Best of Bellingham 2017
Pure Bliss Desserts
First things first: It’s pumpkin cheesecake season at Pure Bliss, which is my favorite season that is not strawberry shortcake season. But every season at the little slice of heaven that is the Cornwall Avenue cake shop is the best season if you’re a person who needs a little sweetness in your life. Whether your favorite is Salted Caramel Cake or Belgian Chocolate Torte, a Nanaimo Bar or a Lemon Wedge, a Coconut Macaroon or the hands-down best gluten-free Carrot Cupcake in existence, Pure Bliss more than lives up to its name. And their wins in this category are their just desserts.
Where: 1424 Cornwall Ave.
Best Shoe Store:
In 1924, J. Edgar Hoover was appointed the head of the Bureau of Investigation, Johnny Weissmuller won three gold medals at the Paris Summer Olympics, and black leather shoes were reaching peak popularity. That last fact was pertinent to the opening of Hilton’s Shoes, which was opened by Joseph Hilton that same year in downtown Bellingham and has now been providing a wide range of shoes to the public for more than 90 years. “ Hilton’s has been passed down through the generations and remains in the family,” the current owners say. “Downtown has undergone some serious changes, but our philosophy has never changed: Honesty and integrity in everything we do.”
Where: 113 W. Magnolia St.
Ryan Stiles and Misha Collins
This year’s battle between Bellingham-based celebrities—also known as “Bellebrities”—came down to two famous fellas who have achieved worldwide acclaim for their admirable action on the small screen (Ryan Stiles for Whose Line is It Anyway? and Misha Collins for Supernatural), but haven’t let it go to their heads. Instead, the actors have made Bellingham and Whatcom County their home base, and make it a point to do good things for the community they call home (Stiles by providing a home for improvisational comedy at the Upfront Theatre, and Collins through his nonprofit, Random Acts of Kindness). Sure, they could live anywhere, but instead they’ve chosen to make this lovely city by the bay an important part of their lives.
Whatcom Family YMCA
I admit, sometimes on a chilly morning I go just for a stretch and then the steam or sauna—just to sit in the company of people I know and have come to know. Locker room talk? Oh, yeah. Usually about the Seahawks. Heck, who am I kidding? Honestly? Always about the Seahawks. But also lots of tales of gardening and weekend-warrioring. The weights await. But let them wait a bit longer. Friends are here, and they’re talking.
Where: 1256 N State St.
Best Fast Food:
On a recent Sunday, my better half and I spent the afternoon putting the garden to bed and, come sunset, couldn’t find the gumption to make dinner. Without missing a beat, he offered to make the short journey to Boomer’s Drive-In for a couple of Big Booms, two orders of waffle fries and a blackberry shake (to split). After ordering from the carhop service, he was home not long afterward with fast food fit for royalty—double-stacked burgers made with fresh ingredients, hefty fries cooked just right, and a dangerously delicious handmade milkshake featuring ice cream locally sourced from Edaleen Dairy. Since the visit, I’ve since learned diners can now order in advance online—meaning Boomer’s is still old-school, but your Smartphone can help you secure a meal.
Where: 310 N. Samish Way
Best Theater Company:
iDiOM Theater at the Sylvia Center
“The love and support of our patrons has seen us through 16 years of independent theater, through good times and bad, and through our transformation from a little production company to our ambitious new Sylvia Center project,” Artistic Director Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao says to those who cast their votes, once again, for iDiOM Theater. “Our team, our crew, and our audiences are about to all grow in leaps and bounds. Thank you for letting us do what we love and dreaming big with us. We are excited about the year ahead, and the years to come.”
It’s a rainy and brisk fall morning, but stalwart customers can still be found sitting at the outdoor tables under the awning at the Mount Bakery’s Champion Street locale. Perhaps they don’t feel the cold because they’re warmed to the core by what they’re eating—scones fresh out of the oven, made-by-scratch croissants, maple-glazed cookies, lemon meringue tarts, pieces of pie or one of the other myriad baked goods the longtime bakery stocks at both its downtown and Fairhaven locales. A commitment to using locally sourced ingredients, a passion for the craft and the ability to keep Bellinghamsters coming back for more makes this award-winning business a no-brainer in this category.
