Winese," Tim says, "but I'm not here for the ego trip. My family has been in the restaurant business for four generations. Now I'm interested in keeping things simple." Which is a rare vision for the increasingly gentrified Ballard. "It's interesting how kids who grew up in Ballard and moved away are returning. People are figuring out that it's a nice place to live." Photos of opening day, 1950, decorate the walls, proving that the Viking has stayed true to the original owners' vision. It is one of the small institutions that has made Ballard so nice and is keeping it that way.

The Viking Tavern

6404 24th Ave NW, 784-3662. Daily 7:30 am--2:30 am, 21 & up only. $

Price Scale (per entrée)

$ = $10 and under; $$ = $10-$20; $$$ = $20 and up

Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer: Jan 13-Feb 14 at Bagley Wright Theatre
Part theater, part revival, and all power, this one-woman show will have your head nodding and hands clapping!