Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Cabin Tavern: Skull Over the Bar

Cabin Tavern - Bellingham, WA

It's devil working the details here that makes the Cabin a great bar: a skull over the bar is always a good sign, then ice cold glasses and Hamm's on draft. A jukebox that plays a great collection of 45s. An excellent selection of tequila. That little magical golden unicorn, the twilight Hamm's sign, the audio track of the fishing show in the bathroom, a two-headed wolf. Take all this and add great bartenders and a charming owner, all who are committed to making sure you get the best drink while listening to the best music and are having the best time.

Cabin Tavern - Bellingham, WA

Cap Hansen's Tavern: Monkeys dressed in sharp suits

Cap Hansen's Tavern - Bellingham, WA

For better or worse, the go-to dive bar in Bellingham. Cheap but strong drinks, bartenders' attitudes that run the gamut from stereotypically surly to efficiently enabling, the classic Bukowsky-esque assortment of barflys and a surreal decor that is half vintage beer sign, half paintings of monkeys dressed in sharp suits drinking mugs of beer. 

I love Cap's on a Sunday afternoon after the Seahawks have lost, when the crowd of mostly lonely males is / are drunk, sad and irritable. Then the bartender turns the TV to some bad 80s movie and someone plays Purple Rain on the jukebox. And everything wrong in the world seems endurable, if not entirely right. 

Avoid the weekends when it fills with Western Students learning how to drink and throw-up. Try the free popcorn; it's the healthiest thing you can put in your mouth at Cap's (mostly). On Sundays nights, there is one of the best, raucous - and often poignantly talented -karaokes in town. The signature drink is the Peruvian Bear Fucker. Don't ask, just drink. 

Try a shot of Hussong tequila and a Miller Genuine Draft, the champagne of beers with the cognac of tequilas. Cheers!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Sehome Hill Arboretum: The Green Fuse

Observation Tower on Sehome Hill, Bellingham, WA

A sanctuary in the center of Bellingham, the Arboretum offers a surprising and welcome solitude for those who are suffering from Information Sickness or the gentle urban pressures of Bellingham's subdued bustle. While popular, it is not nearly as crowded as Lake Padden or the the Interurban Trail. Indeed, there have been many early mornings where I have thankfully not encountered another human soul. There's always a mysterious engagement to walking up a hill or a mountain, the point being ostensibly to get to the summit, but more to enjoy the journey on the way. Something of a Mount Analogue.

Over the years the Arboretum has seen it's fair share of logging and coal mining. Fortunately some farsighted souls designated Sehome Hill as a park in 1922 to preserve its unique character. The hand-cut hobbit like tunnel at the top was created in 1923 to accommodate the passage of early Model T automobiles; now it is only a footpath to the Other Side. Note this is not a cultivated and landscaped sort of Arboretum and Bellingham is the better for it. There are portions of the South Ridge Trail, where it is easy to believe you are in deep woods, far from any sign of human or noxious machinery.

You can find parking in the crowded (Western students) lot off Bill MacDonald, across from Sehome High School. From there, the recommended ascent is not up the road, but along the well-worn path at the Southwest corner of the forest. Here the trail runs along the western side of the hill, passing a fern-lined natural amphitheater, to turn round gentle switchbacks to an 80 ft wooden observation tower. In the summer months, when the trees are full of leaves, there is a limited view of the bay to the northwest; but there is a view nonetheless. Further along, you pass through the tunnel to emerge on the other side where a large prohibitively fenced in radio tower stands humming. Here you come to the asphalt road, which descends a winding wooded way back to the parking lot.

However, there are many lesser traveled paths that take you deeper into the woods. Story goes that the area was heavily mined for coal in the mid-1800s and a network of tunnels lace extensively through the Hill. The entrances are no longer known. But on those deep forest paths, there are moments of strange enchantment where you wonder about the other worlds underneath and Heidegger's Holzwege: paths that lead nowhere.  Open from dusk until dawn.

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

Dylan Thomas

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

Tunnel on Sehome Hill, Bellingham, WA

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Lake Padden: Sky Water

Lake Padden - October 2014

Lake Padden - October 2015

Lake Padden - October 2015

Lake Padden is one the many beautiful natural spaces that makes Bellingham such an extraordinary place to live. In many European cities, there are great and expansive city parks and gardens, manicured and cultivated, famous places for the citizens to walk around and through. Lake Padden is one of several such beautiful walks in Bellingham, where you see so many friendly faces on their morning, afternoon or evening walks.

