You've got a chi-chi wine bistro in a former fast food store on 29th. You've got a trendy lunch spot for the working crowd downtown. The obvious next choice is to build an aviation-themed sports bar with an enormous martini selection on the deep South Hill. Right?
Seems like an unlikely choice. But there it is. In April, Tim Hartman, Jeff Jenkins and Carrie Davis -- who form the company Cuvee Inc. -- opened HANGAR 57 in the old Pepperdine Sports Bar location on 57th Avenue. The space is only vaguely hangar-like, but it's loaded with aviation paraphernalia, from the fake plane that looks as if it's just barreled into the northern interior wall to the dinged-up propeller hovering over the door to the kitchen. There are art deco aviation posters everywhere. Beside the expansive salad bar is a mildly scary painting of an invasion of Japanese kamikaze fighters. (Oddly enough, the inspiration for the restaurant's motif came, chef Tim Hartman explains, from a trip to Disneyland's Soarin' California ride.)
And yet -- though they've made a conscious choice to feature airplanes over moth-eaten jerseys and pennants, to frontline their 57 varieties of martini (really just cocktails in a martini glass) over keg nights -- it's most definitely a sports bar. Television screens around the space broadcast ESPN and Fox Sports Northwest. And these are dwarfed by a giant projection screen that shows football in the fall and basketball in the winter. There's beer pong weekly. The Perones and the Cronkites play on the weekends.
The place even has its true meathead pedigree -- when we visited around noon, the urinal was full of proof that the night before must've been a real party. Whoever he was, he had the spaghetti.
He should've had the pizza. While the menu features four different kinds of pasta (the entr & eacute;e menu is rounded out by coconut prawns, baby back ribs and fish and chips), the real focus at the Hangar is the stone-roasted pizza. It takes up the entire back side of the menu. You can make your own, choosing from a fairly standard set of toppings, or you can pick from the menu, which is divided between more standard options like Margherita and Hawaiian and more adventurous ones, like El Taco, the Philly Cheese Steak and Zucchini and Prosciutto.
I had the personal-sized Buffalo chicken pizza ($8), with slices of tender chicken bathed in Frank's Red Hot perched atop each thin-crust slice. It was weird, like eating nachos on a cheeseburger. Those are two separate items -- they're not supposed to go together! And yet... it was surprisingly delicious. The hot sauce, piquant and vinegary, balanced out nicely against the cheese and the very agreeable crust. I'd go back for it.
Luke had the grinder with sausage and sweet cherry peppers ($8). For those not from back east, that's a sub sandwich. But Hartman says it's a true Chicago-style grinder, the kind of sandwich from a time before sub shops started garnishing their sandwiches with sprouts and avocado. "It's meat, it's cheese, it's bread, it's garlic, it's gooey, and it's great," he says.
Luke tended to agree, noting that while his garlic fries were merely passable, the grinder was exceptional. The taste that hit the mouth first was the sweet, yet vinegary cherry peppers. Left in, the pepper seeds gave a nice amount of heat and gave the sandwich a bit of crunch. Paired with a sweet Italian sausage and some truly flavorful provolone (a rarity in itself), the innards were excellent. What really put the thing over the top, though, was the soft, seemingly hand-formed artisan roll it came on. "Just about perfect," he declared.
He accompanied the grinder with a pint of Bitburger, a German pilsner that Hartman says was the first beer he had when he landed in Germany for a seven-year stint with the army. He fell in love. Luke wasn't so enamored ("tastes like Budweiser") but he's known for his pedestrian palate.
My palate and I abstained. One beer and I figured I'd be useless for the rest of my busy Friday afternoon, beset with a malaise that would've been magnified by the wet weather outside. I stuck with a (surprisingly well-mixed) Coke (boo). Hangar 57 has a pretty decent selection of rotating handles, including (at the moment) Old Chubb, Elysian IPA and Boundary Bay's amber. "The rest are random friggin' beers that I've gotten along the way," says Hartman, who also stocks domestic swill for the sports crowd.
Five bucks will buy you a big pitcher of that swill during their Monday Night Football parties. Twenty-five cents will get you a Pabst on ladies' night, when patrons are offered as many beers as they want for a quarter apiece -- until they have to pee. Hartman calls it "10-0-8 to Urinate." I didn't really catch why.
The fratty high jinks make the Hangar the kind of place I generally like to avoid on game night. But Hartman says they get all kinds, from the doofy jocks to the old Pepperdine crowd, neighborhood folks to fans of Meritage and Vin Rouge, for whom, Hartman says, "this is a place to go and shake it on the weekends."
Martinis and beer pong? Zucchini and prosciutto grinders? Frat boys and highbrows? How does Hangar 57 pull it off? "Everybody loves airplanes," says Hartman, "because you feel like you're going someplace."