Best of Bellingham 2018
Whatcom Family YMCA
The Whatcom Family YMCA is exploring a partnership with the City of Bellingham to expand the Arne Hanna Aquatic Center near Civic Field into a new community health and wellness center and headquarters for the YMCA. It’s a move that is sure to leverage and increase the many wonderful recreation fitness and family activities the YMCA provides—but as someone who has enjoyed the downtown facility for two decades, I can’t help but feel a little gut-punched by the news. It’s like losing an old friend who’s moving to a new neighborhood. The board of directors will evaluate the plan by April 2019. Until then, I’ll work on getting into better shape for a longer jog over to Lakeway.
Where: 1256 N. State St.
Like so many of you, the Cascadia Weekly staff is fond of the State Street “sparkle bar.” Inventive craft cocktails comprised of house-made ingredients are their area of expertise—and between all the members of their capable staff, that expertise is considerable. Under new ownership, the Redlight now offers a menu of homemade wontons and other assorted snacks to accompany their excellent drinks, but no matter what changes they make, top-notch service in one of the coziest bars in town will always be a mainstay.
Where: 1017 N. State St.
Best Place for a First Date, Best Happy Hour:
Not long ago, I met friends for happy hour. It had been a bit since I had been to Temple Bar, and we ended up staying for more than four hours. Wine was flowing, cheese plates were nibbled, nuts were pecked, olives were noshed and laughter was abundant; not just from our table, but every table around us. It was one of those memories that stays with you for a while. And now, when one of us suggests meeting up again, the question will always be “…Temple?” Friend dates or otherwise, we love you, Temple Bar.
Where: 306 W. Champion St.
Best Celebrity/Best Theater Company:
Ryan Stiles and the Upfront Theatre
If laughter truly is the best way to cure what ails you, then Ryan Stiles should be given a stethoscope and a medical degree, pronto. Since 2004, the so-tall-he’s-impossible-to-miss funnyman—a veteran of television shows such as Whose Line is it Anyway? and The Drew Carey Show—has been dropping by the improv theater company he founded in downtown Bellingham 14 years ago for both scheduled shows and also surprise performances. Sure, “Dr. Stiles” is a bona fide celebrity, but when he shares the stage with his fellow actors, they become famous in their own right. And, judging by this year’s Best Theater Company win, the mainstage mavens are working their own fan base just fine.
Where: 1208 Bay St.
Time was short. Lunch was calling. The plump-looking hoagies at the grocery store looked tempting. But then I had a better vision. Once again, as it has for several trips round the sun, my abiding fealty to the sandwich board at Avenue Bread pulled me through to a more savory situation. Within a half-hour, all I had to do was decide between an Avenue Club on rustic wheat or a Grilled Eggplant on artisanal focaccia.
Where: 1313 Railroad Ave., 2301 James St., 1135 11th St.
Best Yoga Studio:
Twelve years. No, it’s not a new pose—although perhaps it could be. It’s the amount of times Yoga Northwest has won this coveted award. The expert staff at the Fairhaven mainstay has instructors for every level in your yoga journey, and whether you’re looking to repair your body or achieve complete zen, you’re in the right space. No more namast’ay-in-bed, it’s time to reach for the sun salutations and to do something wonderful for both your body and mind.
Where: 1440 10th St.
Best Place to Get a Massage:
The Chrysalis Inn & Spa
The last time I was gifted an hour-long deep-tissue massage at the Chrysalis Inn & Spa, I managed to draw out the experience for nearly as long as it takes to watch Gone With the Wind. Before the appointment, I spent time in the eucalyptus steam room, then donned a fluffy bathrobe and headed to the best waiting area ever, where I sipped tea, perused a coloring book for adults, and pondered the intrinsic beauty of Bellingham Bay. I was already relaxed by the time my massage therapist/miracle worker welcomed me, and soon thereafter pondered seeing if there was any room at the inn in order to extend my staycation.
Where: 804 10th St.
Best Place to Dance, Best Place to See Live Music:
One need look no further than the Wild Buffalo’s string of wins in the category to see that Bellingham truly does consider the venue their favorite place to see live music. The Buff’s almost magical ability to entice national talent to town has made inroads into the EDM scene, snaring big house, trance, dubstep and other artists in their tractor beam, and earning them a new accolade: Best Place to Dance. Well done, Wild Buffalo.
