Craft Cocktail Bars are Shaking Things Up

A neighborhood-by-neighborhood guide to some of Seattle's best cocktail bars

By Seattle Mag June 10, 2013


This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Seattle magazine.

Bastille Cafe & Bar

The back bar has a certain sexiness and a lovely chandelier, but I like the more ornate front bar best, even if you are surrounded by the clatter of diners seeking French bistro fare. Sample the tangily refreshing Port Salut Buck (rum, cognac, lime, ginger, seltzer, bitters; $11) off the seasonally changing bar menu from bar manager extraordinaire Erik Carlson (former bar manager at Moshi Moshi) and watch the bustle go by. 5307 Ballard Ave. NW; 206.453.5014;

With Essex’s reputation for exemplary ingredients house-made by owner Brandon Pettit and a comfortably continental neighborhood demeanor, you’ll want to stay and try multiple drinks from the rotating menu designed by Pettit and bar manager Gary Abts (last of Licorous). Or, have a few before you head next door for Delancey’s ace pizza, under the same ownership (although there are lots of rustic noshes at Essex, you can’t order pizza). If you only have time for one drink, don’t miss the already-legendary bubbly and rich Red Medicine: rye, house-made Fernet, huckleberry liqueur and Rachel’s ginger beer ($11). 21+ only. 1421 NW 70th St.; 206.724.0471;

Golden Beetle
With adventuresome pairings, ingredients made in house and changing seasonal spotlights, the Beetle’s bar menu, created by Andy McClellan (previously of Lola and Palace Kitchen), often comes close to outshining the delicious Mediterranean food by James Beard Foundation Award winner Maria Hines. A good example is the herbal and smoke-tinged Frenchtown, which brings together rye, lesser-known French aperitif Bonal Gentiane-Quina, black walnut bitters and Laphroaig Scotch ($12). It also goes well with the muted, earth-toned atmosphere. 1744 NW Market St.; 206.706.2977;

A slightly tarnished grandeur and an eclectic décor (such as carved Indonesian cattle skulls) gives this little two-story downtown Ballard lounge a charm all its own. But go early, if possible, as it gets a little too hip-to-hip on most evenings—especially on the always packed sidewalk patio. Order up a refreshing classic, such as the Horse’s Neck (rye, ginger beer and lemon zest; $7) or something from the occasionally changing bar menu, from bar manager and co-owner Drew Church, to match the scene and keep your cool. 21+ only. 2311 NW Market St.; 206.783.0478

Moshi Moshi
It takes a particular kind of creativity to match cocktails and sushi and not end in a muddle. This colorful restaurant—with a cherry tree blooming with LED blossoms as its centerpiece—delivers via an assortment of eclectically international liquid numbers. The menu from bar manager Jeannine Kapteyn (formerly of Pintxo) includes favorites such as the Sicilian Harvest, with strawberry-infused gin, Averna amaro, Benedictine, lemon, pineapple and aged balsamic vinegar ($10), and the Kurosawa, with sake, apricot liqueur, muddled cucumber, lemon and organic cane sugar ($8). It’s nice to jump a few continents in one evening. 5324 Ballard Ave. NW; 206.971.7424;


An Eastside cocktail mecca, this darkly wooded lounge, nestled in the Chantanee Thai restaurant, has a seasonally changing assortment of drinks from bar manager Jason Saura (late of China Harbor on Westlake) that runs from the classic to the avant-garde, but hits the highest notes in the mixes contained within the Tiki menu. The well-spiced Naga Swizzle is an example that wouldn’t look out of place in 1952: blackstrap rum, Falernum, angostura bitters, Thai chile, pineapple, orange and lime ($10). It’s a swell fit within the Asian-inspired décor. 601 108th Ave. NE; 425.455.3226;

Clever Bottle

A welcome oasis of simplicity and style off the chaotic Second Avenue corridor, this bar leans toward hardwoods, chalkboard menus and cocktails with house-made ingredients, which are buoyed by a food menu of small bites and local faves, such as Beecher’s mac and cheese. The drink menu from owner Kristen Burns (former manager at the Space Needle’s SkyCity restaurant) has some seasonal changes and some standbys—all well balanced and made with care. The Jamestown cocktail, which combines mezcal, Salizá amaretto, curaçao and house clove spice bitters ($10), is a dandy example. Sip it slowly and relax a little. 21 + only. 2222 Second Ave.; 206.915.2220;

Rob Roy
A dimly lit 1950s lounge atmosphere, very friendly bartenders, cozy leather-backed bar stools, a boar’s head on the wall and impeccably tip-top cocktails that change with the season under the watchful eye of amazing owner and bar star Anu Apte (formerly of Vessel) make this bar ideal after a long day of work. Have a cup of the renowned Gunpowder Punch (a house rum blend, gin, citrus, sugar, mystery spices and, yes, actual gunpowder; $10), chat about this and that with your bartender, have one of the small snacks or a handful of Goldfish (the cracker, that is), and the day’s worries rapidly vanish. 21+ only. 2332 Second Ave.; 206.956.8423;

