Brave Horse Tavern, not a sheep in wolf’s clothing

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A few weeks ago we attended a pre-opening event for Brave Horse Tavern—Tom Douglas’ new gastro-tav in Seattle’s burgeoning South Lake Union neighborhood (see that post). We were delighted to learn that one of Seattle’s preeminent culinary superstars and prolific restaurateurs was directing some attention towards beer. Foodies and beer geeks are joined at the hip, and it’s time people start recognizing it. Recently, we paid a visit to the newly opened Brave Horse Tavern to see how it all turned out.

Grub and Grog

Here’s something you don’t see everyday: a purpose-built, wood-fired pretzel oven. While the pretzels are quite amazing, the spreads and dipping sauces steal the show. My favorite is the cheddar-pimento spread, while Kim gravitates towards the smoked peanut butter and bacon spread. The burgers, made with 100 percent Painted Hills Natural Beef, are amazing and surprisingly affordable. Starting at $6, there are plenty of options for loading them up. Not a beef eater? Burger alternatives include chicken-fried turkey, albacore tuna, and a veggie burger. Beyond that, the menu is refreshingly brief, offering a few bar snacks and a few dinner-ish choices.

Brave Horse Tavern offers 24 draft beers on tap. I started out of the gate with a Sticke Alt from Chuckanut Brewery, while Kim saddled up a Schooner Exact Brave Horse Ale. With a focus on regional ales, I found the beer menu appropriate and satisfying. Out of deference for the word tavern, the Brave Horse offers Olympia Beer on draft—a good call when you think about what they could have chosen as their yellow-beer option.

At first glance the beer menu seemed a bit heavy on Reds and Ambers. Recognizing that there is a culinary bend to Brave Horse Tavern, you cannot blame them for selecting beers that pair well with food (as Reds and Ambers are wont to do). After all, this is a Tom Douglas joint. If you ever hear me complaining about a Silver City Ridgetop Red, put me out of my misery.

Thundering Herds of IPA Fans

Most pubs around Seattle with 24 craft beers on tap would lend more focus to IPA. I didn’t even notice, but someone brought it to my attention: just one IPA on tap. I appreciate the point that chef Warren Peterson is making. There are a lot of great northwest ales that are not IPA. Peterson is one of Tom Douglas’ chefs and the resident beer czar across all of Douglas’ restaurants. He is largely responsible for what’s happening at Brave Horse Tavern. To my taste, the beer selection was satisfying.

We’ll see how things evolve and whether Brave Horse Tavern decides to pander to the feral bands of IPA fans. Note that the Schooner Exact Brave Horse Ale behaves like a very well-heeled IPA. Not a wild stallion of an IPA, but a careful trail horse of an IPA. In the end, I recognize that sometimes you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink anything other than IPA.

The Scene

Amongst the freshly built towers of South Lake Union, you’ll find the Terry Avenue Building, which now houses three different Tom Douglas establishments: Brave Horse Tavern, Ting Momo, and Cuoco.

This historic building stands out as a relic, melding seamlessly into its recently constructed surroundings. Brave Horse Tavern offers sweet relief for the harems of Amazonians who occupy the countless cubicles of the South Lake Union technology corridor. Unbridled thirty-somethings find themselves comfortably surrounded by brick walls and plenty of soft and warm distressed wood. During daylight hours, the space is flooded with natural light, providing respite for fluorescent-weary, screen-focused eyeballs.

We visited on a Tuesday, arriving at about 4:30 in the afternoon. Very obviously, Brave Horse Tavern is already a popular happy hour spot for the many young techies that work in the area. It was busy, but not packed. Neither of the shuffleboards saw any downtime while we were there. The televisions played a mix of NBA playoff basketball and NHL Stanley Cup playoff hockey. The music was a mix of classic rock and contemporary alt rock—KZOK meets KEXP. The music matched the crowd.

We could not help noticing that Warren Peterson and Tom Douglas were both hard at work. Warren was minding the grill and Tom was working the pass—a hands-on approach that speaks volumes about Douglas’ commitment to the art of restaurateuring.

Some people might have doubted whether Tom Douglas could pull off something as lowbrow as a tavern. Truth is, Brave Horse feels upscale for a tavern, but not oppressively so. You’ll be comfortable in a T-shirt and jeans and you can catch a ballgame on the tube, but don’t expect to find anyone bouncing quarters off of the tables or vandalizing coin-op condom dispensers in the restrooms.

Civilized though it may be, this is not a sheep in wolf’s clothing: it is a tavern.

Why the Brave Horse

Back in the 19th and early 20th Century, before delivery vans and trucks crowded Seattle’s streets, horse drawn wagons delivered merchandise to shops and homes across the city. Many of the livery stables occupied the part of town we now call South Lake Union. Tom Douglas says the historical reference is the story behind the name Brave Horse Tavern.