Where: 208 W. Holly St.
Black Drop Coffeehouse
With so many coffee shops from which to choose—each with its own fierce loyalists—the Black Drop’s string of wins in this category is telling. Simply put, they are flat-out exemplary at what they do. Whether they’re pulling perfect shots from locally roasted beans, explaining their many specialty drinks or slinging double shots of espresso on Free Doppio Friday, they execute with a minimum of fuss and an abundance of excellence. Add to that an inclusive atmosphere that tolerates everything except hate, and it’s easy to see what makes the Black Drop your favorite.
Where: 300 W. Champion St.
Pure Bliss Desserts
Confession: I visit Pure Bliss at least once a week, I have tried nearly everything they bake and I am only too happy to vouch for all of it. Judging by how many of you I see there purchasing a slice of cake, a six-pack of assorted cupcakes, cookies, bars and more, you’re regular visitors as well. At the moment, nothing in the dessert cases at Pure Bliss is nearly as exciting as the sweet sounds of construction—a soon-to-be-finished renovation project will see the Cornwall Avenue shop double its footprint, and I have been assured that the already plentiful and varied selection of treats will only become more so. Challenge accepted, Pure Bliss.
Where: 1424 Cornwall Ave.
The real estate market in Bellingham is fierce. With rising home prices and escalating interest rates, it’s difficult to know who to turn to make sure your investment, or future investment, is in the right hands. That’s where Sandra McKee of John L. Scott Real Estate comes in. In real estate for just over a year and a half, McKee is already making a name for herself in this incredibly competitive field. If you’re thinking about purchasing or selling real estate, consider making her your point person.
Where: 2930 Newmarket St., 111
Info: (360) 220-1782
There are several Jalapeños scattered around Bellingham (including a sizzlin’ taco bus), but my favorite is downtown—outdoor seating with a sunny view to the west of an evolving post-industrial waterfront. Diners order the Big Mama margarita and laugh at the aquarium-sized creation. They order Bellingham’s biggest burrito, thinking it cannot possibly be true, and are astonished when it arrives. Happy hour is basically just about any hour they’re open—and that’s exactly how it should be.
Where: 501 W. Holly St., 1007 Harris Ave, 2945 Newmarket Pl.
I’m not likely to add peanut butter to a burger, but it’s nice to have the option if I’m ever brave enough to broaden my culinary horizons. Of course, choices are what Fiamma Burger is all about. I can attest that their hormone-free, Northwest-sourced beef is top-notch—as are the daily-baked brioche buns—but so too are their salmon, bison, lamb and vegetarian burgers. And when it comes to add-ons, don’t be embarrassed to triple the order. Grilled onions, sauteed mushrooms and a fried egg? Why not! Just hold the peanut butter, OK?
Where: 1309 Railroad Ave.
Back East BBQ
“All you’ll need is a fork,” read a sign heralding the house-smoked wonders to be found within Back East BBQ’s mobile unit, which was parked in front of Fairhaven’s Stones Throw Brewery on a recent sunny Saturday. My date was skeptical about the plastic cutlery’s carving abilities when I returned to our table on the brewery’s upstairs patio with generous servings of Texas-smoked beef brisket and Carolina smoked pork—both of which had been dry rubbed and slowly cooked over wood-fed fires for as many as 10 to 20 hours—but before long we both realized the savory, succulent meat was fall-apart tender, and the claim was true. “This really is the best barbecue in Bellingham” my dining partner said in between bites of brisket, hush puppies and potato salad. “Next time, let’s try the beer-fried chicken.”
Where: Stones Throw Brewing Co., Wander Brewing, and beyond.
Not just an attorney, Sean McKee is also a local business owner and longtime musician, which puts him into contact with folks from all walks of Bellingham life and truly makes him a community stakeholder. His deep roots here are part of what led him to law, and his is a practice devoted to helping people out. This is likely why he emerged the winner in this crowded category.
Where: 215 Flora St.
