The Baltic Room
Seattle, Washington



Bhangra beats in grunge city.

The Baltic Room has always seemed a little out of place in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood and maybe even in Seattle in general. Aiming at Manolos more than Merrells, the Baltic Room’s attempts at a Sex and the City vibe often seem a little forced in the punk hipster neighborhood of a casual, Pacific Northwest city. But maybe Seattle needs a little chic, because the Baltic Room’s cool, red, world beat-flavored formula seems to be exhaling a mojito-tinged breath of fresh air into this neighborhood of wannabe dive bars.

The club’s entrance is relatively unassuming, angling a bit for that very VIP hole-in-the-wall club atmosphere. Once inside, however, any such pretense is dropped. The door leads into an open room with a few tables, largely ignored by most clubbers unless they are in dire need of seating. A few steps end in a narrow room containing one booth, a bar dominated by Chinese lanterns, and a steep staircase that leads to a balcony and perhaps a hospital trip for many an overly enthusiastic cosmo connoisseur. The balcony is the prime seating spot, with cushy booths, tables overlooking the bar and dancefloor, a small fireplace, and a subtle skylight.

On any given night, you can catch a featured touring DJ or one of Baltic Room’s regularly scheduled specialty nights, which include everything from live hip hop to drum ‘n’ bass to downtempo. The Stalkers hung up their flannel in exchange for a decidedly different kind of night in Seattle.

Stalker #1
A group of about six of us decided to check out I Heart Shiva, a bhangra dance night. One of my friends, who had been before, reports that the music is fabulous and the crowd, despite the event’s Monday night scheduling, is usually to capacity (albeit often populated by sleazoid guys who make the club’s already small space shrink even more). Monday, however, the sleazoids and their bhangra-head counterparts are nowhere to be seen when we arrive. We got there at a humiliating 9:30 in order to take advantage of the “Ladies free before 10” promotion, but well into the hour of ten the dance floor is looking forlorn. Ever the conscientiously fashionable partygoers, we remain perched in the balcony, sipping key lime martinis that taste like a bit of summery heaven.

And it’s actually nice to be able to sit and talk quietly, especially in a bar that’s usually so crowded that you can’t tell which is your sweat and which belongs to the cologne-saturated dude standing on the other side of the room. Tonight the Baltic Room has sort of a comfortable snootiness to it. One friend describes it as “sexy and cozy,” an odd combination that actually pretty aptly sums it up.

Stalker #2
The Baltic Room advertises I Heart Shiva as a “night of sitar and tabla infused music from India and Southeast Asia including Bollywood, bhangra, and Asian dub.” The night I attend, I find the music, while certainly chill and certainly not abrasive, to be a little uninspired. The DJ’s sound is augmented by a pair of percussionists (a white dude on a djembe and a mulleted tablaist) on a rug- and tapestry-bedecked platform in front of the DJ. While it’s very cool to have them right next to your shaking booty, neither musician ever really stands out or adds anything all that fascinating to the mix. They employ neither the usual tabla rock star mechanisms nor the crystal-waving neo-hippie vibe. (What?! Why am I complaining that there wasn’t a crystal-waving neo-hippie vibe?!) While this lack of showmanship is slightly disappointing, I guess it’s appropriately mellow, befitting the DJ’s placid, underdone set.

Stalker #3
By about 11:30, about 150 people have hit the club—a relatively small number for the Baltic Room on an average night. The dancefloor is comfortably full of girls and boys trying to think of new ways to incorporate prayer hands and flowing arms into their moves. While this certainly serves as a potent reminder of just how embarrassing most white people are when they dance, the floor has a congenial, carefree vibe to it that just makes you want to give in and make an ass of yourself. So we do, searching with our hips and behinds for our inner spiritual club kid, until one of the aforementioned sleazoids bullies his way into our inner circle, aggressively dancing closer and closer to my friend until he’s holding her hands up and dancing on her. His oh-so-subtle wooing disrupts the friendly tranquility of the floor, so we head back to our table.

From the balcony, I watch a couple attempt to salsa to a Panjabi MC remix—they are good enough to make it actually work. Then the DJ kicks it up a notch, layering the bhangra-ized “Nightrider” theme and a full Bollywood choral number under and over Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin’ But a G Thang.” I sit back, sip my crantini, and enjoy this insistently unposh town’s little oasis of poshness.

—compiled by Rachel Devitt

Copyright 2004 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2004 TESTA Communications