Seattle's Diverse Nightlife Showcases Live Theater, Rocking Concerts and Happenin' Pubs
By Corinne Whiting
Seattle Local Expert
The Seattle nightlife scene offers far more than beer and bands. As a cultural outpost in this northwest corner of the country, Seattle proves a draw for national tours by top musical acts, Broadway shows, modern dance troupes, hot comics, even avant-garde theater groups. The city also has homegrown talent in most of those areas, too, and the arts scene to support them.
Big shows hit Key Arena, the Seattle Center Opera House and the Paramount and Fifth Avenue theaters. More intimate music venues such as the Showbox and Neumo’s host a rotating slate of name national performers across genres. Multiple bars and clubs showcase live local talent, notably the renowned Crocodile Café and the Sunset, Comet and Tractor taverns.
A vast selection of watering holes—from dive bars to brewpubs to chic lounges and clubs—can be found in ultra-funky Capitol Hill, historic and hip Pioneer Square downtown and the University District (near the University of Washington campus). On the Boards, a local theater group, produces edgy local and regional theater, while film collective Northwest Film Forum spotlights interesting and out-there art films and documentaries. Alternative rock bars still hold their place, but beat-driven dance clubs are alive and well, as are venues geared toward blues and jazz, most distinctively Demitriou’s Jazz Alley, which hosts prominent players from around the globe.
10 Northwest Film Forum
Northwest Film Forum began life in 1995 as a filmmakers' collective focusing on post-production by and for local filmmakers. As the organization expanded, it started showing films, first in conjunction with the historic Grand Illusion Cinema in 1997 and then with the newly-built Little Theatre in 1999. Eventually the name "Northwest Film Forum" was created to describe the organization's myriad exhibition, education, equipment, and production operations. In 2004, NWFF sold its two cinemas and consolidate all aspects of the organization under one roof. The current space is Seattle's first proper "cinematheque," it includes two theaters (one seating 119, the other 48), facilities and equipment for filmmakers, a dedicated space for workshops, and filmmaker offices. The benefit to the public is a schedule of independent, documentary, and art films screened on a regular schedule. ((206) 329-2629, (206) 829-7863)
9 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)
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)
7 Century Ballroom
Located in the historic Odd Fellows building, Century Ballroom's vintage locale perfectly suites its mission, to keep ballroom and social dancing a thriving part of the Seattle nightlife scene. If the venue's popularity is any indicator, the mission is succeeding. The elaborately renovated ballroom space -- with a 2,000-square-foot dance floor -- is the place in the city to revive the grand days of formal evenings on the town. Dance nights, often with live music, set the perfect tone with dining, drinks, and dancing under the same roof. Meals and a full bar are available right across the hallway at the Tin Table. Whether you enjoy salsa, swing, tango, tap, or burlesque, Century Ballroom or the adjacent East Hall offers all that and more. And for those who need instruction or just a chance to brush-up on their rug-cutting skills, Century Ballroom hosts fun and friendly classes and lessons. (206-324-7263, 206-325-6500)
6 Paramount Theatre
Dating to the late 19th century, this venue has been restored to the glory it knew as a movie theater in the 1920s. These days, you can catch acts as diverse as Boyz II Men and David Bowie, and there's even the odd speaking engagement -- Dr. Maya Angelou, for example, has made an appearance. Enjoy the sumptuous, gilt-edged surroundings as you take in a show. The ambience is decadent; for example, three million crystal beads adorn 218 chandeliers and light fixtures. If dancing is called for, the seating area quickly converts to a stunning hardwood ballroom floor. The "wow" factor here is work the trip! (206-682-1414)
5 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)
4 The Triple Door
Located in Seattle's historic Mann Building in the heart of downtown, this intimate and sophisticated award-winning music and dinner theater occupies the renovated space that formerly housed the Embassy Theater, originally a 1920's vaudeville house. The Mainstage, downstairs on the lower level, is an intimate candlelit spot with state-of-the-art sound and booths that offer clear sight lines to the stage. An Asian-fusion menu is provided by Wild Ginger restaurant next door, and the same cuisine is available upstairs in the Musicquarium Lounge. In this upstairs lounge-like space, live music, DJ sets and a stellar happy hour menu have become legendary around town. (206-838-4333)
3 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 Café 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 café features a Eurocentric menu of exceptional eats. (206-267-2437)
2 Dimitriou's Jazz Alley
Seattle's premier jazz club for nearly three decades, Dimitriou's Jazz Alley is a sure West Coast stop for top jazz artists on tour. Jazz Alley has hosted luminaries such as Peter White, Randy Brecker, Dr. John, and Tower of Power. Oh, and just a few other important names, stars such as Dizzy Gillespie, Brandford Marsalis, Diane Schuur, Oscar Peterson, Betty Carter, and Bill Evans, have graced the club's marquee over the years. A local jazz institution, the elegant club setting and name acts bring out folks dressed for the occasion. Many choose to dine in the club's fine restaurant before the show. This being a jazz club, it goes without saying a full-service bar keeps libations flowing during the show. (206-441-9729)
1 Teatro ZinZanni
Described by one reviewer as "the Kit Kat Klub" on acid, the experience at Teatro ZinZanni is just that -- an experience. The main event is part circus, part dinner theater. A three-hour tour de force, the evening combines innovative and thrilling feats by a troupe of international "cirque," comedy and cabaret artists with a five-course gourmet meal. Improvisational comedy, music, dance and vaudeville review get blended with pure sensuality, creating a unique and intense new show with each performance. Intimate and fast-paced, the show takes place above, around, and beside patrons as they dine and gawk in awe. Ticket costs includes dinner and show; drinks are not included. (206-802-0015)
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.