written and photographed by Jackie Dodd
In the heart of Ballard is a heavy wooden door, fashioned from planks salvaged from an old horse stable. Pulling it open, you step into the past—not just the 70-year-old building, or the beers made to resemble those of yesteryear, or even the dishes expertly crafted to mirror what was available to Nordic tribes centuries ago. It’s the space — Skål Beer Hall.
The idea behind Skål Beer Hall was to create a modern take on Viking gathering spaces of centuries ago. Nailed it. It’s not kitschy, it’s not Disney for Vikings, it’s not a museum. It’s a beautiful, well thought-out place for a community to gather and grow, a community that has been forming since well before the renovation was complete and the doors opened.
“My Scandinavian background is really important to me,” said Adam McQueen, the owner and driving force behind Skål. “I wanted a place to celebrate that.” McQueen is an active member of local Scandinavian clubs and museums, and the community has rallied behind his endeavors. Gaining more of a fan following each day, his supporters have grown to include the Norwegian ambassador to the United States, and well over a thousand “mug club” members who invested in his idea, sight unseen.
“So, who will be the first to get the tattoo?” I asked about the Skål logo, a hop cone sporting Viking horns. McQueen is quick to point out that he knows real Vikings never actually wore horns, but the logo was such a perfect representation of his idea that he went with it anyway. “I do have a super fan who mentioned wanting to get it,” McQueen said, “a mug club member who stood outside our door with his dad for hours before the soft open because he wanted to be the first customer inside.” This is the level of fandom McQueen was able to cultivate before the doors even opened to the public—a loyal following of customers even before they were able to sample the Norwegian beer, mead and Aquavit cocktails, before they’d used their teeth to pull deliciously slow-cooked duck hearts from wooden skewers, and before they’d raised a handmade earthenware mug to their lips. For those who have watched the space progress on social media, catching glimpses of the progress along Ballard Avenue, I can promise you this: it does not disappoint.