Where: 308 W. Champion St., 1217 Harris Ave.
Best Auto Repair:
A few years ago, I took a rock to the radiator of my aging-but-still-ticking Nissan Maxima. I polled my Facebook friends to see who to entrust my beloved Maxxie to, and when tallied, the winner of that vote was the same as this one: Bellingham Automotive. Sure enough, the customer service was great and very professional and the repair work was done right—and righteously fast. They even hauled me to and from their Hannegan Road shop via their tricked-out courtesy car. Getting back on the road again has never been so simple.
Where: 4116 Hannegan Road
When it comes to stacking signature ingredients between two (or more) slices of bread, Avenue has set the gold standard. And since they also happen to make the bread upon which all these goodies are stacked, their sandwiches exhibit extra levels of freshness, fragrance and flavor. Not only is their Rueben famously scrumptious, but they also offer a well-regarded plethora of delicious soups and salads. And, as any lunch lover knows, once you throw those into the mix, it gives them bragging rights to a special kind of midday goodness.
Where: 1313 Railroad Ave., 2301 James St., 1135 11th St.
Best Toy Store:
Fairhaven Toy Garden
Toy Garden isn’t really a kid’s store. Not completely. It’s actually a wishing well for grownups, tickling how they remember they grew up, filled with the kinds of colorful and well crafted treasures they recall from childhood, and the kind they’ve always dreamed they’d provide to their own children. And now parents can—toys that make you think, toys that make you play, toys for joy. As the owners say, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
Where: 909 Harris Ave.
A Cascadia Weekly editor lives in a spot with a view of Bellingham’s most popular park, and witnessing the many ways in which people from all walks of life utilize the public space is her favorite binge-watch. Because of Boulevard’s example we understand how important access to our waterfront is, and we now know that when we are given that access, we use it to its fullest capacity, seven days a week, 365 days a year. City planners, take heed.
Where: 470 Bayview Dr.
Best Pot Grower:
Trail Blazin’ Productions
When it comes to the Cannabis Alliance, a “bud oath” is more important than a “blood oath.” As founding members of the nonprofit advocating for a sustainable and ethical cannabis industry, Juddy and Danielle Rosellison of Bellingham’s Trail Blazin’ Productions take their commitment to pesticide-free, sustainably-grown, hand-trimmed cannabis seriously. From their Division Street nursery, they send their potent products throughout the state, sharing their marijuana mission with the masses. In Bellingham proper, find their superior strains at Trove (218 N. Samish Way), Herbal Legends (2118 James St.) and all three 2020 Solutions locales.
Caitlin Beebe, Aslan Brewing Co.
Bellingham native. Outdoor enthusiast. Belly dancer. Currently double-majoring in both Anthropology and Wildlife Research and Conservation, Caitlin Beebe is as brilliant as she is charismatic. Caitlin has worked at Aslan from the very beginning, and if you ask any customer or coworker about her, expect exactly zero surprise that she won in this competitive category. Her bubbly, vivacious nature ensures laughter abounds and leaves all who the enter the doors to Aslan with a memorable experience. Cheers all around.
Where: 1330 N. Forest St.
Naan & Brew
O.K., I admit it. They had me at the “Brew.” But you just cannot beat this restaurant’s lunch buffet, where you can taste the commanding flavors of Subcontinent on a single plate; and if by chance you did not get enough, you can go back for another plate. It’s a great taster to try, but I do recommend going back in the evening for the entrees that pair quite nicely with—you guessed it—the brews on tap.
Where: 200 East Maple St.
