At Large in Ballard: Swedish for Friday
Despite the fact that it’s listed as an item for next week’s auction there was no “Waltzing in the Nude” at the Swedish Cultural Center on Friday night. However there was a slight breeze on the deck overlooking the sailboats on Lake Union, a friendly babble by the well-stocked bar, the smell of dinner about to be served and a newly engaged couple taking in the view. There may even have been some Swedes in the house, but it doesn’t really matter because on Friday night on Dexter Avenue everyone can be “Swedish.”
The Swedish Cultural Center in Seattle has existed for 119 years but their home: a building that seems to own the view from the west side of Lake Union, is just 50 years old. That anniversary inspired their auction theme for Saturday, September 24th – Seattle in the 60’s, a party 50 years in the making. Their theme in turn inspired a summer of gathering together after their Friday night dinners to watch episodes of “Mad Men” and better prepare for martini time and the 60’s fashions encouraged for the fundraiser.
A friend has been inviting me on Friday night for months now. Even though I had been to the Cultural Center once for a birthday party I resisted the early hour for dining (6-7:30 p.m.) and envisioned the church lady luncheons of my childhood with lots of white gravy. I was so wrong. Instead the whole Cultural Center twinkles, from the chandeliers to the smiles of white-smocked Chefs Ann-Margret Lightle and Malin Jonsson as they lift the lids off the metal serving dishes and plate each generous meal.
Executive Director Kristine Leander pointed out what she calls the “niche” groups. The retired fishermen, the core group of volunteers, the man who has lunch and dinner there every Friday, the Virginia V captain, the English dancers who use the space, the Mad Men crowd, the young people who have discovered the food, the bar, one another. As Leander says of the center, “the social part is the glue.” She knows that once people start coming, and learn about Don the bartender’s generous pour, the location, the programs, the friendships and the light, thin pancakes, they’ll be hooked. It sends many a Ballardite south of the Ship Canal on Fridays.
Over and over everyone spoke of the social element while I was amazed by the view and the incredibly reasonable price ($12.00) for a delicious square meal, chicken with apricots, rice, sauce, carrots and green beans.
On this particular Friday night there wasn’t a line for dinner; this wouldn’t be true for the first Sunday of the month Pancake Breakfast or a themed dinner. Their ABBA night draws hundreds. Throughout the year the Swedish Cultural Center offers classes, a lending library, scholarships, a newsletter, ongoing film and lecture series (they treat the professor from Great Courses: Vikings as a rock star), a rental space for events, private catering. Membership is open to anyone. The head of the auction this year is an Icelander. The Swedish Cultural Center has clearly realized that its jewel location is meant to be a social center; a United Nations without the need for translators.
On Saturday, September 24th everyone is welcome to attend their auction at $90.00 per person (volunteers still needed) which will include a free martini, games, live and silent auction, Swedish smörgåsbord. . The master of ceremonies will be Ozzie Kvithammer, just retired from Viking Bank. Kip Toner will preside over the live auction which includes Don the bartender presiding at your private party, dinner for four at Chef Ann-Margret Lightle’s home, a week at a cabin on Whidbey, a Volvo chauffeur to an event or as part of Syttende Mai parade, the mysterious “Waltzing in the Nude” special performance and many a sundry 60’s or alcohol-themed donation for silent auction. (Online catalog available at www.swedishculturalcenter.org).
Even as the upstairs room cleared for the “Mad Men” episode downstairs, Robert Brewer and Devona Allen sat out on the deck above Lake Union, the sunset glow reflected on the window behind them nothing compared to their romantic glow. They got engaged in late July and on this very day have finalized plans for their wedding reception next summer at Swedish Cultural Center. If they’re already hooked, just wait until they are hitched.
The Swedish Cultural Center is located at 1920 Dexter Avenue North.