The Seattle Bar Scene: A Craft Beer Capital and Beyond
By Corinne Whiting
Seattle Local Expert
When it comes to sourcing wines, beers and even cocktails, Seattle bars pride themselves on stocking options that are locally produced, plentiful and an integral part of local culture. In Seattle, even the most divey of dive bars keep at least a couple of regional beers on tap, and the city was long ahead of the game on the craft cocktail craze, too (think hand-mixed cocktails made with fresh juices and seasonal garnishes). These days, even some of the booze mixed with those fresh ingredients comes from nearby sources as well, thanks to a handful of artisan distilleries throughout Washington state and in Seattle that produce their own gins and vodkas. Of course, this entire list of best bars could simply read as a who’s who of local microbreweries, since each has its own brewpub and/or taproom. However, there is simply too much variety in the Emerald City to keep the focus that narrow, so here you will find a cross-spectrum of watering holes devoted to drinking in style—from posh hotel lounges (like Oliver’s) to giant pool hall saloons. Another plus of Seattle pub life is the food: In a progressive and forward-thinking foodie culture, bars pride themselves on quality grub, so you don’t have to rely on typical bar burgers or deep-fried fare to soak up the alcohol. On an even higher level, you'll find bars and pubs owned by top restaurateurs, such as Quinn’s Pub in Capitol Hill.
An elegant alternative to louder, more high-profile watering holes, this quintessential hotel bar (inside downtown's Mayflower) offers an upscale scene complete with servers dressed to the nines, a European-inspired decor and some of the Puget Sound's best cocktails. A Seattle standard since the mid-'70s, Oliver's has won numerous accolades for its classic martinis. Add in an eclectic lunch menu with the likes of a Panini Misto sandwich (portabellas, grilled eggplant,and roasted peppers) and Dungeness crab cakes with paprika-parmesan fries, and it's little wonder that Oliver's is such a closely guarded secret of downtown's well-heeled crowd. Check out their happy hour menu, too! (206-382-6995, 800-426-5100)
9 Million In Unmarked Bills
You won't find anything square about this funky corner bar in downtown Fremont, where blue jeans-clad college kids and young professionals hang out, down some brews and enjoy a surprisingly upbeat menu that features everything from white truffle mac-n-cheese and steamed clams to havarti burgers and gourmet pizzas. Outdoor seating is available, and it's not uncommon for laid-back hipsters who frequent the place to stake out a table and set up shop for the night, especially if it's a warm Saturday. Crowds often gather here to watch big sporting games, and inside diners can also enjoy outdoor temps, thanks to wide-open windows that offer a view of the bustling Fremont action. (206-632-0880)
Dark wood accents, floor-to-ceiling windows and a comfortable bar distinguish the interior of this striking two-level space. Sibling to Restaurant Zoe, the pub delivers interesting beers and scrumptious gourmet cooking in a casual atmosphere. For example, sink your carnivore teeth into a supple Wagyu beef burger with cheddar, bacon and fries or an order of tasty fish and chips. While offering a full-bar selection of spirits, cocktails, beer, and wine, Quinn's specializes in specialty import brew, along with a fine selection of whiskeys and bourbons. Among the coterie of 14 beers on tap, you will always find several Trappist ales, those brewed in European monasteries by devoted Trappist monks who survive on their brew while fasting. (206-325-7711)
The Garage was once indeed an auto repair shop, and renovations left its industrial interior intact while updating and upping the appeal by incorporating chrome and vinyl accents. The voluminous space is home to a bar, a restaurant, a pool hall, and a bowling alley, all of which are frequented by a youngish crowd and fledgling musicians. It's far from your average pool-hall dive, and prices reflect that -- and they're worth it. The atmosphere and vibe are excellent, and the globally influenced food menu is available daily beginning at 3 p.m. when the place opens, so afternoon imbibers don't have to rely on bar snacks while waiting for a full meal. Early happy hour, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily, means excellent prices on draft beer, well drinks, pool, and bowling. (206-322-2296)
Tini Bigs Lounge