Best Place to Get a Massage:
Still Life Massage and Float
“Massage saves lives.” OK, so maybe this is my own belief, and it’s not nearly often enough that I get the chance to indulge, but I’ve gone from incredible pain to relief in just a few sessions. The licensed, knowledgeable staff of professionals at Still Life Massage and Float offer a wide array of expertly executed massage styles, from classic to medical, pregnancy to cupping, and much more. They also offer Float Therapy. I’ve heard now from two friends that say it’s an absolute must-try. If today is the first day to begin your wellness journey, might as well start it with Still Life Massage.
Where: 19 Bellwether Way #101
Best Food Truck:
I’ve been known to cajole my boyfriend into spending Saturday mornings ferrying me to garage sales by promising to buy him a post-bartering lunch at StrEAT Food. It’s an easy sell. Since James and Poem Pitzer’s multiple-award-winning mobile food truck is typically parked at one of the two Kulshan Brewing Company locales or at the nearby Wander Brewing, I order our favorite items from the short-but-amazing menu—a mouthwatering chicken artichoke sandwich for me, a savory lamb gyro pita for him, large fries, plus an order of vanilla crème brulee when we need a treat—while he grabs us each a cold beer and a place to sit. All in all, we both get a great deal.
Where: Kulshan Brewing Co., Wander Brewing
Hands down, the best chile relleno in a town that is fiercely competitive in that category. I had a chance recently to try their Costillas de Puerco con Nopalitos as their day’s special— pork back ribs with cactus in a flavorful sauce. How do you balance creative with authentic? Taco Lobo knows.
Where: 117 W Magnolia St.
Music scenes, including ours, have traditionally been boys’ clubs—but the Wednesdays win in this category is a welcome indication of a change that has been a long time in coming. Unabashedly feminist and unapologetically political, the Wednesdays are making music with a message—and people are listening. With a motto of “Dismantling the patriarchy by day, playing basement blues punk by night,” coupled with an electrifying live show, the Wednesdays are making their mark and making it count.
“Oh Burger! My Burger!—these are the words I’m sure Walt Whitman would be uttering had circumstances been a bit different and he found himself walking through the doors of Fiamma Burger. Exceptionally delicious from start to finish, the friendliest burger folks behind the bun, and all at a price point that you can take the whole family in? Clearly winning. On top of it all, their extensive burger menu also features breakfast, happy hour, desserts, and more. I feel kind of bad ol’ Walt never got the chance to indulge.
Where: 1309 Railroad Ave.
It’s because of the zoning, I tell people as they roll their eyes and return to their burgers and brews. Sunnyland’s special zoning allows commerce to snuggle up near residences, and for businesses to operate inside—and out of—homes. That means artists can run their studios out of their shops, tinkerers can run their shops out of their studios. It means stores and restaurants are within easy walking distance of neighborhoods, and the whole has a vibrant feel.
On a broader scale, it is this connectedness that makes Bellingham work. But Sunnyland is a nucleus for this year’s best places, best nooks and hidey-holes, and best experiences as chosen by our readers.
This week we focus on the places and businesses that keep Bellingham vibrant. Next Wednesday, tune in for the best in food and drink, and the people who make living here worthwhile.
Compiled by Tim Johnson, Amy Kepferle, Carey Ross, Stephanie Young, and Trail Rat
Photos by Jessamyn Tuttle
Silver Reef Hotel Casino Spa
Lummi are a wise and resourceful people, and they plan for generations to come. Some years back tribal leaders understood demographics were changing and casino crowds were seeking a new experience. They expanded their casino operations to include a top-flight destination resort and convention center, and a community center for their nation. If you haven’t toured their casino recently, you’re missing a spectacular treat.
Where: 14876 Haxton Way, Ferndale
Best Gear Store:
The mountain is cold this morning. An early mist lifts from the river, above its rush is a promise of blue. I shiver a bit from a light sweat from the bike ride down here, and zip up my fleece. From here it is an hour’s climb to the meadow, wildflowers gone but not yet touched by frost. Off-season is the best season. Get out there.
Where: 400 36th St.
