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NEIGHBORHOODS // Brothels + Breweries

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A notorious beer tradition lives on in Georgetown

Story by Jesse Kwak

Photograph by Cleary O’Farrell

Only three miles south of downtown Seattle, you’ll find a homey strip of restaurants, shops, and no-frills bars where blue-collar workers, aerospace engineers, and working artists mingle for happy hour. Boeing jets roar overhead, so close you could hit their bellies with a bottle cap. Hemmed in by Boeing Field to the south, I-5 to the east, and an expanse of shipping and rail yards to the north and west, Georgetown isn’t another industrial neighborhood turned trendy hangout: It’s just industrial.

When Erika Tedin opened Full Throttle Bottles five years ago, she wasn’t sure Georgetown’s small residential base could support it. After all, in the 2010 census, this tiny neighborhood weighed in as Seattle’s smallest with around 1,200 residents. She loved Georgetown enough that she decided to take the plunge anyway.

“I really wanted to be part of this community,” Tedin says. “Georgetown’s very unique and artsy, unpretentious, funky. It doesn’t follow the rules. There’s also a strong support [network] of small business—especially female-owned small business.”

She turned her focus to bringing in limited-edition bottled beers and wines, as well as hosting weekly tastings where beer and wine lovers can meet brewers and vintners. Customers flocked from all over. “We’re a destination place,” Tedin says.

Georgetown has always welcomed tourists—and their money. Before the town was officially annexed into Seattle in 1910, it was notorious as the place to go to have a good time. Seattle’s bars and red light districts were being cleaned up by Prohibition, and nearby Georgetown was more than happy to absorb the lucrative “sin” business. Newspapers of the time were riddled with salacious accounts of the town’s murderous love triangles, daylight robberies, and barroom brawls. Saloons and roadhouses operated 24 hours a day, and Presbyterian clergyman Mark Matthews dubbed the town “the cesspool of Seattle.”

That rowdy past is celebrated every October during the theatrical Haunted History Tour, complete with costumed actors and musicians. During the rest of the year, Georgetown’s history is visible in the well-worn buildings lining the main thoroughfare.

The half-mile stretch of Airport Way that makes up Georgetown’s commercial center is dominated by the four-story brick facade of the old Seattle Brewing and Malting Company. Before the area’s fertile farmland was paved over with industrial space, it was ideal for growing hops. A number of breweries formed, and in 1893 three of them merged to create the Seattle Brewing and Malting Company, whose Rainier beer was a huge success. By 1894 they were brewing over a million barrels a year, and by 1904 they were the largest brewery west of the Mississippi.

Although these days the Rainier brand is owned by Pabst (and brewed in California), the aroma of boiling hops still permeates the neighborhood. Georgetown Brewing Company, which was opened in 2002 by Manny Chao and Roger Bialous, quickly became a staple not just in the neighborhood but throughout Seattle. Their popular Manny’s Pale Ale is available on tap throughout the Northwest—often even in bars where you wouldn’t expect to find craft beer.

Their current location (designed by Seattle architectural firm Olson Kundig) is Georgetown aesthetic at its finest: industrial functionality tempered by quirky artistic flair. Enormous rust-colored rolling doors open to reveal the entryway; inside, the cavernous tasting room features a bar top made from wood salvaged from the Old Rainier Brewery. Taps pour standards like Manny’s Pale Ale, Roger’s Pilsner, and the Georgetown (formerly 9lb) Porter, as well as newer additions like the Lucille IPA. You’ll find seasonal surprises, too.

You can’t buy a bottle, but they do a brisk business in kegs and growlers. Bartenders are happy to pour samples, and all the while you can watch the brewery action through a glass wall.

To enjoy a pint of Georgetown Brewing Company’s beers, step into pretty much any restaurant along Airport Way. The neighborhood’s blue-collar roots are most visible at Jules Maes, a venerable drinking establishment, which claims to be the oldest continually operating bar in Seattle. Grab a pint and dinner while you try your hand at the pinball machines in the back room.

There’s no shortage of good food to go with your beer. Stellar Pizza, Calamity Jane’s, and Smarty Pants are neighborhood staple eateries, and newcomers like Fonda La Catrina and Brass Tacks are making their mark, too. It can be hard to find a seat some evenings—especially during the second Saturday “Art Attack,” which showcases the neighborhood’s many local artists.

Although Georgetown Brewing Company’s offerings are the most ubiquitous in the neighborhood, Seattle’s Elysian Brewing Company has also staked a claim with their 60-barrel production brewery, which opened in 2011. Although there’s no tasting room—yet—the facility opens to the public every October during the wildly popular Great Pumpkin Beer Festival, a weekend-long extravaganza that showcases over 60 different pumpkin beers, including over a dozen of Elysian’s own.

This summer, Elysian will also partner with indie video store Scarecrow Video to host outdoor movie nights every Saturday in July and August. There will be a beer garden, of course, and people can come with their kids, too. Keep an eye on their website for movie details.

The newest brewing addition to the neighborhood celebrated its opening weekend March 9, 2013. The aptly named Machine House Brewery, owned by Bill Arnott and Alex Brenner, is set up in the old machine house of the Seattle Brewing and Malting Company.

You could easily lose a few hours in their tasting room: The open communal seating invites conversations among strangers, colorful stained glass windows cast a warm glow, and soccer is always playing on the TV. Their easy-drinking session ales are made in the traditional English style, using the open fermentation method Arnott learned as head brewer at Tipples Brewery in Norfolk, England. Machine House is currently open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, pouring their lineup of cask beers through a hand-pump system. They’ll also be pouring seasonal and specialty releases, like  ginger beer, on cask and in firkins. Kids are welcome, and if you get hungry, they’ve got a selection of local restaurant takeout menus for you to choose from.

Before you leave Georgetown, don’t forget to stock up at Full Throttle Bottles. The night I stopped in to see Tedin, she’d just sent out an email alerting her customers of some surprise special releases. Customers, most from out of the neighborhood, came in a steady stream to snag the bottles.

A man in a suit had dropped in to buy a single can, but since the line was moving slowly—Tedin was the only one on—he stepped out to browse for a few more minutes. He ended up at the register with two more finds. I had the same multiplication problem. Tedin and I chatted between customers, and while she helped them, I continued browsing, adding interesting-looking bottles to my own basket.

Full Throttle Bottles sponsors festivals like Hops & Props at the Museum of Flight, and sells tickets to beer events around the area in the shop. It’s only fitting that such a hub of beer community be located here. “Georgetown is welcoming in so many ways,” says Tedin. “People are really proud of their community.”

And they’re happy to share it with you.