Capitol Hill's Witness Has Plenty of Soul

Witness preaches good cocktails, Southern food and charm—can we get an amen?
A.J. Rathbun  |   January 2014   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
Capitol Hill’s Witness puts the soul in drinks and dinner

Across the street from a QFC and surrounded by a host of restaurants and shops on the northerly end of Capitol Hill, Witness (410 Broadway E; 206.329.0248; witnessbar.com) drops a large dollop of Southern style, hospitality and taste into the Broadway rumpus.

Owner Gregg Holcomb (a beloved fixture behind the bar at the Knee High Stocking Company for years) embraced the idea of soul (in both senses of the word) food and cocktails in this one-story building that used to house 5 Fish and a Burger. You’ll find traditional Southern dishes on the food menu from chef Jesse Elliott (formerly of Cuoco)—such as shrimp and grits (grilled shrimp, rich bacon gravy and white corn grits; $13) and piping hot beignets served in a mini-fryer at the table ($7)—and divinely inspired drinks on the cocktail menu. Take the Son of the Preacher Man ($8, $6 during happy hour): It sings with a choir of bourbon, black pekoe tea, lemon and honey syrup. However, I think the drink that ascends to the highest heights is the herby Witness cocktail, with Blanton’s bourbon, Bénédictine, Carpano Antica and a hickory-smoked cherry ($15).

The libations and culinary choices fit well with the overall atmosphere of the bar, which has white clapboard walls, dark walnut chairs and tables, backlit church windows above booths—102-year-old former pews from a North Carolina church—and a big mural of a countryside scene straight out of the South behind the L-shaped bar. It’s an ideal setting for some of the convivial barkeep’s special events, such as Sunday School on the first Sunday of the month at 4 p.m. For $40, you can learn about a different spirit (of the bottled kind) as well as enjoy food and drinks. Holcomb also gives a sermon—not to be missed—every Saturday night at 10 p.m. Past topics have included fornication and a woman’s place; my guess is his take on the topics is much different than actual Southern preachers, though his enthusiasm isn’t any less.

Thanks to a well-placed bar railing, kids are welcome, which means Witness has popped to the top of the list of weekend brunch spots where the whole family can attend without sacrificing a decent drink. It also rates high on the friendly side, with generous “hellos” as you walk in the door, and an attentive and amiable staff. Hallelujah! 

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