The Best Bars & Cocktails in and Around Seattle

Innovative and intriguing spots are popping up all over town, bringing with them inventive backdrops

By AJ Rathbun, with Jessica Yadegaran and Chelsea Lin


November 17, 2015

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Aristotle categorized poetry as lyric, elegiac, epic or dramatic, and until recently, our local bar scene could also be divided along similarly strict lines: beer bar, fancy cocktail bar, sports bar, restaurant bar, wine bar.

But in today’s joyous cocktail and bar renaissance, these lines have been nearly smudged out as intriguing, flavorful drinks are showing up everywhere, from neighborhood joints to speakeasy-style spots, and with more spirits from local distillers and from lands far away appearing on every bar shelf in town.

At the same time, a crew of swell local bartenders is rediscovering a wonderful simplicity and purity in cocktailing, harking back to an earlier age, while also pushing the boundaries with imaginative drink ideas. And we couldn’t be happier about it, because the end result proffers more choices, more wonderful bars to stop at and more drinks to try. Looking for stellar happy hour ideas? Go here.

Good Bar

Pioneer Square, 240 Second Ave. S; 206.624.2337;

This bar used to be a Japanese Commercial Bank

A classy entry in the pioneer square resurgence, Good Bar boasts a beautiful look, with a marble-topped bar, richly colored hardwood floors, and bright black and white finishing. It’s a fitting incarnation for an address with an illustrious 114-year history, a spot that once held the Japanese Commercial Bank. The drink menu from bar manager Joshua Batway, formerly of Skillet and Quality Athletics, also demonstrates a nice understanding of history in general, maintaining a balance and an influence from the classic age of cocktails. You’ll find Pioneer Square residents and happy-hour patrons imbibing canonically inclined cocktails such as the Fernet swizzle ($12), an updating of the Caribbean Swizzles with reposado tequila, Amontillado sherry, Fernet-Vallet, a lime shrub, simple syrup, Angostura bitters and fresh mint. Get the savory Old Bay boiled peanuts ($6) to snack on while sipping. They’re messy, but worth the wet-naps.

Good Citizen
Capitol Hill, 1720 E Olive Way; 206.323.9898; Facebook, “Good Citizen

Andrew Friedman, owner of Liberty, is opening Good Citizen in Capitol Hill with the intention of serving good drinks instead of pretension
Good Citizen hadn’t yet opened at the time of this writing (although, hopefully, by the time you’re reading this, it has), but it has sat in the “most anticipated bar opening” slot for us since we first heard of it last spring. An Andrew Friedman establishment (he also owns legendary nearby cocktail spot Liberty), Good Citizen promises to have superb drinks and a cozy atmosphere with comfy couches, chairs you want to relax into, and unfussy decor, but with a slightly different slant than its sibling. “We’ll have maybe 15 drinks on the menu,” Friedman says. “Liberty has 50-plus, so having just a few will be rather interesting. We’ll be changing them up a lot more often than we do now.” He adds, “Craft cocktail bars are known for a number of things, and unfortunately, time in preparation and pretension tends to often be the take-away at such bars, rather than the care for the creation. Good Citizen will simply have outstanding, well-made, clever drinks, served quickly and without any of that pretension.” Amen to that—we can’t wait!

Bottle and Bull
Kirkland, 105 Lake St.; 425.298.4972;

The literary-inspired A Farewell to Arms cocktail with tequila, sherry and amara, from Kirkland’s Bottle and Bull
Just hitting the one-year mark, this cocktail and culinary paean to writer Ernest Hemingway sits in the heart of downtown Kirkland and delivers an array of succulent choices inspired by the author’s favorite locales—places such as Havana, Paris, Florence and Pamplona. This literary devotion also shows in the drink names on general manager and barkeep Brien Hendershott’s menu, including A Farewell to Arms ($13), which contains tequila blanco, Amontillado sherry, Meletti amaro and salt. It’s herbal, with lingering sweet and salty notes. Chef Bryan Casey’s food matches well with the drinks—the Parisian gnocchi (think polenta cake more than regular gnocchi; available at dinner only;), topped with romesco sauce, black garlic, preserved lemon and herbs, is a hit. If there’s a spot not occupied by 20- to 40-year-old Kirklanders out with friends, eat and drink at the bar, because the rest of the establishment, while neat, has a fairly nondescript style. There, you can get a good look at the lovely carved-wood back bar, more than 100 years old and originating in the Bronx, and imagine yourself sitting with Papa Hemingway himself.

