The South side of Seattle is a melting pot of different cultures and backgrounds and a trip down Rainier Avenue presents one with a variety of food and beverage options not found elsewhere in our fair city. You can find cuisines ranging from Ethiopian to Peruvian to Laotian to Soul food and everything in between – including a multitude of tacquerias being run out of refurbished buses. And while Columbia City gets most of the attention as this area evolves, it’s tiny Hillman City that sports Tin Umbrella Coffee, Spinnaker Bay Brewing, Union Bar, Big Chickie and now Slow Boat Tavern, all within a two block stretch on Rainier Ave.
Owner Ken Provost spent many years working in the beer industry both at the venerable Uber Tavern on Aurora near Green Lake for nine years as well as at PCC as a beer and wine buyer. His quest to open the perfect tavern began when he traveled throughout the world seeking out the best bars in each city he visited. He even took a cycling trip with a friend (who coincidentally works at The Stumbling Monk) all over Belgium to visit as many Trappist Monk breweries as possible. Now that’s R&D! His goal: to create the perfect blend of Capitol Hill classics The Comet and The Stumbling Monk.
Ken has been working the past six years saving and searching for the perfect spot for his old school tavern. The space for Slow Boat has an old world/dive bar feel with tall ceilings, leather bar stools, pinball machines upstairs and peanut shells on the floor. When asked, "Why open a tavern in Hillman City?" Provost responded, "Living in Columbia City, I saw how this neighborhood was developing. I knew that the new PCC was opening nearby and that this area was just taking off. I realized that there weren't a lot of specialty beer bars in this area and I thought it was something the neighborhood could use."
The focus is on the beer at Slow Boat Tavern and Provost is passionate about putting together a thoughtful, well-curated list which is a bit esoteric but still comfortable for customers to order from. In a city where it seems like every place has 27 rotating taps, it’s refreshing to see the "short and sweet" version. Among Provost’s friends are the folks behind Holy Mountain Brewing in Interbay so patrons will likely find a few of their offerings on tap as well as a half dozen or more Belgian brews.
But it’s not all highbrow beer for connoisseurs at the Slow Boat. Provost promises to always have Rainier schooners. He’s also doing shots of port and vermouth – a classic tavern move. He added, "I remember going to the Comet for the first time when I moved to Seattle and seeing people doing shots of port. I’m bringing back one of the classics and people seem to be excited about it."
Having a neighborhood pub is nothing new around the world. However, it serves a great purpose in the area as a gathering space for people. Provost added, "This place was closed and boarded up for 10 months before I opened it and I saw the opportunity. My vision was to cater to the neighbors and get people together. In the first week that I've been open, I have met so many people in the neighborhood. People who have been living on same block for years are meeting each other for the first time in my place. Slow Boat is open for everyone whether that want to come in and have coffee or a beer."
The Slow Boat Tavern is located at 5701 Rainier Ave South in Seattle. Hours are 2 p.m. to 12 a.m. Monday through Thursday, 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. on Sundays.
Note that the Slow Boat Tavern only accepts Debit or Credit Cards and the only food served is peanuts. That said, patrons are welcome to bring in their own food.