The Lake is beautiful and sublime year round, a perfect jewell that transforms throughout the seasons. The well maintained main trail is a comfortable 2.75 miles around. There are several bathrooms spaced along the way. A series of poignant memorial benches can be found spaced around the Lake. There are also two main piers and a concrete fishing area that almost always has a few old men fishing every day during the season.

In the summer, the grassy "beach" on the south side of the Lake fills up with families and younger people, laying in the sun, grilling, inflating floaties, swimming and paddle boarding. It's an idyllic and simultaneously nostalgic scene. Many people walk their dogs around the Lake. There is a contained off-leash area on the north side of the Lake.

There is also a winding set of "backwoods" trails where horses can be ridden and dogs unleashed. Note there are a number of bikers also that occasionally forget others are on the trail. There are also showers and changing areas on the south side. Plenty of parking at both entrances. Plenty of picnic table and grills. Lake Padden is Bellingham's own beautiful Walden, a peaceful, meditative and inspiring natural wonder.

See also: 9 Curious Notes on the History of Lake Padden

In such a day, in September or October, Walden is a perfect forest mirror, set round with stones as precious to my eye as if fewer or rarer. Nothing so fair, so pure, and at the same time so large, as a lake, perchance, lies on the surface of the earth. Sky water. It needs no fence. Nations come and go without defiling it. It is a mirror which no stone can crack, whose quicksilver will never wear off, whose gilding Nature continually repairs; no storms, no dust, can dim its surface ever fresh; — a mirror in which all impurity presented to it sinks, swept and dusted by the sun’s hazy brush — this the light dust-cloth — which retains no breath that is breathed on it, but sends its own to float as clouds high above its surface, and be reflected in its bosom still. 

A field of water betrays the spirit that is in the air. It is continually receiving new life and motion from above. It is intermediate in its nature between land and sky. On land only the grass and trees wave, but the water itself is rippled by the wind. I see where the breeze dashes across it by the streaks or flakes of light. It is remarkable that we can look down on its surface. We shall, perhaps, look down thus on the surface of air at length, and mark where a still subtler spirit sweeps over it.

- Walden, Thoreau

Lake Padden - January 2016

Lake Padden - November 2016

Friday, October 13, 2017

Honey Moon Mead & Cider

Honey Moon Mead & Cider

The Honey Moon is a Bellingham treasure. They make delicious award-winning Meads and Ciders in back, while in front, there is a cozy tasting room where you can enjoy drinking these refreshing elixirs. And they serve excellent small plates of cheeses and meats, homemade soups, great mac n cheese and heaven dissolving in your mouth cakes from Pure Bliss. Be sure to check out the seasonal Mead and Cider offerings from Hot Spiced Mead or Frozen Meadaritas to exclusive kegs of Bourbon Barrel-aged Ciders.

They also have live music, spoken word and poetic performances six nights a week. They book talented local acts exclusively and have been at the heart and soul of the Bellingham acoustic and traditional music scene for years. Irish Monday always features amazing performances. Their Wednesday Open Mic is legendary. Sing out in praise: Hallelujah, Honey Moon! They are located speakeasy style in the alley behind Pepper Sisters. Don't miss it!

The Black Drop Coffeehouse

Best coffee in Bellingham for many years. Their espresso is second to none. Their beans are delivered fresh every week from the talented roaster at Maniac Roasting. Try it out every Friday when they give away doppios for free! Their lattes and specialty drinks are amazing,  the milk is perfectly steamed into delicious micro-foam. They are also on point with beautiful latte art. You have to try to Level 10 Fireball - a chipotle mocha latte. All of their delicious pastries are made in house. Sometimes there is a wait, but it's well worth it. They've won the Best Coffeehouse award and Best Barista award every year and they deserve it. They also a vital part of the community, giving to local organizations and proving a unique and safe space for everyone.

See also:

The Black Drop: If the shot's not perfect, we throw it out.
The Mystery of Coffee
Black Drop Ephemera

The Old World Deli

House-made Corned Beef with Potato Salad at Old World Deli

Hands down, the best sandwiches in Bellingham are at the Old World Deli. I personally believe their house-made corned beef to be the best I've ever had - with Swiss and spicy mustard on rye, served warm. The German potato salad is supreme.  In addition they also make excellent soups and salads - their mushroom soup, in particular, is outstanding.

There are new specials every day and you'll never go wrong with any of them. The wine selection is one of the finest in town with more than reasonable prices. They also have a dizzying array of condiments, oils, seasonings, chocolates and much more for you to buy.

There are always well-attended wine tastings and special themed dinners. Local musicians perform on Saturday nights. It's a good sign to me that most of the staff has been there for years, everyone is friendly and make you feel like family.

