Best New Bars in Seattle (Plus One Standout in Tacoma)

They’re opening at a rapid clip—but these top-shelf spots rise above the rest
A.J. Rathbun  |   December 2013   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
Settle into the cozy ocean blue bar stools at Rumba on Capitol Hill

Rumba
Capitol Hill
Run by the folks from Tango next door, owner Travis Rosenthal and manager Kate Perry, Rumba is an island gem on the Pike Street Hillclimb. Settled into the cushy ocean-blue barstools, Cap Hill habitués and rum devotees sample the massive selection of rums and rhums (rum’s sugarcane-juice-based cousin) and nibble savory empanadas ($5 each, $12 for three). Try a ’Ti Punch (there are three bracing varieties made with rhum agricole, cane syrup and lime; $9–$11) made by knowledgeable bartender Connor O’Brien—it’s one of the best ways to take a tropical vacation without leaving the state.

Radiator Whiskey

Pike Place Market
From the giant barrel on the wall behind the bar to the wide selection of bourbons and ryes, Radiator Whiskey displays a serious devotion to the spirit that shares its name. It was opened in April by Dan Bugge (also of Matt’s in the Market, next door) in Pike Place Market’s historic Corner Market Building. My suggestion: Pick a spot under the arched windows, order the house whiskey made in conjunction with SoDo-based 2bar Spirits ($12)—I like it over a single ice cube—and something off the meat-centric menu from chefs Tyler Palagi and Charlie Garrison (if you’re with a few friends, you can even order half a smoked pig’s head for $48). Then, kick back and enjoy the views of always-humming First Avenue.

Witness

Capitol Hill
From former Knee High Stocking Company bartender Gregg Holcomb, this Southern church–inspired bar opened this past August, with booth seating made from 102-year-old North Carolina church pews and other divine furnishings, including backlit church windows. The eats have a general south-of-the–Mason-Dixon Line appeal (the shrimp and grits with bacon gravy, $13, are done right, in a down-home way), but the specialty cocktails follow the more prayerful side of the theme, with the Son of a Preacher Man (bourbon, black pekoe tea, lemon, honey syrup; $8) as a heavenly example. Holcomb also preaches a playful "sermon" every Saturday night at 10 p.m., and plans on having “Sunday school” teaching about a specific spirit on the first Sunday of each month at 4 p.m. (Above: Spread the gospel of Witness on Capitol Hill)

Rocco’s

Belltown
A welcome addition to the Belltown mélange and among the oldest bars on this list, Rocco’s was opened in August 2012 by Jesus Escobar, who also is behind Stylus Seattle Salon and the late Club Noc Noc. The bar boasts a 1940s charm that permeates the long, narrow space and a double devotion: creative cocktails and pizza. While the latter is quite tasty, it’s the drinks from bar manager Leroy Thomas (formerly of Mercato Ristorante in Olympia) and team that shine brightest, due to the combination of classical style and innovative ingredients. Take a past twist on the sour: They mix vodka or mezcal with simple syrup and lemon, and then add avocado ($10). (It’s not on the menu any more but they’ll make it if you bring your own avocado.)

Essex
Ballard
Owned by Brandon Pettit and Molly Wizenberg, who also helm Delancey next door, Essex features the same dedication to tip-top ingredients as its renowned pizza-rific sibling. (You can’t get pizza here, but happily, Essex has its own tasty food.) This commitment is evident in the range of house-made liqueurs and mixers that Pettit crafts by hand and uses in an array of delicious cocktails. Also, try the house-made Berg’s orange liqueur (when available) over ice, while perched at the cozy bar chatting up amiable bar manager Kenaniah Bystrom. The liqueur’s perfectly balanced layers of orange and citrus provide a delicious example of Essex’s pledge to high-quality drinks. (Above: Handcrafted drinks and fancy glassware are plentiful at Essex in Ballard: The Alonzo features gin, gentian, elderflower, lime, chartreuse and charred rosemary)

Percy’s & Co.
Ballard
A lovely spot in the space that used to house the Old Town Alehouse, Percy’s presents a duality of sorts: It’s a bit like an old-fashioned apothecary, while also coming across as a modern and friendly neighborhood bar. (There are actually ferns hanging from the ceiling!) Cheers to owners Jeff Ofelt (Bimbo’s, Cha Cha Lounge, King’s Hardware) and Wade Weigel (Rudy’s, Seattle Ace Hotel), as well as cousins Kyle Taylor and Joe Petersen (late of New York’s Apotheke), who run the spot. The drinks are highlighted by fresh herbs and spices, which also are in view on the bar along with bottles containing a tangy sour and other house mixers. A lovely standout cocktail is the balmed julep ($10), with star anise, allspice and mint flambéed and infused in bourbon, plus ginger, angostura bitters, the house sour and soda. It’s refreshing and zingy. You can also have a health-boosting tincture added to any drink, including ones for energy, immunity, libido, female balance and more. (The herbs are from Dandelion Botanical Company, a natural apothecary that’s also in Ballard.) The food also has a local focus, with seasonal highlights such as, last summer, a salad of tomatoes, whipped house-made ricotta, crushed croutons and fried basil ($8). (Above: The apothecary-like bar at Percy’s & Co. in Ballard)

Hilltop Kitchen
Tacoma
Providing another tasty reason to make the trip down to Tacoma, beloved former 1022 owner/bartender Chris Keil recently opened the Hilltop Kitchen with Matt Schweitzer of Cal’s Classic American in Kent. While the space is different than the starker 1022 (think dark wood tables, Mason jar candles and open ceiling beams) and the cuisine swings to a Latin-inspired beat, Keil’s penchant for showstopping cocktail flavor combinations hasn’t slowed. For example, dark rum, Scotch liqueur Drambuie, mole bitters and lime await in the Duncan Idaho ($10). (Above: Tacoma’s Hilltop Kitchen bar, from the genius formerly behind standout bar 1022)

The Old Sage
Capitol Hill
The latest from the McCracken-Tough crew and sitting next door to sibling Tavern Law, The Old Sage has a serious thing for smoke and a smooth, dimly lit late-’50s vibe. This love comes out in the dark wood interiors and a focus on the bottles behind the bar, in the menu’s abundance of smoked meats (pork cheeks with caraway and pickled beets should tempt any meat lover; $18), and in some of the superb Scotch-based cocktails made by affable bar manager Charles Veitch (formerly of Bastille) and the other friendly shakers. Perhaps my favorite from the summer is the Foreign Correspondent, with peated Scotch, strawberries, yellow Chartreuse, lemon and blanc vermouth ($12).

BARS TO WATCH: At the cuddly new Ethan Stowell Tangletown restaurant, Mkt. (spoken as “market”; Tangletown, 2108 N 55th St.; ethanstowellrestaurants.com), which opened this past September, you’ll find an unexpected bar menu. Taking an interesting tack, it features only a limited number of barrel-aged cocktails, all made in-house, alongside wine and beer. Across town, Big Fun (Capitol Hill, 1535 11th Ave., at Pine Street), slated to open this month from the busy Patric Gabre-Kidan (who was a co-owner of Tavolatà and How to Cook a Wolf, and who, in addition, assisted with the Book Bindery and more recently helped build Rachel’s Ginger Beer flagship store in Pike Place Market). We hope it lives up to the name.

Comments