Discussing stylish new restaurants and bars opening in Pioneer Square is reaching fatigue status, but confabbing over the most promising arrivals never gets tiring.
The latest one to hit the scene is Damn the Weather, a lofty old space that once housed half of the New Orleans Creole Restaurant. Here, original materials such as exposed brick and hardwood floors create a neutral slate for the exceptional food coming out of the kitchen. More on that in a second.
Opened by former Rob Roy barman Bryn Lumsden in June, Damn the Weather is equal parts bar and restaurant, with a name derived from a classic cocktail. All of these factors suggest that the drinks at this fancy saloon are legit (which they are; Seattle magazine cocktail expert A.J. Rathbun breaks it down below), but it would be a mistake to think the food isn’t a draw all its own.
Heading up the kitchen is Eli Dahlin. He was the chef de cuisine at Renee Erickson’s Walrus and the Carpenter for four years and a disciple of Ethan Stowell. Now, he presides over his own menu.
But with an influx of 40,000 fans into the neighborhood on any given game day, the clientele here is different than what Dahlin is used to. Because of that, he’s learning how to evolve his menu. Certain dishes, such as brandade (an emulsion of salt cod and olive oil)—which hit it out of the park when he worked for Erickson and Stowell—didn’t go over well when Damn the Weather opened. It disappeared off the roster.
There are, however, certain items that have been hits since day one, such as the ridiculously addictive salt and pepper chicken skins ($6) with chili and peanuts; the Caesar salad sandwich ($10), a classy “toad in the hole” featuring a Caesar salad between two slices of grilled brioche; and a hefty serving of beef heart tartare ($12), spiffed up with a little malt vinegar, mustard oil and sea beans, and topped with fried tea leaves. All three of those dishes are prime examples of how diverse the menu can be.
Dahlin’s upscale take on the Seattle Dog
A Reuben-inspired pastrami burger ($12), with house-fermented sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing and pickles, was absolutely delicious but petite, nearly qualifying as a heavy appetizer. The same goes for a cute little salmon hot dog ($10), an upscale version of a “Seattle Dog,” complete with cream cheese, onions and a house-made “everything” bun.
“Some people want something that goes with their wine, some people just want french fries and a Manhattan,” Dahlin says. “We’re trying to be as diverse as possible.” The menu might still be a little scattered, but that’s OK—Dahlin is going for the slow burn. “We want to still be here and be relevant to the neighborhood in 15 years,” he explains. “We want some place that won’t go out of style. And maybe it doesn’t even have to be in style to be successful.” Dinner daily. Pioneer Square, 116 First Ave. S; 206.946.1283; damntheweather.com
As For the Cocktails...
The bar at Damn the Weather is, in many ways, a true extension of bar manager, bartender and co-owner Bryn Lumsden (formerly of Rob Roy, Vito’s and Vessel). Lumsden has a well-deserved reputation for delivering exquisitely balanced drinks with an amiability that’s hard to match, whether you’re ordering a beer or the 1970s classic Jungle Bird, which socializes dark rum, Italian charmer Campari, fresh pineapple juice and lime juice into a tropical getaway in a glass ($10).
The rest of the staff is just as nice—and so are the rest of the cocktails. The drink menu starts with an aperitif section featuring the usual standbys, such as the kir royale ($8.50), as well as marvelously unexpected choices, such as Calvados and tonic ($8), which takes the legendary French apple brandy from an after- to a before-dinner treat.
Then there’s a list spotlighting eight cocktails, which, when I was there, included that beach-errific Jungle Bird, along with other classic and new mixes. If that wasn’t enough, there are two pages of classic cocktails and spirits together. A unique idea, this section lists drinks and the spirit brands the bar carries in a row. For example, there’s a Scotch whiskey section. It lists two drinks, including last-century hit the Bobby Burns (Scotch, sweet vermouth and the heavenly French liqueur Bénédictine, $10), which is directly followed by the bar’s eight available Scotches.
That menu makes this place different from other good craft cocktail bars and is a boon for those who aren’t cocktail nerds. It reveals to the novice when gin is used, or Scotch, etc., and what base spirits the bar has. As at the best cocktail bars in town, the overall drink menu will change over time and the staff here is well skilled in the art and science of making amazing drinks, from well-balanced classics to newer cocktails featuring less-common ingredients. Photo: The Damn the Weather cocktail, with sweet vermouth, gin, orange juice and Triple Sec
Damn the Weather’s space is as bewitchingly composed as the cocktails, with wooden tables and bentwood cane chairs that are deceptively comfy. The L-shaped bar itself is a beauty, made by The Woodwork (furniture designers Andy and Julie Taylor) from variously colored interlocking pieces of wood, completed by tall putty-colored barstools that would have looked just right at a 1950s diner. The bar hops during happy hour (4–6:30 p.m., Monday–Friday), as well as before and after sporting events. But don’t let the possibility of crowds keep you away. I think Damn the Weather is already one of the top cocktail spots in Seattle. A.J. RATHBUN