Update April 02, 2013 

I have finally cooked up a map of my route to Chuck’s. Click the below link. Speaking of updates, I visited Chuck’s a few weeks ago and here are the changes I found: Seems they are up to some 36 taps now. They have added another flat screen below the first in order to list their tap lineup. It’s busy there these days! Good thing Chuck’s is working on opening a new location – in the Central District I believe. There was an employee bringing out brats or whatever sandwiches they server there and calling out the name of its recipient. In other words, the place is a touch more restaurant-like. They have a neat new, more graphically-pleasing lighted sign that sports the “Chuck” image from their logo. Enjoy the new, lovingly produced map!

http://goo.gl/maps/6ng57

Update August 08, 2012:

I have a confession to make: This concept of mine was originally supposed to be a feature in a periodical, but one publication pulled the plug on it, in addition to wanting to make their own changes and cuts to it, and wanting me to change the name of the whole thing. Another publication needed me to cut it down in length which I never got around to doing.

This helps explain why this entry is so lengthy. It is long also due to its being the inaugural entry which includes background information. The route to Chuck’s is one that I know well and I was thus able to impart lots of detail.

I took lots of pics that chilly night, and now have many of them up for your viewing pleasure. Details not revealed in the original account of this adventure are included in the captions.

I have gotten up to Chuck’s a couple more times since the trip described below. A few changes have been made. There are now a total of 30 beers on tap – something that was planned when I spoke to Chuck that night. They removed the espresso machine and something else to make room.

They seem to have more employees now, which is great for us, the customer. They all seem pretty professional and friendly and are on board with the generous sampling policy.

The bike rack has been moved. When I rolled up on that record-breakingly hot day – after changing a flat tire on the way – I thought they had done away with the rack. On this day I had already adventured up to Lake City to visit the relatively new Elliot Bay Brewing Co. establishment. (Yep, I will share that cool trip with you). I intended to hit the RAM in the Northgate Mall on the way back, as my route takes me right by it. I knew that the RAM in University Village has growler fills for about $6 on Saturdays, and I wanted to find out if the location in Northgate did as well. Hence the glassware that was helping make me a stronger hill climber that 90 degree day. But I forgot to stop, and rolled on past the Mall!

Okay, the bike rack: I leaned my bike up against the low fence that housed a full outdoor seating area that day and went inside where I was graciously offered a pint of water (which at Chuck’s is unfiltered and out of the sink – not that I was ungrateful!). I found out the rack is now over in the corner by the wooden fence that separates Chuck’s lot from the house next door. With cars parked there, you have to squeeze your bike back there. On this day, after squeezing in and locking up, I was blocked in by a baby stroller and a dog. I had to laugh.

One thing I will add regarding Chuck’s is that growler fills range from expensive to wow! expensive! It seems to me that they take the price of a pint, multiply it by four and then knock of a couple bucks or so. This doesn’t seem to be the prevailing pricing concept out there behind growler fills, thankfully. Also interesting is just how expensive some of the pints are. On this visit, I saw, I believe, Namaste from Dogfish Head priced at $11 per pint. Fortunately, there are many pints that are priced at about the going rate of 4.50 to 5.50 which is the neighborhood in which I reside. I understand that some beers are pretty rare and perhaps hard to come by, and this is likely why they are priced as they are here.

Enjoy the new pics in this account of Chuck’s Hop Shop!

On this adventure I visited Chuck’s on 85th (656 NW 85th St). These days, more commonly called Chuck’s Hop Shop

Look, a quickie mart. Let’s go in there and drink a beer!

Chuck’s is something very unique to me: a convenience store that pours beer. To me, placing the terms quickie mart and beer in the same sentence conjures the image of light yellow, mass-produced fluid. Convenience stores in our region of the country do carry a lot of good beers and wines though; this is a phenomenon of which I took note early on and have enjoyed. Chuck’s has a fantastic selection of bottled beers to be sure. Their slogan is “Land of a Thousand Beers.” But a mini mart that has beer on tap? You’re kidding! Actually, I know of two such stores in Seattle. The other, Super Deli Mart in West Seattle, I visited a couple times a while back and would like to visit again.