At this long and lean establishment, with its throwback tin-plated ceiling above a bar, which sits about 12, plus a few small tables and booths, the bartenders, under bar manager Leroy Thomas (previously of Mercato Ristorante in Olympia), make the standards flawlessly—including excellent old fashioneds with High West or other fine whiskey (price depending on the type of whiskey you choose). But also try one of its more daring mixtures, such as the Arugulito, with arugula, gin, simple syrup and fresh black pepper ($9). A pizza place with full pies and other pizzeria fare, it also always has slices available. 21+ only after 9 p.m. 2228 Second Ave.; 206.448.2625;


It’s nice to know that one can revel in a bit of Italian-inspired friendliness and bella taste in a glass (grazie, bar manager Adam Fortuna) without leaving the city. And while sitting at the white-tiled bars, nibbling on a piece of Columbia City Bakery filone with artisan olive oil (from a rotating selection) or another Italian-inspired treat, exchanging pleasantries with the bar staff, and sipping one of the trusty drinks, such as a Punctured Bicycle, with its trio of Italian stalwarts, Campari, Cynar and Prosecco ($13), isn’t exactly the same as getting on a plane and flying to southern Europe, it will transport you. 21+ only. 1535 14th Ave.; 206.678.2516;

Even though it can be a bit clamorous at times, don’t think this south-of-the-border stalwart is solely about the tacos and the clattering crowd. A fairly dependable rotating list of drinks, such as the Marmalade Sour—a combo of tequila blanco, orange marmalade, lemon, lavender bitters and egg white ($11)—demonstrates in a tangy, frothy fashion that the bar staff, under revered bar manager Casey Robinson, has a devotion to inventive and clever Mexican-inclined cocktails. 1420 12th Ave.; 206.588.8105;

This place emanates elegance, from the dark wood bar to the iron accents to the Eater Award–winning bathroom, harking to a bygone era without being stuffy. It also has a changing menu of fine cocktails from maestro bar manager and co-owner Jaime Boudreau, who utilizes modern techniques to create classical drinks. Take the Canon Cocktail, which brings rye, Ramazzotti amaro and Cointreau foam ($10) together in perfect harmony. The food, ranging from angostura-bourbon nuts to flatbread à la greco with braised lamb, niçoise olives, feta, oregano and arugula, is nearly as intriguing as the drinks. 21+ only. 928 12th Ave.; 206.552.9755;

Knee High Stocking Company
This intimate spot, in the hands of Jack Valko, offers plenty of cocktails on a changing list that completes a 1920s mood, like the savory and tangy Midnight in the Garden. Classically-minded, this drink’s provocative mixture of Hendrick’s gin, lime, cucumber, and rhubarb bitter ($12) is a keen match to a bar that you’ll need to buzzed in to, in somewhat mysterious style, before even opening the menu. To provide a bit of base for the cocktails, the food leans toward snazzy comfort food, such as the “tots” with coriander ketchup and garlic aioli. 21+ only. 1356 E Olive Way; 206.979.7049;

Liberty is one of the most comfortable bars on the Hill, a true neighborhood joint with commodious couches and an affable personality that reflects those of its convivial co-owners and bartending geniuses, Andrew Friedman and Keith Waldbauer. Liberty is an early adapter of any and all imbibable innovations that translate to better drinks on its seasonal list. A recent example are its barrel-aged cocktails, such as the Emerald City, a provocative number with cognac, Carpano Antica vermouth and green Chartreuse that’s been mixed and aged in oak before serving ($12). Though it seems an odd pairing at first, there’s also some delicious sushi on the menu to accompany your cocktail. 21+ only. 517 15th Ave. E; 206.323.9898;

The drinks here, concocted under the guidance of bar charmer Veronika Groth, equal Jerry Traunfeld’s celebrated thali cuisine, in mixing fresh ingredients into stimulating combinations. Take the Wild About Saffron: vodka, brandy, rose geranium, saffron, lemon and angostura bitters ($10). It’s a heady sample with its floral, bitter, citrus and spice notes all coming together in layer after layer of flavor. Cocktails are served in a bar area of brick and light wood, a setting that’s as understated as it is fun. 622 Broadway E; 206.324.1108;

From the ocean blue barstools to the vast assortment of rum and rhum (the latter with a fresh sugarcane base instead of the former’s molasses base) bottles twinkling, this south Capitol Hill bar’s singular dedication to island aesthetic is remarkable. Live the life by having a bite from the Cuban- and Caribbean-influenced food menu with one of the ’Ti Punches: rhum agricole, lime and cane syrup ($10–$14), or one of the other tropical favorites from bar manager Connor O’Brien (formerly of Vito’s). You may not have sand between your toes, but you’ll certainly capture the Caribbean essence. 1112 Pike St.; 206.583.7177;

