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Union Saloon

A gathering place

In days past (like two years ago), people used the phrase "third place" to reference the spot they spent the most time after work and home. Thanks to the pandemic, "work" and "home" have combined to become "first place." So it looks like Union Saloon is now "second place."

Michelle Magidow

Names aside, owner Michelle Magidow dreamt of having a place that would bring a neighborhood together and create community. She opened Union Saloon in 2017 and achieved that dream. "Looking back, I'm proud to say that Union has become a gathering place where people know and talk to each other; meet people; and enjoy a good plate of food with a beer, classic or house cocktail, wine, and good service. We'll introduce people to each other if they haven't met before."

Michelle had specific ideas on how her place would work. "I always planned on a horseshoe-shaped bar. People will talk to each other if they're across from each other, much more so than if they're facing the bar. When I was looking for space, that was an issue: it had to be wide enough to accommodate the bar in the middle of the room." She also found the front door, which is nearly 10 feet tall, artwork on the walls, and the lighting. There are wood high-top tables as well as wood booths, and plenty of windows. It took nine months to do the build-out. "During the pandemic, I added four more tables to outside dining."

When looking for locations, another goal was that it be no more than 10 minutes from her home. "I looked at a lot of places and really wanted to be on the lake. I looked at Westward before it was Westward! I would have gone into the industrial section of Ballard, but not on Ballard Avenue. I wanted to be in a neighborhood. I got what I wished for in this location, even though I'm kind of hidden away." It's true that it's in an unexpected spot (it was originally an office building), but you feel like you've stumbled onto a hidden gem, which you have.

Burratta

"It was the right time for me to pull together my ideas and create a space of my own. I wanted to give the city something it didn't really have six or seven years ago: a nice but affordable restaurant with a community feel. A place where a single woman could feel comfortable sitting alone at the bar. There are more nice places like this now in various neighborhoods, but very few back then."

Food-wise, Michelle always planned on having a scratch kitchen. "The only can you'll find in the kitchen is catsup. We make our own mayo, bread, sauces. It's a balancing act these days with prices going up, but it's important to me to continue that style of cooking and maintain our integrity. It gets more difficult as volume increases. As brunch grows, we'll figure out how to keep the quality of our biscuits up while increasing the number we make. Our brunch is really delicious and I'm looking ahead to people discovering it."

Everyone talks these days about the hiring nightmare, but it's not new. "It was surprising to me that I had trouble finding labor in 2017. Back then, there were restaurants opening weekly and the labor pool was already tight. We're very lucky to be in this neighborhood. When we had to close due to the pandemic, we'd been open 2+ years and were just hitting our stride. I never closed, just went straight into take out. Neighbors and people I didn't know would buy chicken every week, wine, gift cards. They wanted to make sure we would stay here. Now they can come in again and are still taking care of the staff. Even when we don't have enough people on the floor, customers know we're doing the best we can to take care of them - knowing their favorite drink or the table they like best. And they take really good care of us. We stay engaged."

Michelle works at the restaurant every day. "I would be fine if I didn't have to be here every day," she says, "but I wanted to start a restaurant so I would have a job. When I started in the business, I strategically wanted to learn every job so I would understand the whole. Now I can be the chef, or the bartender, or the server, or the dishwasher. I had an opening chef here and he did a great job. But when he left, I didn't replace him. I may not cook every day, but I am the one designing the menu. I've never worked in the corporate environment, because I prefer to work with individual owners who take a role in the establishment." Having worked in this industry and area for so long, Michelle has deep connections. "We all help each other and that really showed during this pandemic. It's all part, again, of being a community."

Pork Verde

While happy with Union Saloon, there are a few things Michelle would like to see happen. "Before summer, we were doing Thursday tastings, whether that was spirits, wine, vermouth. I'd like to bring that back in the fall. I'd like to get back to having wine dinners. I hope to have a larger to-go wine program. I have an eclectic list now because the people I buy wine from know I like to continually learn about wine, so they bring me new and different things. I like to push that forward to customers so we all become more knowledgeable. I'd also like to be open on Tuesdays again."

Michelle likes her restaurant, likes being there, and it shows. We can all be part of the Union community.

Connie Adams/August 2022

Click here to read about Michelle's background.

Union Saloon
3645 Wallingford Ave N
Seattle, WA 98103
206-547-2280

www.unionsaloonseattle.com


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Bargeen-Ellingson

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