I have to say, the first time I actually drank a beer inside a convenience store, I felt like I was doing something wrong. It’s still such a foreign concept to me. But I love it! It adds, for me, a whole new aspect of enjoyability. It’s weird. And judging by the steady flow of beer lovers I have seen each time I have visited Chucks, I am certainly not alone. Whether coming in to grab a stool at the small “bar” or a seat at one of the tables in the seating area where you often find families and a dog or two, customers privy to this phenomenon are numerous. Just as plentiful, if not more, are customers who arrive toting a growler or two to be filled. So plentiful are beer customers at Chucks, that the owner, Chuck, told me that beer and beer-related sales account for about 80% of his sales! He says that in the earlier days this number was 20 to 30 percent.

The evening that I set out for this visit was the Tuesday before the big snow storm. It was chilly, but not too bad. The roads did not begin to glisten until I got up onto Phinney Ridge. The snow held off until I was home. I began to believe the TV weatherpersons’ threats as I observed a cop car equipped with tire chains.

From the ferry, I headed toward Fremont. My normal route is straight up Marion to 4th where I turn left. Those climbs from 1st to 4th make you hope for red lights. Once I reach 4th, the light is usually red which allows me to triumphantly make a left turn in front of the stopped cars and proceed on the left side of 4th which is a one-way northbound street. This keeps you from having to deal with buses.

As I rode through downtown, I thought about how some of the pictures I would take that night at Chucks would provide a clever contrast between the appearance of a mini mart and a taproom. What I found in actually snapping those shots was that there is not much of Chucks that doesn’t clue you in that you are in a special place – special for those who imbibe. With all the aisles of wine and beer bottles it was hard to get a shot of typical convenience fare. There are a few aisles though that hold the standard candy bars, crackers, laundry soap and cans of pet food.

Convenience store fare on one of the side aisles. And in the distance, beer. On the right side of this pic you can barely see the rack of cool logo tshirts.

Just one of several bottle coolers. If you’re like me, you enjoy walking around with your beer and examining the great interesting variety of beers. There is a corkage fee of course, but you are welcome to have a bottle opened to enjoy in-store.

Once I reach Blanchard, I turn right. I try to wind up on the left side of this one-way street as well. At 7th, I turn left. It’s on this street that one begins to see the recent improvements in bike amenities. A few months ago, a car traffic lane was eliminated and dedicated to a striped zone that separates the car lane from the bike lane. This puts a great big smile on my face, though I always think about how it doubtless angers as many motorists as cyclists it benefits. Coincidentally, on one of my visits to West Seattle’s Super Deli Mart I overheard an old gentleman complaining, over a pint, to his buddy about the lunacy of this very thing.

7th curves and becomes Dexter, which takes you into Fremont but you will eventually deal with a steady climb before you get there. Shortly after the light at Denny, however, please be careful, and think about the man who was killed recently by a driver who turned left in front of him. For a while there was a bicycle, painted all white, with memorial decorations at the crash site. A sign said “a cyclist died here.”

Along this stretch of Dexter, you are treated to some very nice bike facilities. There was a bike lane there before, but now it is improved, and the road is new and smooth. It’s hard to overemphasize how much I enjoy rolling along a stretch of road with good bike features. At cross streets, for example, there are multiple sharrows symbols on the ground that seem to be there to make it perfectly clear to emerging motorists that there will be bikes here, and they belong here. Someone in Seattle leadership finds cyclists a to be a priority. This islander is very jealous.

An example of the awesome bike facilities here on Fremont Ave N. I am smiling.

At Mercer St, you will likely wait at the red light. A while after the aforementioned climb, you will enjoy a nice descent that ends at the big intersection before the Fremont Bridge where you will also wait. There is a sign there that states that cyclists should use the pedestrian signal. This has always made me think I either need to cross at the crosswalk, or at least press the button. What has worked fine for me is to dismount and run across when I finally receive the walk signal. I suppose I could ride across, but I like to show good faith to drivers. Once across, I follow the bike symbol on the ground that welcomes me onto the sidewalk and across the bridge in the dedicated pedestrian/cyclist lane. After crossing the bridge, bikes are supposed to leave the sidewalk concrete and rejoin the road where we have painted road symbols giving us the right of way to go straight through the right turn lane and through the light. Be very aware, though, that a good number of drivers do not understand, or respect, this right and will make the right turn across your path.

