Photo by Peggy Sturdivant
Craig Walker, man of Ballard

At Large in Ballard: Outmatched

I like to think of myself as a connector. I’ve been known to consider myself somewhat of a concierge to Ballard, over eagerly trying to match people with the right restaurant, perfect mate, walking or writing partner, etc. etc. etc. However I think I’ve met my match in Craig Walker.

Craig lives in Canal Station, on the east side of Leary Way NW, just below Market Street. Along with partner Dave Svrcek he just opened Ballard Station Public House on Market Street, in the former location of the bar Ballard Avenue. A friend who had met him at a Canal Station Barbeque suggested I talk to him, intrigued by his desire to follow through on his father’s long held dream of opening an English-style pub.

As he finished up a phone call while actually standing just off the curb of Ballard Avenue, Craig Walker was wearing Ballard on both lungs; sporting the iconic Sip and Ship Ballard zip-up. He’d suggested meeting at the Anchored Ship (please note that I think it should be called The Anchored Sip) on Ballard Avenue because he says he’s there several times a day. I’d expected an English accent and someone older. Instead I was across the table from a fresh-faced man who looked ready to jump up and start dribbling a soccer ball, perhaps even doing headers. Craig has energy.

Plus why did I assume that if he was fulfilling his father’s dream of a pub that his father wasn’t still in the picture? I learned that Dad Guary Walker has already been to Ballard Station 3-4 times (and it’s only been open since August 13). It’s his mother Ann Walker who’s English, from Ipswich, northeast of London. His father hails from South Dakota but his two decades as a fighter pilot with the Air Force contributed to lots of new schools for Craig and two older brothers before the family settled in the Northwest after his father’s retirement from the military. It was his mom who insisted on either England or the Pacific Northwest: climates she appreciated.

By trade Craig Walker is a mortgage broker and has been for ten years. He has also worked as a certified athletic trainer. His strengths as a connector usually involve sports and community. When he says “I know a lot of people,” he’s talking about folks that I don’t know because I don’t follow sports much. His goal for Ballard Station is not just to provide a cozy place that features local purveyors. He wants to give back to the community as much as possible: nights that donate a percentage of the proceeds to the Ballard Food Bank, the Senior Center, Solid Ground…step right up. He wants to meet you.

I wasn’t feeling that outmatched until the bumper sticker on Craig’s car. I had managed to swallow my pride over the fact that Craig’s partner used to play professional hockey and that Craig is on first name basis with anything Sounders or Storm. (He started the first Sounders Facebook page!). I could try to overlook that he’d played on two men’s soccer teams that won national titles and had coached local youth soccer for the last 20 years. Also that he’s on the board of America SCORES Seattle which offers an after-school program for youth in under-served communities by providing soccer, literacy and service learning. Sure he’d already done a Sounders Guest Bartender Fundraiser in his first week in business and when he lived across from Family Works, now Solid Ground, in Wallingford, he hosted parties to collect food donations. But he’s also involved with Lymphoma and Leukemia Fundraisers, with his bumper sticker an ongoing call to arms.

Craig and I went over to the see the new space. Craig’s business partner Dave, who owns Targy’s Tavern on Queen Anne, called Craig last January to see if he was ready to scout possible locations. They soon honed in on the unrealized potential of the bar on Market Street (it was only open Wednesday-Sunday). They made an offer last spring; the day the sale closed they took along a hammer to act on their suspicion that there was brick underneath the plaster. There was. It’s beautiful. The remodeled Public House now has custom-built tables and benches, a collection of Craig’s signed balls and the potential to serve food, host a dart league, hold trivia nights, watch sports on three television screens and play shuffleboard.

One wall is reserved for monthly art walk. Craig wants to expand the local dart league with A and B teams, but mostly he wants to create a gathering place that contributes to the community socially and economically.

From inside the locked doors Craig and I noted the daily parade of people confused by the adjacent signage that leads them to believe his pub is the site of Ballard Licensing. They’ve considered offering a special drink to those who enter in error, perhaps depending on whether they were planning to license a vehicle or a vessel.

As we sat for a few minutes on bar stools Craig talked more about what he would like to be able to do with this public house. I felt like I should just turn in my connector badge and leave it on the counter.

Craig plans to be at the bar at least a few hours every night “I am in my life,” he said, “a people person. My mother says she didn’t have just three boys, she had 100 kids. Like my parents, I’m always trying to help someone.”

He looked at the space in its morning stillness. “This is just what I wanted,” he said. Then he hugged me goodbye because as if it’s not enough that he’s a people person, he’s also a hugger. I should have guessed.

The Ballard Station Public House is at 2236 NW Market Street. Open daily 4 p.m. – 2 a.m.

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