The turn-of-the-century Victorian that houses Outlander Brewing is so pristine it looks like it was built last week. It could be a stylish good witch’s house, or some obscure European Earl’s summer home. The furnishings were curated to match the architecture by appropriately named owners Nigel and Dragan, lush antique velvet chairs and carved tables that invite anything served in a chalice or on a silver platter. While the kitchen is devoid of jeweled flatware, the nano-brewery’s innovative, tiny-batch beers are consistently chalice-worthy.
The addition of a single ghost pepper to a barrel during brewing resulted in a memorably but not decapitating-ly spicy beer. Similarly Outlander’s peanut butter stout was satisfying to a perpetual peanut butter craver like myself without requiring bread. Outlander specializes in beers you won’t find anywhere else, presently including a “Holy Basil” pale ale and a lavender porter.
Since the Outlander’s opening I’ve visited during the best of times and the worst of times. Many a post-breakup round was sloshed on its ornate tables, many a victory drink savored, though the bar is in Ballard, quite a trek for someone who biked from the International District for most of its existence (Nigel and Dragan celebrated the bar’s fourth anniversary last week.)
Many businesses advertise being like home, or grandma’s home or whatever, but I don’t really think anyone’s home is where I want to go for a beer. A good bar is more like visiting an art installation or a fascinating person’s brain. It’s the adult equivalent of the dollhouses and sand castles we built for our little plastic toys when we were seven.
Homes have fights and bills and cleaning days (chore boards, if you’re seven or a very unlucky adult) but in a great bar or restaurant, you walk into someone else’s aesthetic daydream, talk with your friends for a couple of hours, and leave refreshed, your dishes in a bus tub for someone else to attend to. As children playing house, imagining ideal families, no one dreams of what William Styron calls “the fleas of life,” the irritating little obstacles that are a fact of humanity.
There’s plenty of whining about “who cares if everything looks the same, the money from land development is good for the city,” but not if we want fulfilment for anyone ever again. In a place like the Outlander, a paradise of strawberry hefeweizens and velvet witch furniture with no sterile corporate aesthetic to draw the mind back to the amoeba-like economic entities that many of us are forced to labor for to survive, you and your friends are kids again. Your elaborate film is feasible enough to get you grant-writing, you remember the person you’ve been too nervous to ask on a date loves basil and IPAs and theater, and there’s a show starting just down the block in an hour.
Maybe it’s just witnessing somebody make an environment exactly what they want it to be. A five-minute conversation with Nigel and Dragan reveals the amount of work it takes to make such a place a reality, but seeing that it’s possible, like the crucial closing of a circuit, bridges the gap between dreams and reality.