Once through the bustling core of Fremont, you will likely have a nice wait at 39th where you can collect your thoughts and prepare for the climb. Here my mind goes to my prior visits to Chuck’s. During tonight’s visit he would tell me that they currently have around 800 beers from which to choose. But he hopes to up that to the thousand touted on the logo tshirt that I am sporting under a couple layers. The beer taps number 23 and 7 more are planned.

Do you have what it takes to wear one of these? Actually it just takes like $15.

One particularly great thing that you will find at Chuck’s, in addition to a flat screen for normal viewing pleasure, is the dedicated flat screen TV that serves as their tap list. I first saw this priority-revealing move employed at Portland’s Apex, and loved it. And here it is in a convenience store.

The flat screen taplist! That pic on the screen was, I believe, of the bratwurst sandwich he was offering – or something like it. Yes, they will grill you up a meaty sandwich right there if you are so inclined. Now, however, the taplist is full of beers only. Maybe because he has expanded to 30 taps?

Sometimes I really love living here. But I still have Portland envy. Viewing Apex’s website recently, I was was reminded that there is “always tons of bike parking” and invited to “drink, don’t drive.” These two statements sync with the experiences I had in Portland. While Western Washington is a pretty good region for cycling, I must say that with a few notable exceptions, most places I visit in Seattle, and all of them in Kitsap, have one bike out front: mine.

Doing my part for the environment by filtering exhaust through my lungs

Now on to the ascent. During the day, you may find yourself jockeying with buses here. At 50th, you will need to turn left as the zoo is ahead. Likely, you will wait at this light. Like most lights, it does not sense cycles (or motorcycles in my experience). Often I have given up and made my left turn at the crosswalk in front of me and proceeded on the sidewalk until there was a gap in traffic that allowed me to ride across the street. Of course, you’re on your own if you choose to do things like this. Soon the road makes a right turn and you are now on Phinney Ave. At 67th St, the road curves left and then right. Now you are on Greenwood Ave.

Yeah, flyin, baby! 67th – where Phinney Ave curves L then R to become Greewnood Ave

On this stretch of the journey you will pass the Park Pub, 74th Street Ale House, and if you were to continue to near 87th, Naked City, which pours a wide variety of mostly Western U.S. craft brews in addition to Naked City brewed beers which are quite tasty.

Tonight we will continue on to our goal and turn left on 85th. From this point on to Chucks, I actually ride on the sidewalk for safety reasons. I do this whenever it seems too dangerous to be out on the roadway. There are just some places where it is clear that the odds are way too stacked against cyclists. It’s my understanding that riding on the sidewalk is legal in Seattle. If not, then those bike “Ambassadors” downtown have some explaining to do. I have never looked into what those folks actually do, but I think it is probably something good. Of course when I ride on sidewalks, I go slowly, scanning intensely for danger, and giving right of way to pedestrians.

Now I am quite close to my destination. It is just several blocks of sidewalk riding. A note of interest: The Greenwood Market that you pass on this stretch is closing. This, of course, is part of the small chain that originated with Town & Country Market here on the island. Tonight at Chuck’s I heard more than one customer reference this closing and say that it would add to Chuck’s business. I’m not sure about this, as there is a Fred Meyer next door to Greenwood Market.

Goodbye Greenwood Market. Hello Fred Myer.

From your sidewalk vantage point, you will not get a great view of Chuck’s coming up ahead. There is a lighted sign above, and there are usually sandwich boards on the corner at of 85th and 8th.

That glowing rectangle is Chuck’s lighted sign viewed from the sidewalk as we approach.

And here we have the sandwich boards. Chuck told me about a place called Sweet Lou’s which is directly ahead in this pic, I believe. He said it has quite a good beer selection.

You will find a bike rack in front, though it is small and not attached to anything. With cargo, my bike easily outweighed the rack.

I guess this would make hauling my bike away somewhat more difficult for a thief unless they were to just toss it all into the back of a truck. Through the windows you can see a couple tables. There is more seating in the back, in the “bar” area.

