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5 Favorite Cocktail Bars in Seattle

5 Favorite Cocktail Bars in Seattle

November 3, 2019
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The craft cocktail scene is exploding, but with more options come more difficult choices. Here are our picks for the best spots to imbibe in Paris right now.

COCKTAIL LISTS ARE EPHEMERAL THINGS.  Especially in this town. Bartenders are so capable, so curious, that they can’t help but change things up on the regular, infusing and barrel aging and hunting down obscure liqueurs. Narrowing down the city’s best libations gets even trickier when you factor in classic drinks, pre-Prohibition favorites, tiki’s resurgence, mezcal’s emergence, and plain old personal taste. Across this ever-shifting barscape some drinks have become icons in their own right (or should be). Here, in no particular order, are the stories of those drinks and the bibulous talent behind them.

Here are the stories of the city’s best drinks, from classic and pre-Prohibition to tiki and mescal—and the bibulous talent behind them.

Seattle’s cocktail scene has always marched to the beat of its own drum. Though speakeasy culture leaked in for a moment, the city’s drinks scene has otherwise remained blissfully ignorant of passing fashion, taking its time to adopt everything from tiki to barrel-aged drinks in its own time and in its own way. From Jamie Boudreau’s boundary-pushing Canon to Zig Zag Café’s roster of tenured barkeeps to newcomer Rumba’s rum-soaked retreat from the soggy Seattle weather, here is a short list of some of the best places to grab a cocktail in the city.

he new, hot ones (though some are on here) — just strictly the best places to get delicious cocktails — both innovative and classic — ideally without pretension, attitude, or crappy cocktail napkins that stick to the bottom of your glass. And — as a bonus — we asked our British and Canadian editors to pick their favorite cocktail bars, too, so you can enjoy boozy perfectionwherever you go.

Craft cocktail bars are springing up like ninjas around Seattle. quality and range of drinks, vibe, ambiance, service, knowledge of bartenders

1) Canon — This explains everything about Canon owner Jamie Boudreau: As a kid, he wasn’t allowed to have much sugar. So he’d sneak off to 7-Eleven on his way to school to start his day with a chocolate milk and a candy bar. Now his menu bears a most unusual creation based on those clandestine sugar highs. It’s served in a ceramic milk carton and arrives at the table in a 1980s-era lunch box (the He-Man one is the most popular). Nestled next to the drink: a comic book, a pair of housemade fernet oreos in a plastic bag, and a pair of safety scissors, “just so drunk people can get to the cookies.” Occasionally the bar staff includes a note from mom, just for kicks. The whole thing might come off as a gimmick…until you sip (through a bendy straw) the expert and decidedly adult partnering of cognac, a bit of peaty Ardbeg single-malt scotch, chocolate, and—yep—milk. “It’s a way to remind everyone that we aren’t always so serious,” says Boudreau. And you’d believe him, except that he runs the cocktail through a soda siphon charged with nitrogen (a carbon charge would add sourness) to produce that perfectly foamy, aerated, vigorously-shaken-milk texture.

This place emanates elegance, from the dark wood bar to the iron accents to the Eater Award–winning bathroom, harking to a bygone era without being stuffy. It also has a changing menu of fine cocktails from maestro bar manager and co-owner Jaime Boudreau, who utilizes modern techniques to create classical drinks. Take the Canon Cocktail, which brings rye, Ramazzotti amaro and Cointreau foam ($10) together in perfect harmony. The food, ranging from angostura-bourbon nuts to flatbread à la greco with braised lamb, niçoise olives, feta, oregano and arugula, is nearly as intriguing as the drinks. 21+ only. 928 12th Ave.; 206.552.9755; canonseattle.com

2) Zig Zag Cafe — Years from now, Zig Zag will be remembered for famed bartender Murray Stenson’s tenure here. But following his departure, Erik Hakkinen and Benjamin Perri have picked up where he left off, making all the classics with style. As such, the bar remains one of the best classic cocktail joints in the city (nay, the world), the revivalist home of the Last Word cocktail and one of the better whiskey bars in town.

Zig Zag was among the original cocktail revivalist bars, established in part to showcase the remarkable talents of veteran barman Murray Stenson. There’s not much signage, giving it the feel of a hidden redoubt. The cocktail list trends toward variations on the classics. The service? Impeccable.

Check It Out: A drink called Don’t Give Up the Ship is a study in balance, made with gin, Dubonnet, Grand Marnier, and the always-difficult-to-tame Italian amaro called Fernet Branca.

It’s the bar that put the Last Word back on the map but in the post–Murray Stenson landscape it’s nigh impossible to define Seattle’s landmark cocktail lair by a single drink. That’s by design. Though the house list contains page after page of beautiful creations, Erik Hakkinen, Ricardo Hoffman, and crew are classicists at heart, able to analyze both the customer and the back bar to deliver the best possible version of your favorite cocktail. Take the familiar Manhattan—Zig Zag bartenders usually ask whether customers prefer bourbon or rye, then take it from there, knowing which vermouths play better with each spirit. The tending of this particular bar is both art and science.

Don’t forget about this busy lounge (on the Pike Street Hill Climb), because it’s been around much longer than most craft cocktail bars. Instead, go early enough to snag a coveted seat at the bar amidst the dim lights, red walls and chandelier, order a solid standard, such as the Manhattan, let whoever is carefully concocting your classic choose the whiskey (the price might range depending on the whiskey, but taste isn’t cheap), and watch the master mixologists, such as Ben Perri, go to work. Although the legendary Murray Stenson isn’t there anymore, his influence is felt in every well-made cocktail. The flatbread pizza and sandwiches aren’t bad, either. 21+ only. 1501 Western Ave., No. 202; 206.625.1146; zigzagseattle.com

3) RN74 — sell grower champagne, French 75

4) Tavern Law / Needle and Thread — One of the many byproducts of  America’s obsession with Prohibition-inspired cocktail bars, Tavern Law’s faux-speakeasy aesthetic is complete with tufted leather couches, chandeliers and many strong cocktails. Whiskey, Fernet Branca and aromatic bitters reign over the menu of proprietary concoctions, each of which is attributed to its creator.  Needle & Thread, an upstairs bar hidden behind an old bank vault door, requires reservations, but if you’re hanging at Tavern Law and express interest, they may be able to find a space for you.

After a long day, come in for happy hour, mosey up to a barstool and order a late-1800s favorite, the Pendennis Club—gin, apricot, lime and Peychaud’s bitters ($11)—in this beautiful homage to a bygone era. The drink’s fruit and juniper zing will entertain your taste buds, and you’ll be visually entertained by watching bar manager Amanda Reed or one of the other bartenders display classic cocktail chops as they whip up drinks from the seasonal and standards menu. Delicious as the drinks are, don’t let them distract you from the homey but yummy food menu, which includes such items as pan-seared trout. 21+ only. 1406 12th Ave.; 206.322.9734; tavernlaw.com

5) Foreign National —

barnacle, sun liquor, liberty, goldfinch tavern at four seasons, essex, scout, frank’s oyster hours and champagne parlor

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