The Best Designed Bars in Seattle

By: 
A.J. Rathbun
The Old Sage in Capitol Hill

Recently, one of our city’s own bars--the Living Room bar in the W Hotel--was named the “Best Designed Bar in America.” Designed by Skylab Architecture, which said it intended the space to have a “sonic lodge” feel, the W’s Living Room space is pretty, well, space age-y, in a 1970s vision-of-the-future meets the Northwest kind of way. And it worked--floors flow into cushy couches, there are acres of shiny colored walls and pink chandeliers, plus a looming fireplace tower with DJ booth. And while it’s awesome that a local bar was given that honorific at London’s International Restaurant and Bar Design Awards, I’d be willing to go out on a limb and say we have at least the top four best-designed bars, and maybe even the top ten, in the world. Since my design sense is average, I knew I’d need an expert opinion outside of the International Restaurant and Bar Design Awards, and so I reached out to Elizabeth Liu, a fashion- and design-focused friend who likes to have a good drink in exchange for a few ideas. Here are her picks for beautifully designed bars in Seattle.

Bastille (5307 Ballard Ave NW): Liu has worked in the fashion industry for years, and has visited more Seattle bars than I have (which is saying something). About Ballard’s French haven Bastille she says it has a “Parisian bistro feel true to form, with an intimate back bar.” I couldn’t agree more. The décor that owners James Weimann and Deming Maclise brought back from France, including the Parisian street light (from the late 1800s) and lovely clock (from 1950), the pendants over the bar from an early 1900s church in Southern France, as well as a slew of other European and local artifacts, all add to the authentic nature of the spot.

Needle & Thread and Old Sage (1406 and 1410 12th Avenue): As these two are both part of the McCracken/Tough empire (bars and restaurants from Brian McCracken and Dana Tough), I’m including them together. The watering holes also happen to be neighbors. First, Needle & Thread is on the Parisian trek, and has, as Liu says, “a spot-on Parisian speakeasy feel.” Its cozy demeanor doesn’t downplay the beautiful bar space that’s accented by lovely lighting. Next door, Old Sage has a great dedication to a drink-focused design, with a long L-shaped bar and lots of emphasis on the extensive spirit selection. Its dimly lit ambience and wide selection of seating options adds to the casually cool feel.

Witness (410 Broadway East): This new bar on Broadway doesn’t have same kind of glamorous design and shimmer as the spots mentioned above, but it wins major points with me for following a theme without driving it overboard. It loosely resembles a Southern church with 102-year-old pews as booths, white slate walls featuring backlit church windows and a big Kentucky-esque countryside mural behind the bar. The drink menu mirrors the décor, too: try the Son of a Preacher Man--bourbon, black pekoe tea, lemon, and honey or the Presbyterian.

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