Info: (360) 647-5251
Blue Fin Sushi
Depths of sea, surround
me, make me your prisoner
I will eat you whole
you octopi all my thoughts
Blue Fin, I thank you
Where: 102 S. Samish Way
Old World Deli
I can no longer remember a time before Old World Deli existed in my life and I no longer want to. The State Street mainstay could probably get by on its carefully curated wine selection and selection of house made, cured and smoked meats alone, but that’s just the tip of a very tasty iceberg. Because they have all the fixins—pasta, sauces, cheeses, and exotic relishes, condiments and spices—for you to make your own meal. Or, if you’re lazy like me, they’ll make you a perfect sandwich, salad or bowl of soup from their premium ingredients. I generally go for the sandwiches on the specials board, but sometimes only a #12 will do.
Where: 1228 N. State St.
If the City of Bellingham were to choose an art mascot, chances are good painter Ben Mann would be one of the first names on the list of candidates. His color-filled creations—which often draw attention to the iconic idylls of the place we live and love—already stretch beyond canvases on the walls of local restaurants and businesses and on to the city’s actual streetscapes, bringing cheer to the cloudiest of days. Catch the multiple-award-winner in his natural habitat during the Whatcom Artist Studio Tour Oct. 6-7 and 13-14, when Mann will open his space in Fairhaven’s Morgan Building Studios and Gallery to the masses.
Where: 1000 Harris Ave.
Whatcom Falls Park
Whether I’m sailing through via cross-country skis on the rare snow day, seeking to dazzle my latest round of out-of-town guests or simply on the hunt for a bracing dose of vertically enhanced riparian topography, Whatcom Falls Park’s chasm-friendly trail system never fails to deliver the mossy green goods. Come rain or shine, I’m pretty notorious for dawdling across the stone bridge as slow as my feet will carry me. Noisy water is good for my soul and the primordial atmosphere around it deserves to be savored.
Where: 1401 Electric Ave.
When we opine that Village Books is a local bookstore with a global focus, it’s not hyperbole. In addition to decades of providing nearly a block full of carefully selected reading material for its patrons, the powers that be at the Fairhaven-based locale—current co-owners include Paul Hanson, Kelly Evert, and Sarah Hutton—bring authors from near and far to the staunchly independent bookstore’s doorstep, week after week, year after year. Since 1980, Village Books’ official motto has been “building community one book at a time,” but we think it should also extend to “broadening horizons in ways both small and large, and making sure reading stays as relevant as breathing.”
Where: 1200 11th St.
Best Ski Shop:
What’s the Essentials? Their knowledge that you’ll need to save some of your budget for the slopes, because skiing is no longer an inexpensive sport. And that means good gear at good prices. But the backcountry is about more than slopes, and this shop caters to the whole outdoor community, from climbers to campers. Owners Chris and Erica Gerston say, “Our business philosophy recognizes that, while we have to sell a certain amount of gear to remain open, we ideally want to be a resource and meeting place where people can find out the latest information on trails, routes and conditions, swap stories about where they have been, or learn about the pros and cons of the ‘latest and greatest’ in gear. Since we love to test gear, we can give you the real dirt on everything we sell—how functional it is, how well it holds up, and how it compares to other products in its category.” In this category, Backcountry Essentials is one of a kind.
Where: 214 W. Holly St.
Best Place to Purchase Women’s Clothing:
When my best friend makes her annual journey from Boise to Bellingham, a stop at Labels is always on her must-do list of activities. Over the years, the perennially popular consignment store has netted her like-new Dansko clogs, multiple brand-name jeans, jackets, skirts, hats, earrings, and far beyond. As her hostess—and a longtime Labels lover—I’m happy to oblige when she feels the need for retail therapy. And since the prices at both Labels stores are well below market value, we both come out on top.
Where: 2332 James St., 3927 Northwest Ave.
When it comes to margaritas, Black Sheep is unapologetic about its lack of a blender. “Sorry not sorry” reads a note above the long menu of tequila-inspired cocktails offered on the regular—and on the rocks—at the self-described “bar with tacos.” Whether you’re in the mood for a simple yet delicious Dude-a-rita (made with Lunazul reposado, triple sec, limes and lemons) or want to get fancy with a Siddha (Classico reposado, Kuma turmeric liqueur and limes), the award-winning Holly Street hideout will slake your thirst with the best margarita in town.
Where: 215 W. Holly St.
Best Stop on Highway 542:
North Fork Beer Shrine
Best stop on the way to Mt. Baker? It’s a trick question. Actually, everyone knows the mountains are just an excuse to get out of town for the real destination: a frosty pint and a hearty slice of wood-fired pizza near a place called Welcome. Church Mountain is my cathedral, but the North Fork is my shrine.
