North City Bistro owners Ray and Sharon Bloom stand in front of their wine library. Photo by Jean Mishler.
By Jean Mishler
Only windows framed with festive lights indicate anything special about the single-story building off of 15th Ave NE on 177th in Shoreline. But upon entering, the North City Bistro & Wine Shop promises to satisfy almost all the senses. After purchasing the venue two years ago, Ray and Sharon Bloom have been hard at work satisfying their mission of providing “a venue for the community but also for the musicians” and a “place where people can bring their families and hear quality music.” They offer a space for a host of talent from the Northwest and beyond, fostering a commitment to encouraging young talent along with seasoned veterans. An all-ages club, they make it one of their goals to offer opportunities for young musicians to play and younger listeners to appreciate.
At arrival, patrons take in the European-style decor, with the wine library (400+ varieties) like stacks, lining the walls at the front of the house by the band. There’s also a cozy little bar near the front, and, back by the kitchen, tall bistro tables where customers can get a view of the band, listen to the music, or engage in conversation – whatever their inclination.
While the atmosphere pleases the eye, head chef Bernice Vazquez with kitchen staff Paul Herrin and Johnny Damian tempt patrons with all the aromas of their Mediterranean menu. Distracting smells like the sweet spiciness of the ricotta doughnuts with cardamom that jazz singer and customer Amy Kramer Hawks enjoys, or perfectly prepared scallops with herbed potatoes and carrots, waft from all sides to please noses and, eventually, taste buds.
In addition to its expansive wine offerings, North City Bistro also possesses a hand-selected collection of spirits, the only available for miles in the city of Shoreline. And it’s a generous pour. “This is the best thing about the martinis here,” local jazz singer and customer Jacqueline Tabor declared, tapping the glass three times with her glittering nail, “the leftovers. It’s just like love.”
Perhaps most importantly, however, is North City Bistro’s generous support of music, both the makers and the audiences. There’s the real sacrifice of keeping a local venue going: staffing enough labor to make sure service is strong and patrons are comfortable, but not so much labor for cost overruns, is a constant challenge and involves its own art of crystal ball-gazing. There’s also the obvious caring touches: serving as an emcee to Nancy Erickson’s recent CD release party, owner Ray Bloom introduced her to the sold-out crowd himself. And there’s the not-so-obvious: their generous free drink and entree offerings for performing musicians is not usual in the business, but is much appreciated by the players. But that’s just what they do – dish out displays of love five days a week, 51 weeks a year (they’re closed the first week of January), to the local community.
Ray and Sharon Bloom opened the club just over two years ago, on January 8, 2014. Neither were strangers to business, Sharon having worked years in house cleaning and Ray having years of experience at various businesses, working for Yamaha, opening a pro audio store in Portland, and even building his own music store in Chelan, and then later, in the wine import business where the North City Bistro was one of his clients. But owning a club was definitely new to them. When asked why they decided to buy the club, Ray’s first response was, “Insanity according to some….” but later he confided it encapsulated all their loves: wine, spirits, food, and music. “Music is our passion,” proclaims Sharon.
North City Bistro is open five nights a week for dinner, with music four to five nights a week. The bistro is also available for special events catering on Sundays and has “Wine Maker” events periodically throughout the year, where local winemakers pair their wines with a four- or five-course dinner, discussing the attributes of each and their contributions to the meal.
Ray and Sharon are grateful to the friends who have served as consultants as they worked to take North City Bistro to the next level as a club, and say they feel blessed by all the people who have helped them and all the friends they have met, both musicians and patrons. Musicians love how they are treated, as do the customers. The couple was also happy to discover how much they “love being together and working together” over these last two years of their joint endeavor. Their biggest surprise? “We were shocked at the quality of musicians,” Ray says. “It has been amazing.” Aero, their 14-year-old Karelian Bear Dog, lounging at the entrance, lifted her head. In her well-used bed, North City Bistro’s canine host didn’t have much to add; she just lay there, happy to absorb the vibe.