Is there a smell that defines your neighborhood? Can you tell the time of day by what’s wafting out of the local bakery or BBQ joint? The comfort of ritualistic scent is something no one should take for granted. For years, at 10 am every morning, the air around south Alaska Junction smelled like Pho Than Bros broth. Until it didn’t. I miss it all the time.

When I posed the question ”Why Pho?” to Satanik Royalty Records' founder Michael Freiburger, or Frei as he’s known around town, his reply was tough to argue: “Pho is life.”

Fremont’s business district is cozy, so it was out of necessity Frei became a Pho Than Brothers devotee. For two years he helped produce shows at Bar House on North 36th Street. The bar is staying open, but they hosted their last show on March 4. 

“Than Brothers is one of my two favorite pho shops in Seattle," he told me. "I eat there at least twice a week, [and have] for many years. On show days I work 13-hour days. I would get to the venue to do soundcheck and load-in. After that, I would have an hour before bartending and doors opening—I would always go and get a bowl of pho in between. Especially on the colder days, as our venue is indoor/outdoor. I would always offer but never pressure bands to get pho with me. It is very much a ritualistic experience that I will miss. Ben Verellen [owner of Bar House] and I would have meetings over pho there, talk all sorts of business over noodle soup. Than Brothers will forever be special to me.”

Frei (left) with members of Pan-Amerikan Native Front and Pigs Blood.

As the cozy buzz of K. Savage’s indica-leaning Lilac Wine kicked in, Frei told me about those first years when he was a broke, new Seattleite.

“When I first moved to Seattle I lived in the U District and was really poor. Someone turned me on to bánh mì from a local pho place on the Ave. I was hooked. Killer sandwich for $2.50. After eating there for almost a year someone recommended the noodle soup. I’ll never forget my first pho. Changes you. It’s like your first mushroom trip. You're a different person after. For the better. I moved shortly after to First Hill and Phở Bắc became my local haunt for noodles. Since working in Fremont for almost 15 years Than Bros has been a constant for me.” 

Pho is about the fixings. A first date's pho prep style can be as telling as what songs they choose on a jukebox, so I hit Frei with a difficult question: If he had to make the devil’s bargain for only one single pho fixin', what would it be? Personally, I couldn’t live without the lime, but Frei says he's a Sriracha man. As you would expect from the owner-operator of Satanik Royalty Records, he makes a pentagram in his soup with his hoisin and Sriracha before the first slurp. 

K. Savage’s hybrid Lilac Wine is as fragrant and memorable as its name suggests. And yes, it will have you feeling light and heady like your love. I’ve spent some time with this strain and it's become a Sunday afternoon chill-out favorite—it boasts a functional, light body and brain buzz that enhances brunch when you want to roll mimosa-free, and it turned out to be a perfect pairing with pho. My experience with the strain gave hints of jasmine, a bit of tea, earthiness, and a somewhat acidic bottom, so when Frei suggested Than Bros and their floral, tea-centric broth, Lilac Wine was a lock. I found them as close to a match palette-wise as I’d hoped and Frei picked up on “garlic” in the bud flavor profile, adding it was “a perfect warm-up of the palette for a nice bowl of pho. Also really enjoy the mellow high that came with it. Perfect for soup consumption!”

And Frei is a consumer. A big one. “I usually get a large #2 with extra meat on show days. Sometimes, when it’s a super long day, I’ll get an extra-large with extra meat. This seems pretty large to most people. I’m a large human. A hill giant.”

Frei before pho. Ma'Chell Duma

Even though Bar House will no longer host live music, Frei is set on more 13-hour days. The show’s not over yet.

“My main gig will be booking heavier shows at Belltown Yacht Club, which is a 150-capacity basement venue in Belltown’s historic neighborhood,” he says. “But I will also be co-producing shows with Hierophant Booking at multiple venues across town! All my shows will be as Satanik Royalty Records presents, which seconds as production and booking.”

Fortunately for Frei, there are more than 20 spots to get pho within a mile of Belltown Yacht Club.

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