Which is Better: SBP Poplar or SBP Fremont?

Note: For the original review of SBP Fremont, click here.

I have consulted with the rock gods and they have provided me with the answer to the question posed in the title of this post: Which is better: Seattle Bouldering Project Poplar or Seattle Bouldering Project Fremont? You might think this would be subjective and that there could be no definitive answer. But as I found out after talking to the rock gods for several hours over a sour yesterday at Fremont Brewing, especially the god of granodiorite, you’d be wrong.

Let’s start with a few comparisons that are objectively objective:

  1. Size

SBP Poplar is much bigger than SBP Fremont Main. However, if you add Upper Walls to SBP Fremont (and for the purposes of this post we do), SBP Poplar is still bigger, but not THAT MUCH bigger.

Advantage: Poplar

2. Training facilities

Poplar has way more hangboards, two spray walls, a fitness room, a way bigger gym, and two treadwalls.

Fremont has nice moon/kilter boards, a smaller gym, and that’s about it.

Advantage: Poplar

3. Age

Fremont is, obviously, much newer.

Advantage: Fremont

……………………………………………………………………………………….

So far the advantage seems to be going to Poplar. Now let’s move onto things that are slightly more subjective.

4. Setting

Advanced climbers seem to be able to appreciate the differences in setting between the two locations. I, being an ignoramus who’s only climbed for 2+ years, do not. To me they seem pretty much the same. The only blue I’ve ever flashed was at Fremont, and the only pink I’ve ever sent was at Fremont, but I also climb at Fremont quite a bit more since it’s closer to where I live. I generally like the volumes and walls better at Fremont because they seem newer, but that could just be mostly in my head.

Advantage: Push

5. Vibes

OK, so this is a tough one, but it’s also the most important one. Which location has better vibes? By “vibes” I mean ambience, environment, mood, feeling. Which one are you more likely to go to and come out saying, “Damn, the people were rad there tonight. People were crushing and everyone was so nice and I think that one girl even looked at my butt.” Again, the purists would say SBP Poplar, because the purists live in south Seattle and are jaded. But after consulting the gods over our second sour at Fremont Brewing, the goddess of schist, a cute little number named Trina who loves crimpy face problems and hates kneebars, provided the definitive answer: SBP Fremont (and actually Upper Walls).

Advantage: Fremont 

6. Staff

Again, a tough one. I have more experience with the SBP Fremont staff and I’m inclined to say they’re nicer there, but it’s not like they’re “not nice” or “not professional” at either of the locations. That said, I used to go to Poplar all the time before Covid, and in all have had way more solid interactions with the staff at SBP Fremont. So I’m going to go out on a wiry sapling’s branch and say it:

Advantage: Fremont

7. Crowds

This one could probably be put in the subjective category if I talked to the people at SBP. I’m sure they could tell me in two seconds which one gets more traffic, though I’m not sure they could tell me which gets more traffic relative to size. I’ve been to both at times (read: weeknights) when they feel like an absolute Covid factory, and I’ve been to both when they feel like ghost towns (read: weekdays). The main areas of both gyms I would say are equally crowded on a weeknight, while the lesser-known areas (the northwest room at Poplar and Upper Walls in Fremont) aren’t so bad. So…..

Advantage: Push (except when it’s Seattle Pacific night at Fremont, in which case, run for your life)

8. Location

Obviously Fremont is easier to get to for me, but I think most would agree Fremont is just a much nicer location in general. It’s close to restaurants, cafes, Gas Works, and in a nice residential neighborhood. Poplar is close to I-5 and a homeless encampment where I saw a lady the other day blocking the road and intimidating a small dog. Not a great scene. Fremont you can walk out of and go to Fremont Brewing or the Pacific Inn and grab a beer with your friends, Poplar you can walk out of and go to a…Shell station.

Advantage: Fremont

9. Miscellaneous

What kind of things could you include in a “miscellaneous” category. Well, I haven’t really talked about facilities so far. Poplar, for example, has WAY more storage for your stuff. Fremont basically has none. People end up just strewing their shit on the ground like it’s a yard sale. Poplar also has a sauna, though to be fair the men’s locker room usually smells like a dirty gym sock. Poplar also has more chilling areas, more places to lurk and watch people climb, though the mezzanine section upstairs at Fremont is quite nice. One thing I will say about Poplar: they sell guidebooks, and some obscure ones at that, like the Okanagan Bouldering Guidebook. So…advantage?

Advantage: Poplar

There you have it, folks. In a close but not that close race, Seattle Bouldering Project Fremont wins the competition in the illustrious “Who’s Better?” challenge. This isn’t to say that SBP Poplar isn’t worth visiting, of course. Both are fabulous climbing gyms, something that becomes apparent as soon as you climb anywhere else. And the vibes are great at both too, generally, and something your attitude greatly influences and a subject on which the bouldering gods (except for Trina) were curiously unable to comment. Either way, get out there and rip some pinks. Or oranges. Or whites. Or just sit in the mezzanine and watch other people crush.

– Wetz