Where: 6186 Mt. Baker Hwy, Deming
Community Food Co-op
You are what you eat, and that is a mission central to the Community Food Co-op. In recent years the volunteer board has reached out through a Farm Fund to increase the supply of local, sustainable and organic food by supporting and establishing projects that strengthen the local farming community. The Fund also works to educate consumers, increase access to local food, and to encourage ecological and socially responsible stewardship of farmland. To date, the fund has provided nearly $400,000 to more than 55 local food and farming projects through grants, loans and scholarships. It’s a way your membership is being put to work to invest in what you digest.
Where: 1220 North Forest Street; 315 Westerly Road at Cordata Parkway
Best Home Store:
It wasn’t too long ago that the fate of the Greenhouse was unknown. Thanks to new owners BreAnne and Eric Green—yep, that’s their real surname—the beloved downtown Bellingham home store lives on, and just as fabulously as before. From coasters to Le Crueset to your Nespresso needs and Soda Streams, the Greenhouse carries the finest of fabrics on the coziest of couches, bakeware beginnings to a cornucopia of candles and so much more. I think we can all agree we’re beyond elated the Greenhouse will live on for many years to come.
Where: 1235 Cornwall Ave.
Best Credit Union:
Buying a home is daunting. It’s the most significant financial decision you’ll make in your whole life (there’s a reason it’s called a mortgage), and very few people are both experts on the topic and friends you can trust. WECU practically holds master classes on home equity and home finance, and has a dedicated staff to help guide you in your financial decisions. WECU is Whatcom County’s largest financial institution, with more than 98,000 members. Banks are for-profit; credit unions are not-for-profit. This means that credit unions do not have to put profit first. And that means they can put their members first with higher savings rates and lower interest rates.
Where: 600 E. Holly St., and numerous other community branches
Top News Story:
#MeToo and Bellingham’s (Alleged) Bad Men
From the restaurant sector to professional and political spheres, from up on the hill at WWU to down at the brewery, men in Bellingham have really outdone themselves, being accused of the full bingo card of sexual misconduct—groping, sexually assaulting and harassing, and exposing themselves to women who, frankly, are fed up and not having it. To the women who have come forward: Thank you. We see you. We admire your courage and we support you. To any confused men trying to navigate these rapidly changing times and wondering under what circumstances it is appropriate to show someone your penis: Keep it in your pants. If you have not gotten permission, you do not have consent. When we want to see it, we’ll ask.
Best Bike Shop:
Oh, the bike lovers’ lament—a major student housing project has displaced the Alley Arts District on State Street, and along with it the HUB Community Bike Shop. The HUB is an innovative project and community space that rescues and refurbishes donated bike parts and makes them available for custom builds. They offer full-service repairs and tune-ups, in addition to a self-repair station with tools so you can be an expert in fixing your own bike. They’ve lost their home—they closed up shop in September—but not their fire. Never fear, they’re moving into a new location with a new lease near Wander Brewing. Details to come.
Info: Info: http://www.thebikehub.org
Best Auto Repair:
Rising Sun Motors
For all their reliability, Japanese cars can be complicated to repair. And when your ride goes on the fritz and you need a shop dedicated to and knowledgeable about the ins and outs of your Japanese engine, transmission, brakes, mufflers and other attendant parts, you trust Rising Sun Motors. In business for almost 40 years, and willing and able to work on all cars, regardless of country of origin, they’ll keep you running strong and true.
Where: 2126 Pacific St,
Info: (360) 733-9032
Naan and Brew
Harbhajan Singh Chana approaches with great delight and curiosity about everyone’s dining experience. We must learn more. “This is where we make the naan,” he points to places on a personal tour his efficient kitchen. “Over here is where we grind and make our own spices. This is the oven, yes, the tandoor.” True, this the real brew of Naan and Brew, but there are others, too—a full bar featuring taps of the Pacific Northwest. The lunch buffet is without peer downtown, and an excellent way to sample the complete menu of warm and exotic flavors. “We will see you again,” he predicts as we exit. And this is also true.