The Temple Bar

Temple Bar - Bellingham, WA

Absinthe at the Temple Bar

If you're looking for a place to have a good conversation, well made cocktail or excellent glass of wine and delicious meal, the Temple Bar is the place you want to go. Nothing else quite like it in Bellingham. With its high ceilings and old world decor, there is a kind of European atmosphere where you feel comfortable taking time to savor and appreciate your drinks and food. Table service is friendly, familiar and patient.

The roasted cauliflower wedge with spicy aioli is an excellent starter. Salads are all super fresh, locally sourced and prepared with care. Their cheese and charcuterie plates are delicious works of art.
You can't go wrong with any of the daily specials. And the happy hour deal for a bottle of wine plus small cheese plate (before 7) is a great way to start an evening.

It's one of the most popular bars in town, so expect a happy crowd during peak hours.

Roasted Shishito Pepper at the Temple Bar

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

11 Questions for What’s Up Magazine - July 2017

Photo by Jessica Garr

11 Questions for What’s Up Magazine - July 2017

Interview by Brent Cole

In all the years we've been doing an 11 questions piece, I think we're at over a decade now, we've never doubled up on an interviewee. Until now. Many moons ago we covered Scot Casey, he'd probably only lived in town a couple of years but I already thought the world of the guy. Creative, funny and incredibly kind and sincere, I first met Scot through the Black Drop, which he was part owner of at the time and he soon began writing for the magazine. Scot always covered music that others weren't talking about, but that desperately deserved the attention... and he covered it with the honesty and love that made Scot SO incredibly well liked in town.

Welp, after seven years, Scot is leaving our fair city and I am crushed. He has been one of those people in town that MAKE Bellingham what it is - he'd become part of the fabric of this town’s music, art and culture scene and someone who I enjoyed talking to every chance I got. In all the years I've lived in town, Scot Casey is truly one of the most special people. He will be very much missed.

And with that, Scot was kind enough to answer 11 questions on why he's leaving, if he'll come back and his thoughts on the town he loves.


• Who are you and where did you come from (tell us about yourself, for those who don’t already know)?

My name is Scot Casey. Currently, I work at Honey Moon Mead & Ciders, handling sales and marketing, hosting Open Mic, booking shows. I also book Old World Deli. And probably met most everyone I now know from when I was a barista / part-owner of the Black Drop Coffeehouse. I’ve been fortunate and am extremely grateful to have been associated with three of the best businesses in town. I’ve often joked that they pretty much reflect my basic appetites: coffee, sandwiches and alcohol. I also write on occasion, engage in a strange graphic design and perform sporadic episodes of music. I’ve been in Bellingham now for about 6 years, having moved up here from Austin, Texas.

• You are moving away from Bellingham after years within the art and music community. What’s prompting the move away?

Well, it’s difficult. Of all the places I’ve been, Bellingham is one of most beautiful. I’ve never found anywhere else like it. A community like no other, with some of the nicest, most generous, engaged and insanely talented people I’ve ever met. I have a great place to live, a great job, a loving extended family, wonderful friends, everything anyone could ever hope for. But… some odd splinter in my being compels me towards solitude and isolation, makes my suspicious of any contentment and interrogates my happiness. I am haunted by the Buddhistic parable about how the house is on fire and we are are all just sitting around in the living room discussing the metaphysics of fire. To extend and probably corrupt this lovely analogy, I guess you could say I am leaving Bellingham to find a dark place out there in the Desert to walk out of the House of Scot Casey and watch it burn to the ground. I say this with laughter and take solace in William Burroughs’ mantra: “It’s ain’t no sin to take off your skin and dance around in your bones.”

• What one thing do you think you’ll miss the most about Bellingham?

There’s no way to narrow it to one thing. And if there is one thing, it is Bellingham itself. It often seems to me like a sanctuary, a last hold-out for poets, musicians and dreamers, for a vital and active community, more of a town than a city, where you seem to know everyone, where people still greet you with a smile on the street, where small businesses not only can thrive but are celebrated. I came from Austin, which I still dearly love, but I watched in dismay as all of these simple, almost undefinable, qualities that make up the unique personality of a place faded away. I’ll miss the vital Pulse of this place. I’ll miss the music and the poetry of the city itself in all of its amazing, weird, sublime, ridiculous, quixotic, poignant, proud, sad, funny and absolutely enchanting manifestations.

• So where are you moving too? What are your plans when you get there?