Where is it?

Brave Horse Tavern
310 Terry Avenue North
(On Terry Ave, between Thomas & Harrison)
Seattle, WA 98109
206-971-0717
map

11 Responses to Brave Horse Tavern, not a sheep in wolf’s clothing
  1. Tony B.
    April 26, 2011 | 12:47 pm

    I went this last Saturday to meet up with some old college friends of mine (we are all from Yakima and all went to school in Bellingham, so needless to say we are kind of beer snobs). We found The Brave Horse to be an absolute delight! The beer was great (although being an exYakima boy I’m a bit of a hop head), the food was awesome and the vibe was cool. We ended up leaving a little earlier than intended since we felt bad for wasting one of the best days we’ve had all year inside so we went to find some outdoor seating elsewhere. But man, I cannot wait to go back, makes me wish I lived in SLU.

  2. Ryan
    April 26, 2011 | 1:01 pm

    What is their happy hour like? I went the first weekend it was open and there didn’t seem to be much offered (i.e. $2 cans of Hamms).

  3. Alan Moen
    April 26, 2011 | 1:13 pm

    I’ve got to visit this place!

  4. Kim Sharpe Jones
    April 26, 2011 | 1:39 pm

    Ryan, I don’t recall anything about them having a happy hour, and we were there at 4:30 so we would have hit it.

  5. Byron Hummel
    April 26, 2011 | 6:55 pm

    I have a different take on this place. I went with my wife and was expecting with 24 beers on tap that I would find a wide range of beers and styles. Frankly this is not the case at all. Not one Belgium on draft what so ever and honestly I feel with 24 drafts you have enough that you should be able to offer something to everyone. In addition the prices are VERY high for draft beer and having spent a year in Australia and suffering through $6.50 pints I felt like I was transported back to OZ. The sad part was I ended up just drinking wine as none of the beers on tap really appealed to a malt loving beer geek like myself. Food wise I would hardly say it was amazing and frankly at points quite disappointing. I was really looking forward to the pretzels and they were the biggest let down of the night. The pretzels taste nothing like real German pretzels and in my opinion taste more like regular bread twisted into the shape of a pretzel. The dips were nothing special at all and the biggest surprise was there was no array of house made mustards for the pretzels (tip: the yellow mustard in squeeze bottle is not frenchs its Chinese mustard so beware). We also tried the fried cheese curds which were decent if not overly salty. I also tried the burger with cheese and for 7 bucks (6 for a naked burger and 1 for cheese) it was decent and fairly affordable, but nothing special honestly. All and all I thought the experience was average but I honestly I had high hopes and they weren’t met.

  6. Kendall Jones
    April 27, 2011 | 8:14 am

    Byron, Sorry your expectations were not met. Mine were, obviously. I haven’t been to Australia or Germany, so maybe my standards are bit more pedestrian and less worldly. As far as the Belgian beer thing goes, unless they’re brewing Belgian beer regionally or locally, which is quite impossible, I wouldn’t expect Brave Horse to ever have it.

  7. Byron Hummel
    April 27, 2011 | 9:48 am

    Let’s just ignore my other criticisms for now. As someone in the hospitality industry who knows the wholesale cost of kegs I just feel $6 for a pint and $4.50 for a schooner (which is the most the pint should be) in this economy is outrageous.

  8. James
    April 27, 2011 | 10:06 am

    $6 for a pint! Kendall why don’t you report information like that?

  9. Kendall Jones
    April 27, 2011 | 10:34 am

    You guys are right. I should have mentioned the beer prices. Please don’t read anything into my failure to report that information.

    Away from this particular blog post, I fear that the price of beer may become an unfortunately common topic in the not-so-distant future.

  10. Kendall Jones
    April 28, 2011 | 12:42 pm

    Did some leg work.

    Happy Hour is 4:00 – 6:00 and the specials change daily.

    Beer Prices: At Brave Horse $6 buys you a 20 oz. beer, which works out to 30 cents per ounce. If you pay $4.50 for a 16 oz pint, which is not at all uncommon around the city these days, you pay 28 cents per ounce. I’m really bad at math, but I think that’s right.

    In my defense, that’s why I didn’t report on the beer prices. Nothing seemed horribly out of whack to me. When Byron commented on the prices I scratched my head and wondered if I’d missed something. So I called and confirmed that the $6 large beer is 20 oz.

    If that price seems high to you, then I guess it is. Just wanted to clarify.

  11. Byron Hummel
    April 28, 2011 | 5:25 pm

    I think they should mention that on the menu that they serve 20 oz beers as I dont remember being told that or seeing it on the menu. I just remember looking at the menu and thinking wtf! 6 dollar beers…