Where: 200 E Maple St., #101
Old Town Cafe
Dawn’s breaking a little later these days, and there’s a feeling of frost in the air. Old Town’s up early, and the mugs of aromatic coffee are steaming. There’s a little gathering this morning at the community table, the first laughs of the day from people who’ve been up and at ’em before the birds started chirping. What am I having? I think it’s definitely, definitely going to be something different today, but—the Number Nine, of course. Smiling, Adrienne turns her ticket book around so I can see it. She’d already written down #9, because for me it’s always the same. You can depend on it. The table erupts in another laugh.
Where: 316 W Holly St.
Best Food Truck:
Years ago, when the Weekly began adding the food truck category to our annual compendium of the people and places that make Bellingham great, StrEAT Food was the clear winner. And thanks to James Pitzer’s commitment to providing locally procured, high-quality menu items—my choice typically turns out to be the chicken artichoke sandwich, but the lamb gyro pita and shrimp tacos are other family favorites—that’s pretty much been the case ever since. And although StrEAT Food has since opened a cafe in the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, their mobile eatery continues to garner forever fans wherever they go.
Where: Kulshan Brewing Co., K2, Carne, Wander Brewing, and beyond
Best Pot Store:
It’s not surprising that Bellingham’s Best Pot Store—or, in this case, stores—carries strains created by SubX, which our voters deemed the best grower around. “We partner with growers that are able to provide a consistent, high-quality product to you, our guest,” the 2020 team explains. “We focus on creating an experience that allows you to spend time with a professional, knowledgeable budtender. Our budtenders will guide you through the process and offer suggestions to enhance your cannabis experience.” In other words, if you’re not sure how many enhanced brownies you can eat without retreating to the fetal position, don’t be afraid to ask.
Where: 2018 Iron St., 5655 Guide Meridian, 4770 Pacific Hwy.
Silver Reef Hotel Casino Spa
I’m getting a lift out to the Silver Reef on the back roads by a Lummi elder. There are two cars ahead of us on the road. “Indian Country traffic jam,” my droll driver comments. He tells me how Silver Reef was first dreamed of as a community gathering space, with generous meeting areas and conference facilities. The tribe, which tries to look ahead seven generations, understood casino operations and gaming, important as they are, are only one facet of the experience they imagined for Silver Reef, a launch point for an authentic travel adventure unique to the Salish Sea. The luxury hotel, spa and specialty suites have grown in size and beauty in recent years. The entertainment and events programming continue to deepen and improve. Now I see that we’re on the right road, he and I, and in the distance ahead is the destination.
Where: 4876 Haxton Way, Ferndale
Best Gear Store:
Our readers love co-ops, where memberships create a more intimate relationship with the retailer. The grandfather of these member organizations is REI, which began in Seattle in 1935 when two climbers decided they needed a better way to purchase gear. That mission still holds true, with this quality outfitter providing equipment and clothing for all seasons and elevations and adventures in Cascadia. You’re welcome!
Where: 400 36th St.
On a recent rainy weekend morning, the line of people waiting for a table at the downtown Bellingham location of the Mount Bakery stretched beyond the covered patio and onto the sidewalk. Those braving the elements appeared resolute—most likely dreaming of menu items such as the “Best Benny” (served atop savory Belgian waffles), crepes both savory and sweet, cinnamon rolls, scones, fruit galletes, cream puffs, lemon tarts and beyond. It was cold outside, but thanks to the promise of the locally and lovingly sourced menu items awaiting the folks in line, they were already warm on the inside.
Where: 308 W. Champion St., 1217 Harris Ave.
“An artistic oasis of beauty” is how Honey Salon defines itself, and it’s easy to agree with their astute observation. From taking the greatest of care with their clients’ hair and skin to opening up their roomy, high-ceilinged space for bimonthly art exhibits, the team at the Holly Street hive are committed to making your world a lovelier place. Plus, as the first salon in Bellingham to join Green Circle Salons, they’re bettering their ecological footprint by implementing simple changes that will make their space, and their industry, more sustainable.
Where: 310 W. Holly St.
D’Anna’s Cafe Italiano
One day, a dish will come along that will dethrone D’Anna’s manicotti from the top of my personal pantheon of Bellingham’s Perfect Meals—just kidding, that day will never come. It’s no secret what makes D’Anna’s so good: Everything that comes out of the restaurant’s kitchen is homemade, from the perfect pasta to the sausage inside my manicotti to the sauces and right on down to the focaccia bread served with every meal. But you need not take my word for it when you can watch the best staff of tattooed line cooks in town craft your meal right before your very eyes.