Nowhere - if it’s still out there. I’m trying hard to have no particular destination in mind. I’d like to “wander aimlessly” in the manner of Chuang Tzu, following the fractal paths in the landscape as they appear in the moment. My loose sense of it is to head down along the Sierras, into Death Valley, the Mojave and then pass the winter in the Sonoran Desert, perhaps Northern Mexico. I’d like to find a place of extreme isolation where I can experience the full of weight of solitude. My plan, as it might be simply expressed, is to live as close to the bone as possible, life at degree zero. In more poetic and idiosyncratic terms, I’d like to find the bones and skull of the dead god that haunts my world, cover them with honey and set it all on fire.

• What will you be doing your last night in town? What is your last meal going to be?

That’d be the last Sunday in July. I imagine I’ll probably take a slow evening walk around Lake Padden, share a good conversation and bottle of wine at Temple Bar, wander around downtown getting intoxicated with nostalgia, stop into Cap’s for a shot of Hussong, sit on the curb along State Street and hope I can always see the stars from those gutters, then end up where all good nights end up: at the Redlight in the Red Room sharing a last drink with all the beautiful ghosts. 

• Who is your all time favorite Bellingham musician? What about artist?

There cannot be just one! I’m really fortunate to know so many talented musicians. My heart is always with the Honey Moon and all the performers that play there. It’s a loosely held secret that at every Open Mic, we like to end the night with the Saddest Songs in the World. Tad Kroening and Pete Irving have so sweetly broken my heart on so many of these nights, I always be grateful just for the melancholy echo. And like most everyone, I believe Sarah Goodin hung the moon and sang the stars into shining. Meghan Yates and the Reverie Machine have restored my ragged soul so many times. Jan Peters and the Irish Crew. Louis Ledford. I could go on and on. Bellingham is blessed with an exaltation of great musicians - or whatever you call a great gathering of musical wonderment.

As far as artists, there is only one for me: Michelle Schutte. Her sublime and stark expressions of bonelike beauty just stop me in my tracks with wonder and laughter. It’s my sense that she sees into the radiant skeletal nature of the world and celebrates that in everything from the contagious terror of horses to the worried wisdom of a bunny rabbit.

• Do you have a favorite artistic moment in Bellingham, whether it’s something you created or experienced?

As far as any of my shows go, I’m really proud of The Last Meal of Calouste Gulbenkian at the Honey Moon. An “authentic” Armenian 8-course dinner that Linda Melim helped to conjure up, with each course reflecting the various stages in the Gulbenkian’s life. With all the usual suspects-musicians performing “authentic” Armenian songs. It was beautiful! Armenian professors from Western, an Armenian family, grandmother and all, were all there having a wonderful time. I presented it as an exact recreation of the millionaire’s last meal. And the thing I’ve never revealed publicly is that it was a complete fabrication, a beautiful, enchanting lie! Calouste Gulbenkian was the only real thing about it. The rest, myself and Linda and all of the musicians, made-up. And it was great! All art is a lie in one form or another. And if it’s beautiful and it’s entertaining, that’s truth enough for me.

• Thinking back to your first moments arriving to town – was there a “I love this town, I’m going to stay here” moment that made you fall in love with Bellingham?

My sister, Shannon, took me first thing to the Black Drop Coffeehouse, where I had a double latte that seemed a work of art. Then we walked over to Henderson’s where I found a good copy of Olson’s Call Me Ishmael. Went up to the corner to Everyday and Avalon. Then back around to Film Is Truth. Amazing coffee, bookstores, record stores, celebrations of film. As we sat at Temple drinking a bottle of wine while the sky was evening over the bay, I had that thought: yes, I do believe I could live here for a long time.

• What would it take for you to come back?

Well there’s that Bellingham Curse, right? Everyone who ever says they’re gone for good, always comes back. I’ll be back. Family and friends hold my heart here. But I’ve a rare window it seems: I’m not in love and I’ve got no kids, no pets, no plants, no house, no debts. I do have freedom and health. And I know how fragile each of those are. So before my mind or body or heart gives way, I want to do this thing that won’t leave me alone. But I’ll be back, in one form or another, bones in a box or still dancing around in this flesh.

• If you could wave a magic wand an change one thing about Bellingham, what would it be?

It’d have to be a big magic wand, but I’d want to change the conditions of the homeless and all who are lost and suffering out there on the streets. I imagine every city in the world would like that particular magic wand to solve these difficult problems. And the weight of responsibility and irony is not lost on me as someone who has the privilege to choose a life of nomadic homelessness.

• Any last thoughts?

I would just like to thank everyone - and there are many - who has offered me a hand up, provided opportunities, opened doors, supported me and stood by me as friends and co-workers and Bellingham family. I am deeply grateful. Thank you all. Y’all are all golden - down to the bone.

Photo by Ed Viladevall