I came prepared this evening with a small list of questions for Chuck. I proceeded toward the back part of the store where the man himself cheerfully asked what I would like to try. This is an important facet of the experience at Chuck’s – the cordial and sincere offer to try samples. Chuck says he is willing to let someone sample all of his draft beers. Now that’s cordial. In fact, on my first visit, he invited me to sample a beer, saying “don’t be shy.” This is something upon which Chuck expanded this evening, explaining that he wants customers to find the beer they like without being embarrassed to ask for a sample.

The man himself! Would you like to sample something?

I found a seat and ordered a half pint. Here is another important point: Chuck’s offers half pints at half the price of full pints. To someone who wants to taste a wide variety of beers, and is cost-conscious, this is awesome. At most places, a schooner size beer costs significantly more per ounce, which discourages the value hound from ordering the smaller size, and limits the amount of different beers they can try.

As Chuck juggled manning the register up front and tending “bar”, I sipped my beer and studied the big screen, planning my next beer choice. As he had time Chuck allowed me to run through my list of questions.

Q 1: What is your favorite beer?

A 1: Chuck listed three types: IPA, Barleywine and Imperial Stout. He currently likes Laurelwood’s Workhorse IPA and Ironhorse’s Cinco de Drinco IPA. He said that he likes the barleywine currently offered by Ninkasi. In Imperial Stouts, he enjoys North Coast’s Old Rasputin and Great Divide’s Yeti.

Q 2: How long have you had the store?

A 2: Two years in March.

Q 3: When did you start pouring beers?

A 3: May 2011. He currently has 23 taps and plans to up that to 30. He may do away with the espresso machines to make room. The morning crowd is dying out somewhat, he explains, adding that Chuck’s used to be a convenience store with beer and is becoming a beer store with convenience store items.

Q 4: What inspired you to start serving beer here?

A 4: He simply appreciated good beer, carried good beer, and it “took on a life of its own.”

Q 5: Is most of the store’s beer business done by neighborhood folks, or by folks from other areas?

A 5: 80% comes from the neighborhood. The rest have heard about this “family beer store.”

Q 6: What does the future hold for Chuck’s on 85th?

A 6: Chuck reminded me of the goal to live up to the slogan “Land of a Thousand Beers.” As for beers on tap, he says that only four were originally planned, but this “neighborhood driven” store responded to demand.

The seating area. It has since been expanded a bit, and some convenience store fare went away because of it. Priorities!

Chuck intimated that in the beginning he didn’t know how to be a beer store, but has learned along the way. He also expanded upon something that I had read: This convenience store, prior to his ownership, used to be something different, specializing more in things like porn and Four Loco. In the realm of beer, Chuck says that people appreciate that his store is not like a bar, rather it is something more family friendly. He says the neighborhood has taken notice. People want to move to the neighborhood because of him, he stated with pride. I believe it. As someone who not only appreciates good beer, but service without attitude, I too would have Chuck’s on 85th in the “pro” column of my checklist.

After savoring my favorite selections from the flat screen menu, my mind necessarily turned toward the buzz-killing question: Which boat will I take home? It was time to leave.

Here’s a tip: If you find yourself in the Greenwood neighborhood on a Tuesday night, and like me, you have hauled two growlers with you, stop in Pillager’s Pub for 1/2 price growler fills! Pillager’s is where the local Baron Beer and Three Skulls Ales are poured. They are located across the street from Naked City, and diagonally across from Safeway.

The route home is a simple reversal of the way you got to Chucks, except for where you near downtown. One way streets dictate that once you find yourself at 7th and Bell you turn right, toward downtown. I take the left side of this one way street. Along this stretch you will deal with a few lights that don’t recognize your bike and/or are simply on a timer. I always wonder about just how traffic signals work, don’t you? Proceed to 2nd and turn left onto this one way southbound street. Be aware of the cars that are seeking parking spots in front of you, or will make left turns across your path, despite the signage forbidding it. At Columbia, turn right and take this street to the ferry terminal.

Thanks so much for joining me on this inaugural voyage of Two Pedals, a Couple Pints. I look forward to more adventures with you. Cheers, and keep those wheels turning!

Advertisements