There is something about the Smoke Shop that makes the implausible seem not so implausible, reasonable even. If you’ve ever been to this holdover from Ballard’s fishing industry past, then you know what I mean. And if you haven’t, picture a crusty old tavern – a northern Idaho version comes to mind for me – one with a jukebox, without fancy artisan organic liquor, and likely with a cash-only restriction.
On a particular night earlier this year, four of us were ending the evening at the Smoke Shop after making our way through a few other Ballard locales. We were ensconced at a table in the back, happily chit chatting and taking in the scene, in between trips to the jukebox. It was after one such visit that Heidi and I returned to find someone had joined our table, and was busy telling her tale of woe. I suspect that this tale of woe was intended to elicit offer of a drink, but instead it just produced a good story and the perfect name for a drink.
This wasn’t her first rodeo, that’s for sure. She had lived a long life, apparently in many different locations, and before we got back to the table the fellas were invited to make three guesses of the place she called home. Though they were advised that the penalty for guessing incorrectly was a “kick in the ribs,” admonition enough to make you choose your words very carefully, I suspect. Aran narrowly avoided rib injury by correctly identifying her accent and guessing that she hailed from Georgia. We didn’t get her full employment history, but some of that history apparently involved a stint as a ballerina until at one point she developed the club foot that ended her dancing career. (Developed? What??) As entertaining as this was for everyone, eventually she tired of us and drifted off to regale another group with stories a-plenty.
Shortly after this outing this same group of us were headed off to Westport, WA for the weekend, and decreed that we would come away from the trip having concocted our own cocktail, the Clubfoot Ballerina. The woman from the Smoke Shop had told such a tale, and clearly had such a history, all of it just begging to be translated into a cocktail of some sort. We took our cue from her southern provenance, and the unfortunate clubfoot development, and came up with an absinthe-based drink that was… awful! It would seem that we are discerning drinkers, but terrible bartenders.
And so it was that we turned to the professionals, issuing a challenge to various bartenders around town who were amenable to the idea of concocting a drink based on a name and a little story. We even had one friend who wanted to throw his hat into the ring, and come up with his own version of the Clubfoot Ballerina. Many included an element of sweet and usually peach-y, as a nod to her Georgia origins, often with a tinge of bitter to represent the tough breaks. I particularly liked Betty bartender Noelle’s interpretation, with a frothy egg white in honor of her ballerina past. Nearly all were rye-based – again, referencing the south – though Michael at Ocho went with tequila, a dark horse in the race. At Frank’s Oyster House Bill used Punt e Mes as the source of the slightly bitter tinge, where at Bathtub Gin it was cinnamon that provided spice and balanced out the pear and peach liqueurs.
Given Seattle’s firmly entrenched cocktail culture and burgeoning distillery business (I’m already planning visits to the new Sun Liquor and Oola distilleries), I’ve no doubt that there are more bartenders who will rise to the challenge of on-the-spot cocktail creation, and happily, more Clubfoot Ballerinas in my future.