Orcas Landing Livens Up Hillman City

By: 
Cody Bay

The glue to any good neighborhood is, of course, its neighborhood bar. Green Lake has The Latona, Phinney Ridge has The Park Pub, South Park would be lost without Loretta's, and the epicenter of Columbia City is Lottie's. Beacon Hill came a little undone with the closure of its beloved dive, The Beacon Pub (though newcomers Bar del Corso and The Traveler are thankfully filling that void in their own, albeit different ways). But Beacon's loss was the happy gain for a nearby community that has been begging desperately for its own watering/gathering hole: Hillman City, Columbia City's not-quite-up-and-coming little sister to the south, where Beacon Pub owner Laurie Lusko has resurfaced with the recent opening of Orcas Landing.

With its new dark wood chairs and tables, stained glass-style light fixtures, freshly painted burgundy walls and long teardrop shaped bar, it's clear that Lusko turned losing her lease on Beacon Hill into an opportunity to point her nose upward after 13 years of doing the dive jive. Orcas Landing, which opened about six weeks ago, has a classy vibe with a jazz music-themed art motif, and a decent menu of thoughtful pub grub that makes it a perfectly good destination for a casual evening out for drinks and a bite.

A satisfying meal could be had from the selection of bar snacks and appetizers: jalapeño poppers ($5), beer battered onion rings ($7) and a very nice bruschetta plate ($5). Or go for a meal like the homemade Mac n' Cheese ($7 – with a gorgonzola and bacon version in the works), a classic burger ($9) with all the lip-smacking add-ons, or Coconut Chicken, breaded with panko and coconut, baked and topped with coconut milk, veggies, and either baby red potatoes or mashers ($14). A host of new vegetarian options are in the works as well. Nothing is fussy, but it has been crafted with care. There are several rotating taps, a full bar and a nightly happy hour from 2-6 p.m. with $2.50 drafts, $3.50 wells and $1 off top shelf and all food.

The real reason to come, though, is that it's just so seriously neighborhoody. South Park may have surpassed the 98118 zip code in diversity in the last census, but you sure wouldn't know it here. On one recent Friday night, a Filipino jazz singer (and a good one) provided the evening's live entertainment while her friends and family filled the tables around her. Older African-American couples drifted in off the street for a nightcap after a dinner out, and the occasional Columbia City hipster poked his head in. During another recent happy hour stop-in, a Somali man proudly showed me photos of his daughters and then I did some kind of muddled cucumber shot with a charming elderly woman at the bar. I've never drank in a place that is so accurately representative of a neighborhood and all of its residents, nor where the residents are so interesting.

For those in Hillman City who have yet to discover that they at long last have their very own hoodie, Lusko, in all her seasoned bar owner know-how and genuine warmth, has plenty of plans to draw them in. Fridays are karaoke nights, plus live music on Saturdays; there's talk of a trivia night, new Sunday hours with morning brunch, and Mondays may just end up being "Manly Mondays." “Everyone has a Ladies night," says sweet-as-pie server Belinda Denny. “The guys always buy drinks for everyone, and when do they ever get a break?"

Hillman City still has a long way to go before it forges a real identity out of its melting pot. It has yet to establish the strong sense of community that some of its other south side neighbors possess. But with a comfy row of bar stools at the ready and tasty beers flowing from the taps, it may have just gotten one step closer.

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