Aerialist Lara Paxton at Copper Gate (photo: Felix Colagrossi)
Aerialist Lara Paxton at Copper Gate (photo: Felix Colagrossi)
Copper Gate in Ballard (photo: Felix Colagrossi)
Copper Gate in Ballard (photo: Felix Colagrossi)

The Copper Gate, Ballard’s only remaining Scandanavian-style restaurant and lounge, now has a semi-secret performance space that puts the va-va-voom in Viking.

The new Blushing Pearl, an intimate back room with red-velvet curtains, was inspired by the former tavern’s titillating past.

Opened in 1946, the Copper Gate was owned and operated by a red-headed burlesque performer who tended bar in the buff, guaranteeing a steady flow of customers. Or so the legend goes.

The old Copper Gate, with its coved ceiling and retro decor, was resurrected a couple of years ago by business partners John Alberts, a jazz pianist who leads the Apothecary trio, and Graham Graham, a “perceptual engineer” who created the funky decor at the original Crocodile Cafe and Moe’s Mo’roc’n Cafe.

More recently Alberts and Graham created Ballard establishments Thaiku (home to the Fu Kun Wu Lounge) and La Carta De Oaxaca. But with Copper Gate, the business partners decided to salute Ballard’s Scandinavian heritage by reopening the infamous old tavern on 24th Avenue Northwest with a naughty Nordic theme. (The original tavern was once considered “uptown” because of its location uphill from the joints on old Ballard Avenue; it later fell into divey decline.)

The decor is quite an eyeful. When you enter the thick, wooden, portholed door (which has been swinging on its hinges since 1946), the first thing you notice is a bar shaped like an old Viking ship. When you glance up at the sail, you notice hundreds of snapshots of au natural women from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s — self-portraits taken by young, female patrons back in the day to send to their boyfriends and husbands serving overseas. Graham has hundreds of the old snapshots, artifacts of a bygone era. Sailors reportedly traded them like baseball cards.

Behind the bar is a collection of treasures you won’t find at a typical antique store. Among them is a vintage Polar Cub vibrator, possibly from the 1920s.

A full-length, nude painting of the mysterious original owner hangs on the south wall, welcoming visitors into this grand old den of suds and scintillation. The painting is flanked by several velvetine paintings of nudes.

This week, the establishment’s back space, dubbed the Blushing Pearl (aka Pussy Room), made its debut during an exclusive party featuring organist Hugh Sutton (of Circus Contraption), violinist Jakob “Jake” Breitbach and aerialist Lara Paxton (of the Aerialistas and Circus Contraption) in an old-world cabaret performance. The intimate room (with open restroom in the rear) is reserved for acoustic performances and private events.

Decor features red, floor-to-ceiling curtains and red, diamond-tuck, crushed-velvet seat backs. The entrance to the room is highly suggestive, as is the entire design of the space. And you’ll notice a big organ in the room — a Hammond, that is.

Graham is somewhat mum on what he’ll offer there, but patrons can expect some unusual performers in the future, perhaps El Vez (“the Mexican Elvis”).

Back at the bar, mixologist Perryn Wright offered samples of the Copper Gate’s unusual cocktails, among them the Einarbaer (a tart, sweet concoction featuring gin, lingonberry, grapefruit and sweet vermouth) and the Aelskling (vodka, curacao, cranberry and Wright’s handmade rhubarb bitters). These are complex, out-of-the-ordinary drinks that will set you on your heels.

The establishment also boasts six aquavits — more than any other establishment in the state, the owners claim. Among them are Krogstad Aquavit (Portland), Lysholm Linie Aquavit (Norway) and Heldig’s Own Akvavit (Ballard).

The menu is also adventurous. Scandinavian-inspired offerings include Fiskekaker (fish cakes, lemon zest, tarragon aioli and parsley salad), Blaskjell (mussels in aquavit-tomato broth with bacon) and Kjottkaker (Swedish meatballs with celery-potato puree and lingonberry preserves). The Fiskekaker were tasty, delicate, amazing.

The bar is separated from the restaurant area by what looks like a section of a steel boat hull. Stools at the bar are staggered, allowing patrons to sit next to or behind their companions.

A daily hour from 5 to 7 p.m. features $2 discounts on food and $1 on drinks. With or without discounts, the drinks — or the decor — could make you blush.

Phone: 206-706-3292. Hours: 5 p.m. to midnight daily. Address: 6301 24th Ave. N.W.

One Reply to “The Copper Gate salutes Ballard’s scandal-navian past”

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