Image: Kyle Johnson
Foie gras with Brussels sprouts

Boozestro?? Liquafe? Distillaurant?

Alas, the English language lacks just the right word for places that bill themselves primarily as cocktail bars but have real ambition in their food. 

Sure, plenty of restaurants have adjoining bars; plenty of pubs offer, well, pub food. Those aren’t these. Gastropub? Not exactly. Pub doesn’t quite capture the 100-proof soul of these joints. No, we’re talking about an elevated hybrid of artisan bistro and craft liquor bar—sometimes a little more of one or the other, but always an artful cocktail of the two. 

They usually purvey small plates. They often don’t pay much attention to the timing of food delivery, or bother with reservations. So many are thriving across the Seattle area it’s beginning to seem like a bona fide regional cuisine—with news of more landing on our desks daily, from the Old Sage (the guys behind Spur and the Coterie Room) to Radiator Whiskey (from the Matt’s in the Market folks). