A mini tour of cocktail and whiskey bars in Seatown
Photos by Keith Allison
The trick about going to another city, and then writing about your finds is that you rarely have time to do much more than scratch the surface, so rather than present these spots as the “best of” the city, I will stick with the qualifier “best of what I had time to find in the city.” I don’t think I stumbled across any hidden gems, but there were gems never the less. After a few hours in Seattle, I realized how little I knew about Seattle. Grunge, coffee, Bruce Lee, and, ummm. I don’t know. The Seahawks, I guess. What I found was a well-heeled — and well-hilled — town with a lot to offer the hungry, thirsty traveler, most of it conveniently located in the Capitol Hill area. In between craft beers and true crime tours, the following spots made for fantastic pit stops.
1406 12th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122
Tavern Law is another entry in the long list of speakeasies that aren’t speakeasies (I think if we got a speakeasy that was really like a speakeasy, we’d all be upset with the poisoning from wood grain alcohol), but this trend doesn’t really bother me. And beyond waistcoats and a hidden second bar upstairs, Tavern law lacks the pretense or pressure these cocktail bars sometimes come with. The bar is named for 1832’s Pioneer Inn and Tavern Law, which allowed inns and saloons to serve alcoholic beverages to people who were not renting rooms. Walking in, we were greeted by an energetic, friendly bartender who assumed we’d been friends for decades. Cocktails are the order of the day here, and they are very good. The food is decent too, though I took it as a personal affront when the bartender asked me if I wanted more toast to go with my cheese platter, only to discover later that the extra toast came with a dollar price tag. Outrage!
Knee High Stocking Company
1356 E Olive Way, Seattle, WA 98122
Much of the speakeasy theater that wasn’t necessary for drinks at Tavern Law (their upstairs is a different story, but it was closed the day I was there anywhere) is on display at Knee High Stocking Company. Reservations are highly recommended, and a member of the staff will return your inquiring text with confirmation of your details. It’s up to you to decide whether you enjoy this sort of role playing or whether you find it irritating. I think it’s sort of fun myself, and with an Prohibition-era interior hidden behind a plain visage, Knee High certainly plays its role well. Once inside and past the period-costumed hostess, you’ll see why they have a reservation system. It’s a wee place, but one filled with very well-made cocktails from the classic era, as well as modern drinks and the “tell me what flavors you like” bespoke experience. If you are willing to roll with the Boardwalk Empire spirit of things, you’ll have a time as great as your cocktails.
94 Pike St, Seattle, WA 98101
Along Seattle’s waterfront is its sprawling, labyrinthine Pike Place Market, an eclectic mish-mash of farmer’s market, fish market, craft stores, restaurants, and public houses. One could get lost for hours in the place, and were that to happen, would would be well advised to seek out the small but impressive Radiator Whiskey, the new kid on the block, located just above a lovely crumpet shop. As the name suggests, whiskey is the game here, from the menu down to the “did I just step into a barrel” decor. Less speakeasy, more cozy den, Radiator’s hundred or
so bottles of whiskey and friendly bartenders are ready to educate newcomers to the whiskey world or let the vets just settle in with a favorite dram. They also offer cocktails, barrel-aged and otherwise (the signature being The Showgirl, named in honor of the adult entertainment cabaret across the street), and a hearty bill of fare.
928 12th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122
At first glance, Canon is warm and inviting and boasts an impressive wall of whiskey behind the bar. Second glance informs you that the whiskey continues on down the hall, and is further stuffed into every nook that can possibly used for storage. With great food and welcoming bartenders, Canon assumes a well-deserved place at the top of any list of the country’s best whiskey bar, and it does it while maintaining the casual ambiance of a neighborhood bar. They offer a number of cocktails, but whiskey neat was my order of the day, and so I took Canon’s nigh overwhelming collection as a chance to explore west coast whiskies I can’t find back home on the east coast. The bar makes it easy by offering a Washington whiskey flight. But it hardly ends there. Ask for the Captain’s List and be prepared for your jaw to drop, even if you are a seasoned whiskey drinker. They have some 2,000 different whiskeys, including pre-Prohibition bottles, very old (think bottled in the 1950s) Suntory, and more than I can’t even process. Four…or was it five…maybe six whiskies and one bespoke Ardbeg cocktail (because I was muttering something about peat) later, and I was ready to move in. I would go back to Seattle purely to go to Canon again.