Kulshan Brewing Company
What a fierce competition this has become! And just when you think Bellingham cannot support another brewery, another comes along and astonishes you. There’s a fine maturity to Kulshan’s craft, however, and each of their brews has a satisfying crispness and the confident finish of a master product. And as dramatic as each is, I admit to a real fondness for their Good Ol’ Boy Pale Ale, which is just a quiet and modest, well-balanced sipping beer. It’s an old friend.
Where: 2238 James St., 1538 Kentucky St.
Old World Deli
No matter the ingredients, every Old World Deli sandwich I’ve ever eaten has been made from equal parts skill, creativity and love. That’s a lot to fit into a sandwich, which is why the ones from Old World tend to get messy. But the State Street stalwart is more than just superior sandwiches. A rotating roster of thoughtfully chosen wines, house cured and smoked meats, a heavenly cheese case, dried pastas and polenta, and more exotic condiments than will fit inside the door of even the largest fridge can also be found there. Their string of wins proves that Old World has a lock on this category and on the hearts and stomachs of Bellingham.
Where: 1228 N. State St.
Don’t be daunted by the line that forms outside Home Skillet on weekend mornings—well, most mornings. If you’ve visited the Sunnyland staple before, you know the food prepared by co-owner Kirby White is well worth the wait. Once you’ve made it inside the small-but-mighty eatery, don’t dither. Place your order with Tina White or one of the other no-nonsense waitstaff—whether it’s for giant platters of biscuits and sausage or chorizo gravy, a poutine “skillet,” cinnamon roll French toast, a meat-and-egg-filled “Barnyard,” corned beef so tasty it’ll make you eat more than you wanted to, or a breakfast burrito big enough to feed the entire table—eat what you can (trust us, you’ll have leftovers), then scram. Someone else is waiting to eat breakfast, and they’re hungry.
Where: 521 Kentucky St.
Dakota Art Gallery
According to Dakota Art Gallery Director Hannah Cwiek, big changes are in the works for the two-year-old creative space abutting Cornwall Avenue’s Dakota Art Supplies. Although the focus for the award-winning venue will still be on contemporary art and curated exhibits, Cwiek is hoping to make the space a nonprofit—meaning it’ll be easier to host Draw-A-Thon’s and other fundraisers for organizations like Northwest Youth Services, Earthjustice, Community to Community Development, and more. In November, the public can get directly involved with the gallery by coming into the store and picking up a small canvas (for free), painting on it, then turning it back in for an upcoming exhibit.
Where: 1324 Cornwall Ave.
Rabbit Fields Farm
Every October, Rabbit Fields Farm founder Rosyln McNicholl tries to talk me out of buying her discounted garlic for fall planting purposes. “It’s not the cream of the crop,” the organic farmer says, pointing to the larger, cleaner bulbs placed atop the colorful rows of fall bounty—everything from winter squash to carrots, cabbage, potatoes, radishes, celery, herbs and beyond—she sells Saturdays at the Bellingham Farmers Market. But every July—around the time McNicholl and her team are amping up their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which provides 20 weekly boxes of seasonal produce to lucky customers—I harvest a successful crop of summer garlic, thanks to Rabbit Fields Farm.
Best Grocery Store:
Community Food Co-op
As a longtime member of the Community Food Co-op, my typical visits are pretty predictable—wine, cheese, produce, quick lunches, and my favorite hot sauce when we run out (which is often). However, one of my favorite things about the Community Food Co-op is the amount of community outreach and events they offer on a regular basis. Don’t know how to cook? They’ve got a class for that. Starting a health and wellness journey? You’re covered there, as well. Beer and wine pairings? Bingo. Their commitment to community is nothing less than superb, from farmer to consumer. It’s an easy win all around.
Where: 1220 N. Forest St., 315 Westerly Rd.
Best Thrift Store:
Whenever I’m stricken by the need for a little quality retail therapy, Value Village is my first stop. Last week I fished an almost-new Black Diamond collapsible avalanche shovel out of the bins for a screaming deal ($5!). And the week before that I scored a mint-condition 1964 Smith-Corona Corsair Deluxe manual typewriter for $27. Three weeks ago, I gifted myself a pinstripe suit for $30 and had just enough funds left over to raid the book section. For less than a 10-spot I added a quality paperback edition of Life with Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse and a 1983 Buyer’s Club edition of Stephen King’s Christine to my shelves. My girlfriend thinks I’m an addict. She’s probably right. But at least I own the first pinstripe blazer in my life to show for it.