Where: 1317 N. State St.
Make.Shift Art Space
When I dropped by Make.Shift Art Space recently to check out the featured exhibit in the roomy upstairs gallery, I was reminded of the many times I’ve ventured through the doors of the creative compound on Flora Street for events ranging from monthly art openings to studio tours, crafty Christmas sales, poetry readings, all-ages concerts and beyond. If you, like me, are grateful for the 10 years the nonprofit has been making its space a welcome one, consider procuring tickets to a Sat., Oct. 6 auction and fundraiser taking place at Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher Building. “I’m overwhelmed with gratitude to live in a community that has continually shown up to support all-ages music and art for a decade now,” Executive Director Katie Gray says. “The core of our organization has always been the belief that expression through art and music is vital to the happiness and health of a community.”
Where: 306 Flora St.
In September, the state Board of Natural Resources approved the purchase of an additional 76 acres of working forest next to Blanchard State Forest in Skagit County. In addition to protecting a major public access route into the forest, the acquisitions will help replace timber revenue from the inner forest that is being put into conservation status—forever protecting the glorious views of islands and delta at the summit known as Oyster Dome. The purchase from private sellers is the final win-win-win of an agreement that protects the choicest core of existing mature forest while continuing to provide forestry jobs and revenues for schools.
Where: Blanchard Mountain
Info: http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/ oyster-dome
Best Outdoor Seating, Best Bloody Mary:
Bayou on Bay
Probably because we spend so much of the year surviving the elements, when we actually get to bask in the sunshine, we want to thrust our pale bodies into the light as often as possible. As such, outdoor seating is a very big deal in Bellingham, and as the voting showed in this category’s inaugural year, folks definitely have their allegiances. With its singular downtown locale, revamped family-style seating and friendly vibe—not to mention the best bloody marys in town—perennially popular Bayou on Bay is your favorite place to shed some layers, order up a drink and a snack, and soak up the sun.
Where: 1300 Bay St.
What makes a great neighborhood? Well, one that is walkable, with tree-lined streets and ample parks, nearby services and entertainment. One that allows people to work from or near their homes. Many artists have moved to Sunnyland for exactly that reason, so they can run a studio out of their home—and that has produced a flourishing local arts community. Sunnyland is a nucleus for many of the favorite haunts and hangouts cited in this year’s reader survey.
That dynamism has a downside, too, and Sunnyland is experiencing some growing pains from its tangy mix of industrial and commercial uses in proximity to family homes. Friends, an outdoor beer garden is a heartbreaking thing to quarrel about! I predict they’ll soon solve those problems, and continue to claim their crown as Bellingham’s favorite neighborhood.
Best Place to Get a Tattoo:
Old School Tattoo
If he’s inked your epidermis, you already know Old School Tattoo and Piercing’s owner, Paul Foertsch, is on another level—both literally and figuratively. “Tall Paul” has been tattooing the citizens of Bellingham for nearly 20 years, and fills his Holly Street studio with professional tattoo artists hand-selected for their unique style and commitment to the craft. They take their art seriously, and it shows.
Where: 209 E. Holly St.
Best Music Festival:
Subdued Stringband Jamboree
No, it doesn’t happen in Bellingham, but little things like geography do not tend to get in the way when it comes to claiming the Subdued Stringband Jamboree as Bellingham’s best. After all, founder Robert Sarazin Blake lives in Bellingham, as do most of the musicians and volunteers who make the Jamboree possible. A summertime staple, Stringband is a perfect mix of old-timey, Americana and bluegrass music and other performances in a scenic laid-back locale. Add to that the strong sense of community that infuses every bit of the festival and it truly embodies what is the best of Bellingham.
Where: The Deming Log Show Fairgrounds, Hwy 542
I don’t know how many times Polecat has won in this category, but their proverbial trophy wall is home to more than a few Best of Bellingham awards. Year after year, concert after concert, they remain perennially popular—and if you’ve ever seen them play, it’s not hard to figure out why. Energetic bluegrass that crosses genres and is played with great skill is their stock in trade, and their on- and off-stage charm earns them fans in Bellingham and beyond.
