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 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.
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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)
Ballard Station Public House
Loyal Ballard Station Public House patrons come for the Tuesday night trivia, the local brews (like the Pike Kilt Lifter and Hales Supergoose IPA), pub snacks like popcorn and the meat and cheese board. Popular dishes include the the Signature Savour Paninis (think turkey or sopressatta), served with Tim's Cascades Chips. Since the restaurant doesn't serve too big a variety of food, however, the laid-back vibe means that diners can also order in from nearby restaurants (like Ballard Pizza Company, with delivery after 5 p.m., or India Bistro), OR they bring their own food with them. Happy hour takes place Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. and Monday through Thursday from 10 p.m. to midnight. ((206) 906-9040)
Ehtan Stowell's done it again. This time, his new comfort-filled gastropub has opened along Seattle's ever-changing Ballard Ave. Tucked into the lineup, this cozy-meets-classic neighborhood hangout showcases local beers alongside updated pub fare; think burgers, smoked trout, fresh shellfish, fried chicken, a wedge salad and ever-so-tasty fries. Enjoy the venue's high ceilings, warm gray tones, skylights that welcome natural light, exposed brick walls and eight taps showcasing such local brews as Holy Mountain, Populuxe, Stoup and Fremont Brewing. Also enjoy 50 different bottled beers and ciders plus innovative beer cocktails. ((206) 420-8192)
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)
The Hotel Monaco in downtown Seattle is really heating up, thanks in part to chef Jan Birnbaum, the driving force behind Sazerac. The fashionable restaurant serves spicy, Cajun-inspired New American cuisine, including golden hush puppies served with warm molasses, Creole shrimp cakes, black mussels with cumin butter sauce and braised beef served with a gorgonzola potato creation. Modern, amusing interiors make this a must on your restaurant list. If you want to learn some tricks yourself, check out their bartending and cooking classes. Why do the folks at Sazerac think you should stop in for a meal? "A place for serious fun and damn good food." (206-624-7755)
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.
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