Sun Liquor Distillery
The affection for house-made ingredients is taken to another level here, most tellingly reflected in the gleaming and working still, seen in a room behind the bar. Have a light, lovely Kite Runner to honor that dedication. Made by head distiller and operations manager Erik Chapman, or one of the other top-flight drink makers, with Sun’s own UNXLD vodka, Aperol, lemon, honey syrup and angostura bitters ($9), it’s a true treat on a late summer evening. If you’re feeling peckish, there is a small but tasty sandwich menu, too. 21+ only. 514 E Pike St.; 206.720.1600;

Tavern Law
After a long day, come in for happy hour, mosey up to a barstool and order a late-1800s favorite, the Pendennis Club—gin, apricot, lime and Peychaud’s bitters ($11)—in this beautiful homage to a bygone era. The drink’s fruit and juniper zing will entertain your taste buds, and you’ll be visually entertained by watching bar manager Amanda Reed or one of the other bartenders display classic cocktail chops as they whip up drinks from the seasonal and standards menu. Delicious as the drinks are, don’t let them distract you from the homey but yummy food menu, which includes such items as pan-seared trout. 21+ only. 1406 12th Ave.; 206.322.9734;


Oliver’s Lounge

With a casual and friendly demeanor that’s a striking counter to the exhausting energy of the street outside, this spot is dandy for tucking into, even if you’re not a guest at the Mayflower Park Hotel, where it’s located. Though you may be tempted, while sitting among the plants and the hotel décor, by other items from the classically minded drink menu, order an award-winning martini ($11.50). It is made to exacting standards and ideal while you nibble on a light snack or sandwich and relax. 21+ only. 405 Olive Way; 206.623.8700;

This relocated recent legend has a cocktail menu that mutates daily, depending on the inexhaustible creative whims of the rotating cast of crack bartenders—fine folks such as Bryn Lumsden and bar manager Jim Romdell—and is on the vanguard of cocktail innovation. If you see a Maru Maru (Novo Fogo gold cachaça, pineapple syrup, lime and coffee bitters; $12) on the menu, order it, sit at the bar and watch the liquid artists work. If the watching works up your appetite, the small but exquisite food menu—with hits including foie gras–buttered popcorn—has you covered. 21+ only. 624 Olive Way; 206.623.3325;

Zig Zag

Don’t forget about this busy lounge (on the Pike Street Hill Climb), because it’s been around much longer than most craft cocktail bars. Instead, go early enough to snag a coveted seat at the bar amidst the dim lights, red walls and chandelier, order a solid standard, such as the Manhattan, let whoever is carefully concocting your classic choose the whiskey (the price might range depending on the whiskey, but taste isn’t cheap), and watch the master mixologists, such as Ben Perri, go to work. Although the legendary Murray Stenson isn’t there anymore, his influence is felt in every well-made cocktail. The flatbread pizza and sandwiches aren’t bad, either. 21+ only. 1501 Western Ave., No. 202; 206.625.1146;

Oliver’s Twist

While the number of Dickens’ quotes heard in this artsy, top-of-the-ridge outpost is sadly low, the drinks made by creative bartenders, including Robert Rowland, are packed with a curious cast of spirited characters—such as the Duff & Blathers with rye, Averna amaro, maraschino, orange bitters and a black pepper tincture ($11)—that are delicious. And the garlic truffle popcorn served up hot and the grilled cheese with tomato cappuccino provide perfect snacking. 6822 Greenwood Ave. N; 206.706.6673;

Frank’s Oyster House & Champagne Parlor

Not much larger than a classroom—but with loads of amiable class—this spot manages to be both small-town-ish and urban modern all at once. Picture crazy-quilt plywood walls and furnishings out of an early James Bond lair. Pay close attention to the cultivated list of standard, well-crafted cocktails, such as the Rothko prepared by bartender Joe Sanchez (previously at Can Can), which features bourbon, brandy, Canton ginger cognac, lemon, orange, and orange and angostura bitters ($9). Though the name gives it away, this spot is also renowned for its oysters. 2616 NE 55th St.; 206.525.0220;

Feedback Lounge

Sometimes you just want a spot that can rock out. Decorated with old beer signs and trays, Feedback has a Cocktail Club every Thursday at 6 p.m., during which co-owner Matt Johnson (who previously worked in the world of finance) tries out new recipes (and noodles around with some classics) that can leave one saying “Gee whiz” in the best way. Take the Thousand Yard Stare, with its deliciously spiced combination of gin, house-made saffron liqueur, blueberry bitters and a lemon twist ($9). Have one while playing Ms. PacMan and nibbling on items from the wide-ranging food menu: everything from steak tacos to rigatoni with Italian sausage. 21+ only. 6451 California Ave. SW; 206.453.3259;


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