Coffee snobs. Beer snobs. Seattleites have earned a bad rap. Drinking Folgers or swilling industrially produced American brews just doesn’t pass muster in city where quality alternatives are locally produced, plentiful, and a part of local pride. That thinking holds true, too, for Seattle bars, taverns, and pubs. Sure, you can order a Bud Light, but why would you? Even the most divey of dive bars has at least a couple of regional and local beers on tap, and the city was early to the craft cocktail craze, in which hand-mixed cocktails with fresh juices and garnishes pushed your typical margarita mix out the door long ago. These days, even some of the booze mixed with those fresh ingredients is local, with a handful of artisan distilleries throughout Washington State and in Seattle itself producing their own gins, vodkas, and other booze. 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, such as the Maritime Pacific Brewing Company and Jolly Roger 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 mix of watering holes devoted to the fineries of drinking indulgence, from posh hotel lounges (W Bar, Oliver’s) to giant pool hall saloons (Jillian’s). Another nice 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 are bars and pubs owned by top restaurateurs, such as Quinn’s Pub and Spur Gastropub.
10 Alibi Room
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)
9 Brouwer's Cafe
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 Caf�n 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 caf�eatures a Eurocentric menu of exceptional eats. (206-267-2437)
8 W Bar
Reserved and swanky, this hotel bar is perfect for drinks before dinner or late-night. Know for excellent service and a healthy and honest pour, W's posh bar specializes in martinis of all types. Speaking of types, while largely a hotel crowd, W is notable as a hotel bar locals actually enjoy. Who could resist appetizer such as Sexy Popcorn while checking out the crowd of attractive patrons. The candle-lit space features comfy leather furniture, including the black leather stools at the bar, where bartenders have a reputation for knowing their stuff. Especially popular are Sip N Sin Wednesdays, a special happy hour evening with DJ music, sort of a low-key club night right in the cozy confines of a hotel bar. (206-264-6187, 206-264-6000)
This 24,000-square-foot, two floor complex houses a wide variety of entertainment possibilities, including pool, video games, darts, karaoke, dancing, and ping pong. Sports fans especially relish the 27 televisions (nine of them are 60-inchers), which make Jillian's a fun spot to catch the game with friends. In addition, two restaurants and a fifty-foot bar ensure that you're bound to find something to suit your appetite, even if it's just a burger and a beer. After all, you can't go wrong at a place where the motto is: "Eat. Drink. Play... Your fun is our business!" (206-223-0300)
An elegant alternative to louder, more high-profile watering holes, this quintessential hotel bar offers an upscale scene complete with a servers dressed to the nines, 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. (206-382-6995, 800-426-5100)
5 Quinn's Pub
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)
3 Floyd's Place
It's not hard to find this watering hole. Its signage — depicting a dancing pig and waltzing cow -- is a neighborhood landmark. Right down the street from Key Arena, Floyd's is a favorite pre-game gathering spot for fans of the city's WNBA team, the Seattle Storm, or those headed to numerous other events at Seattle Center. An impressive selection of premium domestic and imported drafts joins homemade barbeque to create just the right recipe for a day of sports on the tube. After downing some brews and a brisket or two, those inclined to do so can work off the extra calories in the back room by playing eight ball, shuffleboard, or pinball. (206-284-3542)
2 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)
1 Spur Gastropub
Spur Gastropub An intimate urban pub in Belltown. Plates to share. Cocktails to entice. Chefs Brian McCracken and Dana Tough opened Spur in Seattle's Belltown in 2008 and already it's been recognized by Food & Wine magazine as one of the country's top restaurants. Acknowledged for turning out some of the best dishes and cocktails in town by local media, the Chefs were selected as "Rising Star Chefs" nationally by the industry insider magazine StarChefs. In addition to earning the attention of Wine & Spirits magazine, their cocktails have made Spur one of Seattle's top 10 bars. The Chefs' collaboration dates back to their time in the kitchen at Maria Hines' Earth and Ocean restaurant, together on Hines' traveling team at the 2005 James Beard Dinner in New York, and today creating their menus at Spur. (206-728-6706)
About John Ferri
A native of Tacoma, Washington - Seattle’s smaller sibling to the south - journalist John Ferri has lived everywhere in and around the Pacific Northwest. He started college in Bellingham, lived in the San Juan Islands, and finished college in Pullman, Washington, before living and working for a time in Spokane. He then moved to Florida, where he lived and worked in Tampa and Ft. Lauderdale before returning to the Puget Sound area.
When not working full time as a writer and editor, including stints for The Tama Tribune and New Times, John spent years in the hospitality industry as a fine-dining restaurant server and manager. He counts himself lucky to have worked under some of the most awarded (and even celebrity) chefs and sommeliers in the entire Pacific Northwest. Although he never obtained his certificate through testing, John has studied wines extensively. And as a former home brewer, he's a student of craft beer and is immersed in the region’s industry-leading microbrewery movement.
Having grown up amid the natural wonders of the Seattle area, John is an accomplished hiker. Another result of a Northwest rearing is his penchant for strong, dark-roast coffee, which he slavishly grinds and brews at home or enjoys at any Internet café that has great espresso. You'll only find him there, however, when he’s not in search of the next best deli, wine bar, hiking trail, book shop or brewery . . . or revisiting an old favorite.
Read more about John Ferri here.