Where: 150 E. Bellis Fair Pkwy.
Best Music Festival:
After years spent retooling and reconfiguring their setup to accommodate ever-growing crowds, this year Downtown Sounds took over two blocks of Bay and Prospect streets, effectively doubling their footprint—and it was an unqualified success, judging by both the hordes of people who showed up for the five Wednesday-evening concerts of the wildly popular summer series, and their win in this category. You keep building it, Downtown Sounds, and we will keep coming.
Where: Bay and Prospect streets
Garden Spot Nursery
Since 2014, our readers have bestowed Alabama Street’s Garden Spot Nursery with this award, and with good reason. In addition to providing green thumbs and novice gardeners alike with a plethora of perennials, annuals and everything needed to beautify both outdoor and indoor living spaces, the longtime nursery helmed by founder Marcy Plattner and her crew of Master Gardeners is also known for reaching out to the public via advice, workshops and community events. In fact, on Sat., Oct. 21, they’ll be hosting a Sunnyland Scarecrow Stuffing soiree throughout the day. You provide your scarecrow’s costume, and they’ll provide the straw and stakes.
Where: 900 Alabama St.
Best New Story:
This jail tax sure has everyone talking. But maybe it gets resolved by voters in November? What doesn’t get resolved? All the water issues that surround an oversubscribed water supply. Sure, it rains a lot here; but not all the time and not at certain times of the year. Stream flows diminish and salmon runs suffer. And now we’ve got rural well owners who’ve lost their exemption and who now want to crowd into the line ahead of others with a demonstrated water right. Home construction collides with other imperatives. It’s a big mess and it won’t be sorted out anytime soon.
Best Pot Store/Head Shop/Place to Meet Men and Women:
When 2020 Solutions opened its first cannabis-related business at 4:20pm on July 10, 2014, it became Bellingham’s second retail pot store—and one of the first in the state to offer recreational marijuana to the masses. In the years since, high demand for the product has resulted in a proliferation of neighborhood joints offering everything from buds to concentrates, edibles and accessories (pipes, papers, grinders, vaporizers, etc.). Keeping up with the competition, 2020 Solutions has added two venues to their original Iron Street locale, made their mantra “responsible, knowledgeable, discreet” a reality, built warm and welcoming spaces that resemble high-end bars—perfect for locking eyes with the cutie checking out the Blackberry Kush—and made one-stop-pot-shopping a cinch.
Where: 2018 Iron St., 5655 Guide Meridian, 4770 Pacific Hwy.
Best First Date, Best Happy Hour:
Rock and Rye
Confession: I went to Rock and Rye three times in one week recently. Although none of my outings at the restaurant on the ground floor of the Herald Building were for first dates, two out of those three visits were for its stellar early and late-night happy hours. A dozen of its freshly shucked happy-hour oysters, a bowl of flavorful and spicy mussels, and a pork taco or two make me the happiest person at happy hour. A roasted beet salad if I’m feeling virtuous. Duck and pork belly poutine if I need to eat my feelings. And when Dennis Schafer—a many-time winner in the Best Bartender category—is behind the bar, I know my drinks will be creative in vision and expert in execution.
Where: Where: 1145 N. State St.
Best Bloody Mary:
Bayou On Bay
Brunch is serious business in Bellingham—and so are Bloody Marys. Like you, I am always on the hunt for the best one in town, and more often than not, my search ends at Bayou On Bay. Homemade Bloody Mary mix is the base, which ever-willing Bayou bartenders can customize with varying levels of spice, a plethora of flavored vodkas infused in-house and more. Poured tall and strong, a Bayou Bloody Mary is the perfect accompaniment to an order of shrimp and grits or eggs Benedict. Hands-on types can even craft their own cocktail at Bayou’s Bloody Mary bar. Spice it how you like, just don’t Bogart all the bacon.
