Ballard’s semi-secret music space

We admit, we’re not the hippest kids in Ballard. So when we heard that this unmarked space at 608 65th St. is some kind of semi-secret music venue, we were intrigued. Some call it “The Space.” Others, “608 Club.”

Turns out, it’s the home studio of Estradasphere, a band of “multi-instrumentalists” whose innovative style bridges classical, jazz and even metal. It’s also where some visiting bands come to play from time to time, like Faun Fables last weekend. Seattlest blogger Michael van Baker attended and snapped a photo inside. “They were playing to about 30 of their closest-friend fans, and it felt a little weird to be there,” he admits.

Nau store coming to Fremont

According to the sign in the window, Nau will open soon in the old Sonic Boom store in Fremont. If you haven’t heard of Nau (they have one other local store at Bellevue Square), it’s a Portland-based clothing company that strives to combine trendy/outdoor fashion with social responsibility. Many of its fabrics are made from recycled materials, and 5 percent of its sales are donated to social or environmental organizations (you get to choose one from a list when you make a purchase.) And the fashion is very Seattle cool. Can’t wait!

Adds Nina in comments: “Odd location. Their clothes are pretty expensive so I would imagine they would want to be closer to the downtown shopping. I hope they do OK, but it’s too pricey for me.”

Review: Ballard Mandarin restaurant

Following our general rule for new restaurants, we waited a couple weeks after the Ballard Mandarin Chinese restaurant on Market St. and 8th Ave. opened before giving it a try. A couple of things to get out of the way first: if you’re looking for an elegant dining experience, this isn’t the place. It’s newly remodeled, but the decor is very sparse. And they don’t have their liquor license yet, so I had to forego my traditional Tsingtao beer with dinner. But the food is tasty. We ordered General Tao’s chicken, vegetables with prawns, egg rolls and egg drop soup, and it was all good. (Not as good as many of the places in the International District, of course, but this is Ballard.) The service was prompt and courteous, and the bill was reasonable. All in all, we were impressed, and we grabbed a take-out menu on the way out the door.

Would McPhee’s really have to close?

Since the news broke earlier this week that Ballard institution Archie McPhee’s may close its doors if a new toxic toy bill is signed, there have been a lot of questions about the bill and its impact. Would McPhee’s really have to close? What’s wrong with reducing toxicity in toys? And is the Sigmund Freud bobblehead really a toy? We asked Archie McPhee’s David Wahl some follow up questions, which follow below…

My Ballard: Reducing lead in children’s toys sounds like a noble endeavor, so what’s wrong with the bill?

David Wahl : Firstly, I just want to say that Archie McPhee complies with already stringent federal product safety guidelines. To make it clear, there are already standards in place. We want to make sure that people understand that this is not about us carrying dangerous toys, it’s about changing the standards in only Washington state that we already have on a federal level. This bill would mean re-testing toys that have already been tested.

The intention behind this bill is great, but I think it would have unintended consequences.

It’s a poorly written bill that doesn’t define child or toy in any concrete way. They actually define “toy” by the intention of the manufacturer, as an object intended to be used by children at play. While none of the items we produce ourselves, under the Accoutrements label, are intended for children, one would be hard pressed to say that a Devil Duckie or a Sigmund Freud Action Figure is not by some definition a toy. Reading the minds of manufacturers about what their intentions are is not a good basis for serious legislation.

Also, it’s written by people that have little or no knowledge of the toy industry or how products are tested. They have actually said that if a product doesn’t contain anything harmful, it doesn’t need to be tested. This is not only untrue, but illogical. How could you determine what a product contains without a test?

The bill also exempts BB guns from having to meet the standards in the bill. You have to question a bill that treats a Yodelling Pickle as more potentially dangerous to a child than a BB gun.

We work very hard to make sure our products are safe and that they fall within federal product safety standards. No one wants to produce toys that are dangerous or that harm anybody.

My Ballard: You’re quoted as saying Archie McPhee’s store would close if the bill, as written, becomes law. Is that really the only alternative?

Wahl: We don’t want to close.

However, if we did stay open it would be in a severely limited form. Even if we try to comply, it will be difficult to know what is required of us. We order products from all over the country and it will be easier for most small and medium-sized manufacturers to simply not sell to customers in Washington rather than change their guidelines for just one state. Washington accounts for less than 2% of the national market for toys. For most companies it will not be worth the expense of the repeated testing that they will have to go through.

So, you will have to drive out of state to buy toys, because no one is going to want to ship them here either.

My Ballard: How much would the law cost the company? How did you estimate that number?

Wahl: The number in the article is slightly out of context. We have over 10,000 items in our store and since the only way to be sure if they meet standards would be to test them all and manufacturers will be unwilling to re-test them, we would have to pay. Each test costs $500. That is $5,000,000. We are obviously not going to pay for the tests, but it puts a number on how much extra expense it would be for everyone involved. (The $500 is from a Wall Street Journal article and is their estimate.)

My Ballard: Has the governor’s office or the state legislature contacted you?

Wahl: We have been contacted by the author of the bill, Rep. Dickerson (who is the state rep. for Ballard). We were unable to make her understand that because her bill is so poorly written and thought out, it would have a huge impact on us, consumers and other toy sellers in Washington state without any meaningful improvement in safety.

It won’t make toys safer, it will just make the many already safe toys harder for people in Washington to buy. And, sadly, the possible end of Archie McPhee.

Hops crisis threatens Ballard’s Maritime Pacific

The price of hops, a key ingredient in beer making, has gone from $220 for a 44-pound box to about $890 at the end of last year, according to a recent Seattle Weekly article. It’s driving up expenses — and beer prices, which you’ve probably noticed lately if you’ve perused the micro offerings at your Ballard-area grocery store.

The cost spike forced Pacific Rim Brewery in White Center out of business and they may be only the first local craft brewer to go under, SW writer Laura Onstot asserts. Maritime Pacific Brewing Company owner George Hancock put it succinctly: “What’s the plan? Just try to survive.”

Knowing George, he’s not kidding around. So, if you’re a local business supporter, consider making the sacrifice to lift a pint at the Jolly Roger Taproom on Leary. Now if only all sacrifices tasted so good…

We called it the ‘Ranger Danger’

We’ve been captivated by the follow-up stories on the sinking of the Seattle-based Alaska Ranger, which took the lives of five people. There’s the story that the ship’s officers didn’t board the life rafts and perished. Another on the sheer magnitude of the rescue — dozens of people scattered over a mile in the middle of the night. And now there’s this exclusive report from ABC News that quotes a survivor as saying the crew had nicknamed the ship the “Ranger Danger” because their employer had delayed making repairs. Jeremy Freitag said the ship leaked all over the place, and pumps to clear out the water didn’t work. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about this in the next few days.

A Coast Guard photo of one of the rafts.