Best Pot Grower:
I was a mildly high when I read the “about” section on SubX’s website, but I’m pretty sure I still would’ve giggled at their cleverly concocted descriptions even if I hadn’t been Sunday-morning stoned. In addition to explaining that Subdued Excitement grows and sells exclusively in Washington state (“near Canada”), and that their buds are 100 percent “gluten- and pesticide-free” and “hand-trimmed by hippies with decades of experience and, for the first time ever, legal jobs,” I discovered the local growers also share a love of snowboarding and Mt. Baker, and are striving for consistency, quality and sustainability in everything they do. “We are Subdued Excitement,” they surmise, “and that is exactly what we provide.”
Best Music Store:
For this year’s Best of Bellingham balloting period, Avalon Records owner Chris Lamb did something unprecedented in the history of the low-key Railroad Avenue record store: He asked people to vote for his shop in this category. And so you did, knowing a rare request when you see one. As a reward, Lamb promised to offer half off of all used vinyl in the event of an Avalon win. You showed your love, now go avail yourselves of discount music. Buy a bong, some incense or a tapestry while you’re there and you’ll be all set.
Where: 1330 Railroad Ave.
A choice place to skim waves or catch a stellar sunset and own it. Spending a breezy summer day at low tide here provides ideal idling, but thanks to its all-season natural amenities and strategic shoreline setting, we can bank on the fact that a quick romp down the bluff below Locust Street is guaranteed to put sand in our shoes and lift our spirits with expansive alluvial vistas no matter what time of year we choose to lavish ourselves with its luxuries.
Where: Locust Road at Marine Drive
La Fiamma Wood Fire Pizza
’Hamsters love their pizza. Year after year, this query always receives the most votes and is the most fiercely contested category in Best of Bellingham. Always beloved, this year La Fiamma received nearly one vote in five. One of the reasons? This unique and creative pizzeria expanded the hours of Pye Hole. La Fiamma now includes lunch hours for their convenient late-night window where you can walk up and get a hot slice of wood-fired crispy-cheesy goodness. Because Bellingham must have its great pizza at all hours!
Where: 200 E. Chestnut St.
Best Craft Cocktail, Best Waitperson:
Swim Club and Dennis Schafer
Step past the billowing gauze curtains into a time machine to a bright and airy other place—Havana, or Cairo. In this stylish setting, bartender extraordinaire Dennis Schafer mixes drinks expertly—fresh cucumber is unwoven into a beautiful spiral, fresh mint clipped and placed just so, with a thoroughness and meticulous detail. Time is taken in a drink’s preparation, and that in turn invites you to take time in its enjoyment. Chin-chin, mon amis. Life is wonderful.
Where: 1147 11th St.
Whenever Frodo and I get a hankering to imbibe a draught or three of craft beer or hard cider, we crawl out of our hobbit-holes and quest-journey over to the Columbia hood for a quality sesh at the Station. Offering a bountiful array of rotating taps, delicious food-truck fare to forage and copious cozy seating areas to accommodate our assembly, it’s tailor-made for lunch, casual dinner, vigorous snacking or even the occasional elevenses.
Where: 1400 W. Holly St.
Best Brunch, Best Barista:
Camber and Gloria Baldwin
Like many of you, I wasn’t sure what to make of Camber when it first appeared on our already fairly caffeinated coffee scene. Like many of you, I have been thoroughly won over by its abundant charms. In a town where brunch is serious business, Camber’s thoughtful, creative and beautifully plated dishes stand out, and when you’re wanting coffee to wash down that delicious chicken and waffle, barista Gloria Baldwin is who you prefer to have expertly craft your life-giving elixir from one of Camber’s specialty roasts.
Where: 221 W. Holly St.
Best Lunch, Best Vegetarian:
Leaf and Ladle
Because the food at Leaf and Ladle is made with such love, eating there is like being fed by your mom, if your mom was the type who offered you a selection of imaginative sandwiches, wraps, salads and quesadillas for meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans alike every single day. Also, in this scenario your mom makes some of the best soups you’ve ever tasted on the daily, as well as grab-and-go meals for when you get hungry later. I’m not saying that Leaf and Ladle is better than your mom, but they definitely give her a run for her money.
Where: 1113 N. State St.
