Photo by Jerry Gay
Tim and Peggy Cannon have owned The Viking Tavern for 25 years. They will be closing on April 30 to make way for new development. “It’s been wonderful. We’ve had the most wonderful family here,” Peggy Cannon said.

Last Days at The Viking

The Viking Tavern will have closed its doors to business when they lock the door at 2 a.m. on May 1. The closure will really hit the regulars when the door doesn’t yield in their hand at 11:30 a.m. The Viking Tavern’s run since 1950 on Ballard’s skid road of 24th NW will have ended. Their motto, “The way Ballard was is the way it is at The Viking,” will become past tense.

Twenty-five year owner Tim Cannon has many tried and true quotes on the subject, “All the walls are covered in memorabilia,” he said. “Of course we used to just call it décor.”

Since it opened in 1950, The Viking had always had its fans and its detractors, its regulars and its casual drop-ins. Ruthie, who long ago lived across the street, used to take it upon herself to inform the owners about the bartender’s comings and goings. In those days the concern was that he was closing up too early, rather than patrons lingering on the sidewalk too late.

Viking

Photo by Erik Haugen-Goodman

The Viking has also always had its different clientele depending on the time of day, from workers after the night shift to different shades of evening, weeknights versus weekends. For nearly the last quarter-century, owners Tim and Peggy Cannon and employees like Erin Larsen have known them all. From a neighbor in her nightgown coming in for eggs to the gentleman who still drives up from the house he was born in “for a few pops” in the early afternoon.

The staff longevity matches that of many regulars. Some patrons come for the beers, others for the in-house smoked meats, the shuffleboard, the coffee, the cocktails, but overall for the camaraderie. “It’s been wonderful,” Peggy Cannon said. “We’ve had the most wonderful family here.”

Viking

Photo by Erik Haugen-Goodman

Tim Cannon’s mother’s skis hang over a booth, there’s a Viking mural and photographs documenting the location and its employees dating back to first owner Rhoda Roberts in 1950. It will take a while to pack up the mementos in preparation for the building’s demolition as part of the Ballard Lofts project. The jukebox needs to be picked up. Items stored. Items sold. “It’s a legacy,” Tim Cannon said. “I’m third generation. But we have all the stories. A lot of it is going to continue.”

Larsen joined the staff a month after the Cannons purchased the bar. She recalled a member of her “coffee club” who kept coming in earlier and earlier so she’d have to come in earlier herself so as to finish vacuuming in time. Finally, she added “vacuum around him” to her morning instructions.

Viking

Erin Larsen makes sandwiches in a small space. Photo by Peggy Sturdivant

As an establishment with an early walk-in refrigerator The Viking carried dairy products and still sells local eggs, delivered by the producer every Thursday. Normally they’d stock two dozen a week but for the final days Larsen only ordered a dozen. “We can sell the liquor back to the distributor,” she said, “but what are we going to do with the eggs?”

Viking

Owner Peggy Cannon shows off the eggs. Photo by Peggy Sturdivant

The final days have been a long time coming, -- it’s almost a year since the property was sold -- but the end seems less real than ever. “No grand party,” Tim Cannon said, “Just low key.” However with folks knowing that it’s almost over the place has been packed, including a line out the door last weekend and the necessity to turn patrons out due to maximum capacity.

The entire staff can spot a first-timer at the threshold these days and they don’t feel that kindly toward them, as though they’re sniffing through the estate before there has been a death. “Johnny-come-latelies,” Tim Cannon scoffed, “Slipping a menu in their bag. We know who they are.” Whereas anyone who has ever been part of The Viking family has been stopping in to pay proper tribute and to wonder where and when they will once again sit elbow to elbow.

“We’re going to be refugees,” Kevin Lewis said. He lives around the corner and doesn’t want to think about needing to drive someplace for his socializing.

Miles Cheung doesn’t fit the profile of most of The Viking regulars who will proudly tell you that they don’t even “do email.” He’s a graphic designer who lives across the street but does much of his freelance work at a laptop in the corner of the original bar. “I’m an honorary crusty old man,” he said. “I’m not even going to try to replace The Viking.”

Viking

Honorary crusty old man Miles Cheung in front of the mural. Photo by Peggy Sturdivant

The Cannons have been in talks with Bill Parks and his development partners for Ballard Lofts for relocating The Viking in the new construction, but nothing is final. So much can change during the building and permitting process. Besides, the Cannons might find they like the freedom to travel. Peggy Cannon’s 91 year-old mother in San Diego needs attention. They plan to do more consulting in the hospitality field. But their intent is to return and Tim Cannon deliberately defies good grammar to state, “We ain’t going away. We’re Ballard people.”

Former Eagles employee and eight-year Viking staffer Robin LaPlante represents the less optimistic side, “There will be no more Viking.” Given that The Viking has been the sole occupant of the building since it was built in 1950 there is no denying that whatever resurrects will not be the same.”

“It’s super hard,” Erin Larsen admitted. “I’ve never even been unemployed. And the crew here is wonderful,” she said, echoing Peggy Cannon’s words. “Everybody likes everybody.” She considered that and added, “How weird.”

As if sent on cue, a woman paused a moment in the open doorway, backlit by the sunshine to the west. She asked the bartender for two dozen eggs. Upon learning the eggs were only $2.75/dozen my companion asked for a carton. The bartender slid them across the bar to her, “You’ll absolutely taste the difference,” he said.

That will probably ring true for everyone on May Day when The Viking Tavern doesn’t open for business.

Viking

Robin LaPlante bartends on a recent Sunday. “There will be no more Viking,” she says. Photo by Erik Haugen-Goodman

Follow Ballard News-Tribune on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ballardnewstrib

And Twitter at http://twitter.com/ballardnewstrib

We encourage our readers to comment. No registration is required. We ask that you keep your comments free of profanity and keep them civil. They are moderated and objectionable comments will be removed.