Olaf’s to open tonight in Seattle


Ballard’s brand-new neighborhood bar, Olaf’s, to have soft opening Aug. 30 at 4 p.m.

After the closure of two beloved neighborhood bars, a little controversy, and a lot of rumors, 24th Ave. NW in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle will tonight at 4 p.m. welcome a brand new watering hole.

David “Cheeto” Chilson, Pete Pigott, and Sara Moot proudly present Olaf’s, a bar that they hope will become the perfect neighborhood hangout, with great food, pinball, and brightly colored murals painted by local artist Narboo.

Contrary to rumors, Olaf’s is not a sports bar, a karaoke bar, or interested in wiping out the history of the bar that formerly occupied the space, the Copper Gate.

The Copper Gate, with a history that hearkens all the way back to 1946, was resurrected in 2006 and enjoyed relative popularity before it was announced this summer that it would close. Many in the Norwegian-American community were surprised and upset at the news. Known as the only restaurant in Seattle where one could order fiskekaker (traditional Norwegian fish cakes) or lingonberry-flavored cocktails, its closure was a blow to many loyal Norwegian foodies in this traditionally Scandinavian neighborhood, and rumors of a “sports bar” moving in just fanned the flames.

The new owners even received at least one rather rambling, incoherent piece of “hate mail.”

“Yaaayyy, we have received our first hate mail! Of course, just like our first dollar, we will have this letter framed and posted in the bar,” they wrote on their Facebook page of the letter.

“It was more funny than mean,” says Sara of the letter.

The Norwegian American Weekly was there to interview the trio today as they readied the space for its soft opening. In good spirits and full of laughter, it is clear that the owners of Olaf’s are really not interested in controversy. They just want to serve the neighborhood they all love. In fact, Pete, David and Sara are locals (two of them are very local, within four blocks of the new bar) and met at The Viking Tavern, a bar just down the street. David and Sara bring extensive restaurant experience to the team, as David has worked at both Anthony’s Pier 66 downtown, and the Chihuly Collections café, and Sara is the former owner and chef of Persimmon in Fremont.

“We wanted to ensure there was still a neighborhood bar,” says Pete, of their decision to buy the space. Since The Viking Tavern – a fixture on 24th since 1950 – had closed in March, there were few options left on the block with the closure of the Copper Gate.

The popular watering hole where they met inspired the new name and logo. The little Viking in the tavern’s logo was nicknamed “Olaf” by regulars, and he has been resurrected on the new bar’s sign.

The three new owners don’t have any Scandinavian heritage themselves – unless counting the eight years that Pete worked at Norwegian-owned company American Seafoods – but they are open to pretty much anything.

“What the neighborhood wants, we’re willing to provide,” says David. “The neighborhood is changing, you’ve got a lot of different demographics here. Keeping the Olaf’s branding was a nod to Ballard’s Scandinavian heritage.”

As Ballard locals, they are of course familiar with the Norwegian-ness that remains strongly present in the neighborhood, and they mention that they’ll have to make plans for the 17th of May Parade that starts right down the street.

“And if people want pickled herring…” says Sara with a smile and a shrug.

“We can make pickled herring rubens!” adds David.

It’s important to Sara that they maintain flexibility with the food they serve, especially as they feel out what people in the neighborhood want.

“The menu will evolve,” she says. “We’ll do lots of specials, and see what people like.” The kitchen area is small, but functional. “It’s kind of like working on a boat,” says Sara with a smile. That certainly fits in Ballard, Seattle’s prime fishing neighborhood.

And in fact, the fishermen in town have teamed up with Olaf’s to help preserve the Copper Gate’s iconic neon sign. Relocated to the Pacific Fisherman shipyard, a straight shot down 24th towards the water, the plan is to light it up tonight at 4 p.m., as Olaf’s opens its doors for the first time. Pacific Fisherman also has the Viking Tavern sign. Thanks to them, these pieces of Ballard’s history will continue to light up the neighborhood. “We were happy to be able to salvage that,” says Pete.

As for the Copper Gate’s famous Viking-ship shaped bar, “We had to take it apart in pieces,” says Pete. It had been built for permanence, around metal brackets and poured concrete. “We tried…there was no saving it,” says Pete.

But Pete, David and Sara are continuing to look to the future. This is the first time these three have worked together, and they are treating it as an exciting experiment.

“We’re on a new, smaller dance floor,” David says, “We want to make sure we’re not bumping into each other, and that we can execute our vision and serve the locals.”

“We’re keeping it simple,” Sara adds.

And even with some of the rumors flying around, the response from the neighborhood has been overwhelmingly positive so far. “We’ve been working with the windows open, and we’ve gotten a really positive response,” says Pete.

“Overall, people are really excited about it,” adds Sara.

Olaf’s will be open from 11 a.m. – 2 a.m. every day, including holidays. David plans to be open on Christmas Day. “Prohibition is over!” he reasons.

For those in Seattle disappointed about the closure of the Copper Gate, never fear – the neighborhood is in good hands with these three, and Olaf’s promises to be an exciting new Ballard fixture.

Check out Olaf’s Facebook page here!

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 30, 2013 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.