Info: (360) 319-9718
Best Fast Food:
There’s regular fast and there’s Boomer’s fast. Boomer’s fast isn’t quite as fast as regular fast, but when it comes to ordering exceptional burgers, hard ice cream shakes and waffle fries, we’ll gladly take the fast at Boomer’s every single time. And now that Boomer’s smartphone apps are available for downloading, Boomer’s fast is getting even faster.
Where: 310 N. Samish Way
Colleen and Chad Kuehl pour some tasty beers from their taps, but it’s the welcoming “come as you are” atmosphere and abiding sense of old-school subdued excitement inside their converted creekside warehouse that imbues the Wander experience with an extra-savory blend of community-infused flavor. I’m quite smitten with their Shoe Toss Rye IPA and Global Mutt Baltic Porter, but I frequently leave enough room at my table to accommodate a Belgian Blond.
Where: 1807 Dean Ave.
Garden Spot Nursery
Tucked behind Trader Joe’s, Garden Spot is a moist and quiet little Eden, bursting with potted flora and phyta. The staff know and love all aspects of gardening. They know rhizomes and root-stalks and, yes, they’ll get into the weeds of this if you ask them. Strange as it sounds to say, I’ve found their dirt to be a particularly excellent mix at a reasonable cost. From there, the foundation is laid for all the kingdoms from zucchini to asparagus.
Where: 900 Alabama St.
Busara Thai Cuisine
I recently spent a desperate swath of time trying to phone in my usual takeout order. At first, I just assumed the restaurant was too busy, so they weren’t able to field my call. I considered giving up, but my Pavlovian lust for green chicken curry and prawn pad thai superseded all rational thought. When my lady friend returned home an hour later looking for dinner, she was aghast to find me still on the phone. “Sweet lord, not this again,” she sighed. “Don’t you remember? Busara is closed on Tuesdays!”
Where: 404 36th St.
Best Pet Hospital:
Maplewood Animal Hospital
Whether you’re there for a simple vaccination or an emergency, a visit to the vet is always nerve-wracking for your precious pets—and you. In a town where high-quality animal care is plentiful, it’s that much more meaningful that you’ve singled out Maplewood Animal Hospital as your favorite. They combine advanced technology, dedication to preventative care, commitment to customer service and a staff of veterinarians and assistants that are as compassionate as they are knowledgeable. They’re the cats meow.
Where: 2869 W. Maplewood Ave.
Best Fine Dining:
Eat Local. It began as a simple concept, and has become a mantra for chefs who want to create authentic dining experiences with the freshest wild salmon and choicest vegetables, berries, dairy and honey. No one embraces this idea with more passion and flair than Chef Todd Alan Martin of Hundred North. The setting is intimate and every seat in the house has a view of the kitchen, where the marvels of the menu are prepared. Eating, he promises, is a communal experience where people share laughter and love.
Where: 100 North Commercial St.
I’ve been spending time at Cafe Akroteri on and off for nearly 20 years, and recently realized I love it as much for its dolmathes, spanikopita and souvlaki as I do for its welcoming atmosphere. Here, I’ve gathered with friends, coworkers and strangers—typically in the roomy bar, where the tables can easily be moved together as the party expands—for Christmas parties, political discussions, pre-concert dinners and romantic interludes. It’s here you can also take advantage of the smokin’ bar special—a gyro and a beer for $10.50.
Where: 1219 Cornwall Ave.
Best Auto Dealer:
Perhaps it’s because we live in the Pacific Northwest, where the affinity for Subarus, flannel and a local cup of Joe are the staple of Cascadians. Or maybe it’s because the fine folks at Dewey Griffin have a proven track record of providing superior customer service before, during and after purchasing your beloved ride. In business since 1967, they not only sell new and used cars, but also offer servicing, repair, parts and tires. They even have a dog park for while you wait. Tried, true and Fido-approved.
Where: 1800 Iowa St.
Best Movie Theatre:
Pickford Film Center
Shocking no one, the not-so-tiny-but-definitely-mighty Pickford Film Center has won this category every single year by a margin that is an excellent indicator of just how thoroughly the theater is embraced by the community at large. Currently, the Pickford is at the beginning of their annual celebration of all things documentary, Doctober, which is the largest festival of its kind on the West Coast. Powered by volunteers and beloved by Bellingham, the Pickford makes good on its “more than movies” mission 365 days a year.
Where: 1318 Bay St.