You've got to love a place that advertises itself as, "The second best bar in Seattle." A statement like that shows confidence, and this retro-casual lounge has earned it. Vintage school-house lights hang from the stamped-tin ceiling, setting the tone. Patrons lounge in deep, tufted-leather booths or belly up to the long wooden bar. What they're after, mostly, is specialty martinis. This place was well ahead of the craft-cocktail curve, and it's known for its unique and fresh recipes. Gin or vodka marts are served in 10-once stems. Try the Feng Shui martini, or opt for the Mexi-Tini or the Flir-Tini, among a slew of others. Also available are a fine selection of single malt scotches and a menu of unique and interesting sandwiches and appetizers. (206-284-0931)
Run by the beer-encyclopedic owners of Brouwer's Cafe in Fremont and Bottleworks in Wallingford, the Burgundian provides the same brew savvy selection and quality in the Tangletown neighborhood. The beer-and-breakfast- all-day pub is a casual brick-building space that serves stellar chicken and waffles to go along with its 22 beers on tap, a great selection of craft beer in cans from the cooler, and a voluminous collection of whiskey and tequila. While Brouwer's staked its claim on offering a vast array of Belgian beer, here the focus is squarely on American microbrews. Open at 10 a.m. for the waffle crowd, the Burgundian also offers lunch and dinner menus. As at Brouwer's, plans are in place for beer events and festivals in the new location, as well. ((206) 420-8943)
418 Public House
In Phinneywood, a hot zone north of Fremont and east of Ballard, 418 Public House proves a friendly, neighborhood spot. Draws include happy hour from 4 to 6:30, and delicious brunch options Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. Loyal patrons also appreciate the free shuffleboard and rotating calendar schedule featuring live music and special events. Mexican-accented menu items include burritos, tacos, tortas and tamales. Meat options range from Barbacoa de Res (beef braised in a red chile sauce of guajillo peppers, pulla peppers and banana leaf) to Tinga de Pollo (chipotle chicken with tomato and caramelized onion). The brunch menu showcases flavorful dishes like Caldo de Birria--mild red chile beef stew, served with tortillas, rice, avocado, cilantro, onion and lime. Que rico! ((206) 783-0418)
A popular restaurant by day, the Alibi Room really comes alive at night. Owned by a group of filmmakers, the club works to support independent films and their creators, by fostering an artistic dialogue among patrons and making scripts available for public perusal. If that's a bit heavy for you, just come and dance to the mixed rhythms of rotating DJs or enjoy one of their specialty vodka drinks. You'll also find live music from time to time, along with a great wine list and tasty appetizers. A real local favorite, Alibi plays host to everyone from the eccentric to the street smart. (206-623-3180, 206-625-9647)
You're in the beery Pacific Northwest, where microbreweries sprout like mushrooms after a rainstorm. If you're interested in place at which to sample suds from a wide variety of those breweries, Brouwer's Cafe in Fremont is pure beervana. Obviously run by hop heads and beer geeks, Brouwer's staff is amazingly knowledgeable about lagers and ales. They had better be. This casual and understated pub offers no fewer than 64 rotating draft selections, along with more than 300 bottled brews and 60-something types of Scotch. And to help soak up some of that beer in your belly, the cafe features a Eurocentric menu of exceptional eats. (206-267-2437)
Zig Zag Cafe
If alluring ambience is your thing, be sure to duck into this Parisian-style cafe where patrons feel they've been whisked away to another era. Attentive service, awesome drinks, a sexy and sophisticated indoor vibe and an appealing outdoor patio draw visitors to this intimate cocktail bar tucked away below Pike Place Market. Serving a late-night menu of salads, sandwiches, flatbreads, house pie and seafood until 1am, this venue proves a popular place to hang out with an eclectic crowd of all ages who enjoy good food, drinks and fun. Located near Pike Place Market on the Pike Street Hill Climb, find the venue just down the stairs from Kasala Furniture on Western Avenue and just up the stairs across the street from the Seattle Aquarium. (206-625-1146)
About Corinne Whiting
Corinne hails from the other Washington, where she caught the travel bug early on. Corinne studied abroad in Strasbourg, France (undergrad) and in Edinburgh, Scotland (graduate school). She's backpacked around Australia, taught English in Argentina and explored (so far!) countries from Cambodia and Egypt to Turkey and China. Corinne served as associate editor at Where magazine for five years; as a freelancer, she now writes for publications like National Geographic Traveler and Amtrak's OnTrak. Here in the lovely Northwest, she's attempting to debunk the rain myths, up her coffee and live music quotient and find her Zen near/on the water.
Read more about Corinne Whiting here.