Posted on November 24, 2012


Revisiting the Dirty Southies

There is a tiny neighborhood in Seattle called Georgetown. I’ve always liked it. It’s like time has passed it by. Trapped on the north and south by freeway off ramps, defined on the east by the massive several block-long old Rainier brewery, the crooked streets and old brick buildings of the blue collar neighborhood always reminded me of a Streets of Fire set. In fact that movie is so good I’m recording it to watch it all over again tomorrow. If you haven’t seen it like 8 times, go program the DVR right now: awesome cars, rock’n’roll, more classic one liners than a Phyillis Diller/Rodney Dangerfield date, and Willem Defoe fighting under the El with 9-pound sledge-hammers in latex overhauls.  Oh yeah, Michael Pare, Diane Lane, Rick Morranis and Meatloaf too. How can you go wrong?  Hell, I’d watch it just for the sweet Merc, even if they did do egregious things to the front grill when they chopped it:

One sweet ride

In fact, there is a bar in Georgetown called The 9lb Hammer, for which Georgetown Brewery has named their excellent porter. I used to write a column on NW pubs, from San Francisco to Vancouver. The first time I came upon the Hammer with it’s formidable iron grating and macho name, I thought maybe it was a gay bar, but when I walked it, it was all office girls and everybody stared at me as the only stranger in the room.  Not that I wouldn’t go into a gay bar if the beer was good. In fact, I proposed writing a whole column on gay bars, but ironically we couldn’t find any with a decent tap list, and the one time we did go out, I just ended up shooting pool for money. What’s with that?

Anyway, the next time I came back was a rainy Sunday afternoon. For some unknown reason I didn’t have a camera on me and as a result I lost out on probably the most iconic scene I ever came across. There at the bar watching football were a bunch of tatted, bearded bikers (there used to be quite the chopper shop on the corner), and an entire flock of miniature chihuahuas running around on the bar, all stitched up like little Frankendogs, and wearing those funnel collars so they couldn’t lick themselves. The bikers has made little nests of their leathers for the dogs on the bar and were feeding them peanuts.

This is part of  the column from that day, which I called the Dirty Southies for all of the south end pubs we took in, in reference to an old Boston term Christian threw out while we were drinking :

A couple of nights later, after judging Novembeer fest, Christian “Manly” Pointer and I popped over to Georgetown. I’ve always loved this gritty neighborhood under the freeway, its Streets of Fire energy simply had to manifest a couple of great drinking establishments to go with the excellent local brewery (Georgetown) and motorcycle shops. First stop was Nine Pound Hammer 6009 Airport Way. I’ll admit that between the name and the iron grillwork out front, I was a little leery the first time I was here, but inside the red walls harbor a neat little neighborhood bar, and they’ve got a great selection of beer: Georgetown, Maritime, Bitburger. The tatted and bearded locals saw no humor in a flock of Chihuahuas cruising the bar, fresh from a throw down with a pack of pitbulls. So who were we to quibble? Patsy Cline and Mother Luv Bone played on while I fed them peanuts from my bowl and gave them sips of Christian’s Bitburger when he cruised the bar. (They survived a pitbull, for god’s sake, they deserve the best.) If you go there, don’t feed them the shells, a gacking Chihuahua is not a pretty sight.

Next we hit Jules Maes Saloon just a block up Airport Way (5919), past the Quadrophenia headquarters. They have a game room, a pool table with brand new felt, Maritime Pacific Imperial Pale Ale, Hoegaarden, and Johnny Cash on the box. Again, the deep wood tones here capture the essence of the area’s blue collar history. Nothing like wrapping yourself in a little nostalgia as you wile away a rainy day shooting pool and sipping good beer.

The hammer is also locally famous because in Seattle to serve hard liquor you must also serve food. They’ve had one $50 TV dinner on the menu for a couple of decades now. I love a bit of brilliant circumvention.

At any rate, I keep meaning to go down there and shoot, especially as during the construction boom they started wrecking the south end of the brewery for some crap-box condo project and the old building has some very cool architectural details. I went down and shot a few photos one day while I was waiting for something else to happen. I was using my really cool 6×9 Brooks Veriwide camera. It uses 120 film but has a 110 degree field of view and shoots an image 1/2 the size of a 4×5 film.  I’ve only ever got a few shots out of it having broken it on the first roll and really need to start shooting with it again. I always wanted to go back and reshoot, but I’ve never made it down there.

Brooks Veriwide 6×9

Friday, I finally went down and had a few beers with my book designer. I was sad to see that both the chopper shop and the Vespa shop were gone. They had a place there that had a Quadrophenia quantity of rebuilt Vespas. The brewery was half-smashed, the front wall standing alone like an abandoned movie set. A mural I’d photographed was all painted over.

Mural 1

Mural 2

Old Rainier Brewery detail

I love the layers of brick and stone in that image, like the building just grew there.

I keep a mental list of things, like Georgetown, that I mean to shoot, or even reshoot because I never seem to get it right the first time. But seeing how many of those things were gone were almost as painful as not even having a camera when I came upon the bikers. I’ve gone on and on about the dilution of quality images due to the ease of making images, but I think it’s a worse crime to not be ready when the “perfect shot” presents itself, or to not follow up in this transient world we live in where the urban landscape can transform just as quickly as a mountain stream.

In this shot, I decided that I was a half-stop or so over on the highlights, and so I went back with a polarizing filter to retake it just 2 weeks later.  But the trees that had been there for who knows how long were gone. All of them. This little chasm had flooded to the roof and taken them away. It’s hard to see the scale here but these trees were probably 70-100′ long.

Snoqualmie headwaters

Painful lessons that I keep relearning. But I guess this is one of the things I take from film photography: for me an image is something that moved me enough that I wanted to capture it. The quality of the images I get are a measure of how well I was able to shut out the world and apply my craft.  I rarely bracket my shots because when I get it, I “feel” it. I guess I’m okay with the risk of missing the shot because for me the moment is at least as important as the image I get from it. That perfect stillness and concentration I may never be able to convey in  a print at any rate.  But I keep trying.