Where: 1300 Bay St.
Best Place to Do Yoga:
For some, yoga is a way of life and a means to achieving inner peace. For others, it’s an efficient way to strengthen their bodies and stretch away assorted aches and pains. At Yoga Northwest—our winner in this category for as long as we can remember—it doesn’t matter if you’re a yogi or a newbie, as long as you commit to the curriculum. With classes for everyone from adults to kids to teens and mothers-to-be, there’s something for everyone—and every body.
Where: 1440 10th St.
Best Place to Get a Tattoo:
Old Gold Tattoo Parlor
There’s no shortage of tattoo shops in Bellingham, as well as incredible artists employed within those venues. But within a couple of narrow walls on State Street—nestled appropriately next to a pinball and rock and roll bar—lives this year’s winner, Old Gold Tattoo. As someone who bears a piece of art from the fine folks at Old Gold, it’s fair to say I’m a forever fan. The spotless shop boasts bright and colorful artwork lining every inch of the walls, a safe and sterile environment, and artists who are incredibly knowledgeable and pretty darn friendly. Regardless of the kind of permanent ink you are looking for, Old Gold has an artist for you, seven days a week.
Where: 1222 N. State Street
Best Bike Shop:
Anyone who’s ever thrilled at the way it feels to ride a bicycle down a steep hill can likely also attest to the not-so-great feeling that occurs when you discover the brakes on your two-wheeled conveyance need some assistance. That’s where Eric and Kae Moe of Kulshan Cycles come in. When the duo took over the bike business from previous owner Jack Kimmes in 2005, Eric had already put in a decade at the Chestnut Street locale, making him an ideal successor to the now-35-year-old shop—which is known not only for its enviable selection of bike-related products, but also for the crew’s ability to fix pesky brakes (and so much more), host clinics and weekly bike rides, and sharing their love of riding with the public. (Honorable mention: Earl’s Bike Shop.)
Where: 100 E. Chestnut St.
It takes me approximately 100 steps from the lobby of the Herald Building to one of my favorite lunch spots, La Fiamma, where I eat approximately twice a week. While there’s surely no shortage of pizza joints in Bellingham, Fiamma continually steps out of the just-your-average-pie constraints. Fiamma now does brunch on the weekends, and has breakfast pizza—including Eggs Benedict Pizza. This menu item combines two of my favorite things and solidifies that, in combination with its fantastic pizza (and everything else off the menu), one-stop-shop Pye Hole (not just for late night anymore!) and brunch, I’ll never need to go anywhere else for all things ‘za.
Where: 200 E. Chestnut St.
Walking through the doors of Honey Salon, you feel like you’ve traveled outside our little corner of the PNW and into a swanky salon in New York City; warm, exposed brick walls, wood floors, beautiful lighting, comfy window seats—you feel stylish upon entering. But the design aesthetic is nothing compared to the beauty within the hands of the people that make up Honey. The artists behind the shears are committed to giving you their best, while making you look yours. Traditional services apply (cuts, color), but Honey also offers sugaring, makeup, straight shaves and more. Turns out the sweetest Honey is found in our own backyard.
Where: 310 W. Holly Street
Best Women’s Clothing Store:
I’ve lived in Bellingham for 10 years. I’ve been frequenting Labels for approximately nine years, nine months, and a few days, give or take. Sage Bishop and her savvy staff have clearly been doing something very right, as they’ve won this award for the last several years—and 2017 is no exception. From new to lightly used shoes, purses, dresses, jewelry, clothing, home goods and more, Labels has everything in style needed for your wardrobe and home. I, for one, can’t wait for the next 10 years of being a loyal Labels lover.
Where: 2332 James Street, 3927 Northwest Ave.