Herb & Bitter Public House
Capitol Hill, 516 Broadway E; 206.708.6468;

Maggie DiGiovanni, bartender at Herb & Bitter Public House on Capitol Hill, pours an eclectic mix of drinks
A sibling to belltown’s pizza-and-cocktail haven rocco’s, Herb & Bitter Public House is a little larger, with a worthy deck for sunny days and a Mediterranean-meets-Moroccan aesthetic that seeps all the way into the tapas menu (highlighted by the memorable papas bravas, perfectly fried Yukon potatoes with a slightly spicy red sauce). The liquor shelves are a smidge more robust, but mirror Rocco’s great whiskey selection. But where the Cap Hill spot really shines is in its range of Italian amari and other herbal liqueurs, Fernets and digestifs, with both current varieties and a stretch of antique bottles along a top shelf. The well-curated cocktail menu is also highlighted by the bitter side, with fun numbers such as Smokestack Lightnin’ ($11), containing mezcal, Italian artichoke liqueur Cynar, Punt e Mes vermouth and star anise smoke. But it’s not all bitter; the bar staff can show an herby side, too, with drinks such as the Rose Colored Glasses ($10), with rosé, grapefruit liqueur, Campari, lemon and thyme. It’s a great place for those who aren’t afraid to travel to find a few lesser-known libations.

Rachel’s Ginger Beer
Capitol Hill, 1610 12th Ave.;

Rachel’s Ginger Beer owner Rachel Marshall and her huband, Adam Peters, enjoy a Moscow mule at their newest Capitol Hill outpost
Filling in nicely within the 12th avenue arts center (making it a perfect place to grab a quick drink during intermission if you’re next door for a play), and already a favorite spot for Cap Hill artsy folk and anyone needing to cool down, the newest outpost in the delicious Rachel’s Ginger Beer kingdom is a tall, industrial space with art and plants, and as individual as the nine flavors of ginger beer you’ll find on tap. If you’re going sans booze but want something beyond the original ginger beer, try a tart and vegetal cucumber tarragon version ($5/12 ounces, $6.50/20 ounces). Get more adult with one of the four bubbly cocktails on tap, or step up to real frothy fun with one of the frozen drinks dispensed from slushy machines. A frozen mule, with Rachel’s pink guava and vodka ($8) is a chilly bit of awesome. There’s also a small menu of fried delights (including fried green tomatoes, $8), which can be accompanied by a few choices off the long list of dipping sauces.

Dunbar Room
First Hill, 900 Madison St.; 206.693.3767;

Drinks, like this Fireside cocktail, imitate life at the Hotel Sorrento’s Dunbar Room bar
Fecently given a refurbishment, along with the Fireside Room in the Hotel Sorrento’s lobby, the Dunbar Room (formerly the Hunt Club) has a Parisian bistro feel in the dining room, and a breezy outdoor area for an alfresco experience. But follow our pro tip: Take the Terry Street entrance and slide right into the cocktail area, where you’ll find hotel guests and cocktailers of all legal ages sneaking in off the street. Its dark wood bar and walls along with the long row of steel gray booths and low lighting has a 1930s lounge ambiance, giving the impression that you could turn around and see ward bosses making political deals. However, the cocktails, designed by restaurateur and hospitality guru Jared Meisler (of LA’s The Pikey, Il Covo and others), are more modern, as is evident with the Fireside cocktail ($12). It starts with a Chartreuse rinse in a glass; then, along with an orange twist, is lit on fire and filled with a minty house-made amaro, Peychaud’s bitters and a little ice. The layers of flavors that come out as you sip are sure to make you dream of the room’s history, and quickly induce you to forget you’re in a hotel bar.

Hotel Albatross
Ballard, 2319 NW Market St.; 206.566.6181;

The cozy front bar of Ballard’s tiki-inspired Hotel Albatross sets a sophisticated scene for their tiki inspired drink list
A “tiki-tastic” addition to the bustling market street stretch in downtown Ballard, Hotel Albatross (in the former Azteca space), named after the ocean-faring bird, manages to be both really cool and really comfortable, with plenty of space and seating—a tough course to navigate. That balance is struck with rummy drinks that get away from the syrupy messes many modern tiki places are known for. Albatross instead opts for clean spirits and fruit flavors à la Hawaii, such as with the classic Planter’s Punch ($10) and its wonderfully fresh island-evoking assortment of rums and rhums, lime, Angostura bitters, and the lime and spice syrup Falernum. There are delicious drinks to share, too. Owner Zach Harjo (the other two owners are Drew Church and Keith Bartoloni) has created the Puka Punch ($23): a combo of tropical fruits and rums that comes in a pineapple and is built for two. Nibbles include the green onion pancake kimchi quesadilla ($9); the laphet thoke, a fermented tea leaf salad ($8); and the puffy taco ($4). It all happens within a subtle seaside atmosphere and lots of dark and light wood fixtures. The scene is completed by Ballard locals walking NW Market Street in the earlier hours, and a decidedly more hipster crowd later in the evening, when the music can get loud. But hey, that’s what you want to accompany those heavy splashes of rum.