Say “hei” to Seattle’s Skål Beer Hall
The Viking-inspired bar has taken Ballard by storm and satisfied its thirst for mead
Emily C. Skaftun
The Norwegian American
If you show up after 7 p.m. on a Friday or Saturday, you may have to pillage your way inside. That’s how popular Skål Beer Hall has become just three months after opening.
It was a long journey to get to opening. As readers of this paper may remember, we first profiled the project in March 2018, and at that time the proposed opening date was July. Construction and permitting delays pushed that back all the way to March of this year. But anticipation continued to build in the meantime. Skål’s crowdfunding campaign raised just shy of $100,000 from 1,100 backers. “We have far exceeded our expectations!” says owner Adam McQueen.
The venture’s popularity is well deserved. First of all, it’s got a great hook—who doesn’t want to drink like a Viking? It’s an appealing space, painstakingly renovated from the German pub it used to house into a long open space that’s part Viking hall and part trendy bar. Every detail feels thought out, from the axe-shaped handles on the bathroom doors to the Viking bust looming over a cozy fireplace. The versatile space has room for standing, bar spaces at the kitchen and the back bar, and of course tables of various shapes and sizes. In a pinch, even the shuffleboard table can be converted to an eating and drinking surface.
But Skål’s appeal goes beyond its aesthetic. Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood has no shortage of bars and restaurants; to compete with so many other choices, both bar and kitchen menus have to really stand out.
Stand out they do. McQueen, a veteran of the craft beer industry, curated the diverse tap list with an eye toward showcasing a range of beer styles, supporting area brewers, and also stocking “as many Scandinavian imports as possible.” Skål has 20 beers on tap, two draft meads, and two draft wines, along with an extensive bottle menu of mostly imported beer and cider, and 15 aquavits featured as “snaps pours” or in their cocktail menu.
One of the most surprising things for McQueen so far has been the popularity of mead: “Twenty-five percent of our alcohol sales are from mead! We sell so much mead that our local partners can’t make the product fast enough to keep in stock! In three short months, we have become the largest on-premise retailer of mead in the state of Washington.”
Mead, he explains, “is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages on the planet and is simply fermented honey, yeast, and water. Most of the local meads have a cult following and fly off the shelves. We’ve had couples drive six-plus hours from out of state to get some!”
Not to be outdone, business partner Lexi has brought her considerable experience—most recently at Old Ballard Liquor Co.—with Scandinavian cuisine to the food side of the menu, which ranges from bar bites to whole roasted chickens (available evenings until sold out). For the moderately hungry, a selection of traditional and unusual sausages (Venison & Blueberry? Elk & Huckleberry? Smoked Duck? Sign me up!) are an appealing and popular option.
But Skål’s food menu shines brightest when showcasing a smørgåsbord, if you will, of Nordic flavors. Charcuterie boards offer tastes of meats and cheeses, mustards, and pickled herrings. Did you know that there’s more than one kind of pickled herring? Even if you think you don’t like it, you may be surprised.
So far, people like it.
In addition to great drinks and great food, Skål aims to provide a forum for events that go beyond the standard trivia night fare. Some of McQueen’s favorite events so far have been “Scandinavian Drinking Songs with our friends from the Nordic Museum, Mushroom Foraging, History of Beer in the Pacific Northwest, and Vikings in the Media: Myths and Legends.”
Skål is committed to being a good community member, hosting events to support other organizations. Even on its busiest day (so far?), Syttende Mai, Skål donated a portion of beer sales to Sons of Norway Leif Erikson lodge, for a total of $831!
On July 17, that same dollar per beer will be donated to The Norwegian American. I’ll be there. How about you?
Don’t let the bar’s popularity put you off. Yes, there’s often a line on weekend evenings once the bar’s capacity of 90 is reached, but reservations are now accepted for parties of six or more, and mug club members now get the added perk of jumping to the front of the line. Not a member? You can sign up at the Skål Beer Hall website: skalballard.com.
Enjoy a Norwegian designer cocktail from Skål:
“Thor Heyerdahl drifted on a raft for months dreaming of this tropical libation,” says Skål owner Adam McQueen.
1½ oz. Linie aquavit
1½ oz. pineapple juice
1½ oz. passion fruit
1½ oz. orange juice
splash of ginger beer
orange slice, for garnish
Shake together the aquavit and pineapple, passion fruit, and orange juices and pour into a cocktail glass. Top with a splash of ginger beer and a splash of IPA, and garnish with an orange slice.
This article originally appeared in the July 12, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.