Best Stop on the Mt. Baker Highway:
North Fork Brewery
Oh, the places you’ll go! Nooksack Falls. Twin Lakes. Hannegan Pass. Yellow Aster Butte. Everybody’s Store. Wake and Bakery. Graham’s. Oh, and Mt. Baker! But one place tops the list, whether going or coming—the beer shrine and their tasty pizzas. It’s a rite of passage for me. Church Mountain is my church. And the North Fork’s Son of Frog is my baptismal.
Where: 6186 Mt. Baker Hwy.
Best Music Store:
Even though the whole world seems to be in a torrid love affair with streaming services, Bellingham remains a place where people still purchase their music—or at least enough of it to keep a couple of music stores in business. As they always do, Everyday Music and Avalon Records slugged it out in this category, but this year Everyday emerged the victor. Convenient hours (they’re open from 10am-10pm, seven days a week) and a wide-ranging selection make for a perfect place to peruse and purchase your latest earworm.
Where: 115 E. Magnolia St.
Info: (360) 676-1404
D’Anna’s Cafe Italiano
I’ve been a regular at D’Anna’s since the restaurant was just big enough for a few tables and the menu consisted of three or four different kinds of homemade ravioli and a couple of choices of sauce. As it was for so many of you, it was love at first bite, and the romance only deepens with time. Everything at D’Anna’s, from the pasta to the sauces to the sausage to the focaccia bread served with every order, is homemade from D’Anna family recipes and served up by a friendly and experienced wait staff. Watching D’Anna’s cooks sauté and flambé in the restaurant’s open kitchen is the best dinner theater in town.
Where: 1317 N. State St.
I am fussy about my sushi, and a traditionalist. You’ve got to have unagi, and you have to have tako, and ikura and uni. And you have to offer it fresh rolled by the piece or in combo. Served in a box? Sure. Blue Fin gets it all right, masterfully created and exotically presented.
Where: 102 S. Samish Way
We’d just come from the thousands-strong Women’s March through downtown Bellingham when one of the older friends I was sharing a table with during a late lunch at Café Akroteri’s brick-lined bar said something that reminded me of Athena, the Greek warrior goddess known for her reason, wisdom and intelligence. “I’ve been fighting against tyranny for more than 30 years, and I’m not about to stop now,” she said as we discussed election-focused issues while devouring soul-nourishing platters of hummus and pita bread, dolmathes, spanikopita, lamb gyros, and mousaka. “Don’t you stop, either.”
Where: 1219 Cornwall Ave.
Best Coffee Shop:
Black Drop Coffee House, Dylan Kloch and Ryan Siu
In a town of plentiful places to procure a cuppa, the Black Drop is your favorite year in and year out. And it’s not difficult to figure out why. With a commitment to ethically sourced, locally roasted and robustly flavored coffee that is matched only by the care and technique with which it is brewed, pulled and poured by Black Drop baristas—including Ryan Siu and Dylan Kloch, fixtures behind the coffee shop counter—they aim for nothing short of perfection with every order. Plus, all that superior coffee is served up in an inclusive and community-minded atmosphere, making it easy to eschew homebrew for the Black Drop.
Where: 300 W. Champion St.
Whether we’re grinding up the dog hair switchbacks from Chuckanut Drive or sauntering through the fern glades on the Samish Bay Connector, the prospect of enjoying the view afforded by this rocky seaside brow never fails to beckon us deeper into the raw, rugged heart of Blanchard Mountain. It’s our go-to promontory for scenic stimulation that never fails to keep us striving ever upward through the clouds.
Where: Pacific NW Trail, Bow
Best Place to Dance:
It’s 10pm, and it is like magic—suddenly a line down the block of people waiting to get in and groove on a crowded floor to vinyl expertly spun. The bewitching hour arrives, drinks stylishly and expertly served. Boy spots boy; girl nods knowingly to girl. It is tribal. It is gris-gris. It is fun.
Where: 1119 Railroad Ave.
She gets off the plane from a year in Europe, and I see immediately what she’s craved and what she’s missed about Bellingham—a heaping bowl of Pud Thai with seafood and another of Panang Curry with rice. Gone! Something else? How about the Monk’s Party stir fry or a bowl of searing good Tom Yum? It’s a homecoming, the flavors of the East served way out West.
Where: 2200 Rimland Drive; 206 North Samish Way; 1224 Harris Ave
An inspiring interplay between wind, water and forest give this extra-sandy, driftwood-entangled oasis on Bellingham Bay the capacity to generate a righteous overabundance of rest and relaxation opportunities that require repeated visits. Kiteboarding, skim-boarding and generalized paddle sports are highly recommended depending on current conditions. But even if all you aspire to do is kick off your shoes and feel the tidal action surging around your bare toes, you’ll still get peppered with a plentitude of serendipitous shoreline spectacles.
Where: 3161 Locust Ave.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that possibly no local institution is as beloved as Village Books. Like every one of you, I have whiled away countless hours at the expansive and community-minded Fairhaven bookseller, perusing its three floors of tomes, picking up items on my reading list, and stopping to sip coffee at the Book Fare Cafe before buying a piece of fudge from Paper Dreams. And seriously, if there is any local delight sweeter than earning a free book through their Reader Rewards program, I have yet to discover it. Never change, Village Books.
Where: 1200 11th St.
Best Movie Theater:
The Pickford Film Center
The Pickford Film Center’s motto is “More than movies” and it’s a promise they make good on, offering such events as the Rooftop Cinema, annual Oscar party, Children’s and Human Rights film festivals and so much more. Currently, the not-so-tiny-but-certainly-mighty independent movie theater is in the middle of Doctober, its annual, month-plus celebration of nonfiction filmmaking, which has become the largest documentary film festival on the west coast and helps anchor the PFC’s Doc-Ed and Media Literacy programs. Of course, they still show plenty of those art-house movies you love, which is how they win this category—and your hearts—year after year. That, and the real butter they put on their popcorn.
Where: 1318 Bay Street, 1416 Cornwall Ave.
Leaf & Ladle
If I were vegetarian or vegan, I would eat all of my meals at Leaf & Ladle. To be clear, everything—meaty or not—that comes out of the minuscule kitchen of the homey State Street spot is so delicious it’s difficult to comprehend how it could be produced in a space that appears to be about two square feet, but the meat-free dishes are where Leaf & Ladle truly shines. The menu is small, simple and updated regularly, and you’ll always find at least one vegetarian salad, sandwich, wrap and quesadilla on it, as well as a range of vegetarian soups (try the Caribbean black bean pumpkin or Thai-spiced wild mushroom). Eat every meal at Leaf & Ladle, never crave meat again.
Where: 1113 N. State St.
Info: (360) 319-9718
“It feels amazing to be acknowledged!” painter Ben Mann says of his approximately one-millionth win in this category. “Perhaps my tiara should really be for the art of adaptation—in any given week, my paintbrush and I shuttle from classroom to commercial projects to pairing my fine art with the walls of local businesses. Born and raised here, I love that Bellingham supports art and artists! That’s something to write home about.” See his work at Mambo Italiano Fri., Oct. 27 during the Fairhaven First Friday Art Walk, and check out what he’s up to Fridays and Saturdays in November and December during “Hot Cider & Cool Art” sessions at his Morgan Block studio.
Where: 1000 Harris Ave.
JT’s Smokin’ BBQ
You gotta chase this fire truck! Juicy brisket on a biscuit—with that sweet, searing mustard tang grabbing taste buds—served with baked beans and potato salad. With a side, of course, of Kulshan when this truck pulls up at their brewery.
Where: Kulshan Brewery, Tues. and Thurs.
Best Place to See Live Music:
This is far from the Wild Buffalo’s first win in this category, and if the margin of votes by which they won this year is any indication, the longstanding staple of the music scene is more beloved than ever. Owner Craig Jewell just celebrated his 10th anniversary with the venue, and he and business partners Joey Crahan and Lee Huffman commemorated the event by building a bigger, better stage to improve our live music experience. You don’t have to keep wooing us, Wild Buffalo (but please keep wooing us), we already love you.
Where: 208 W. Holly St.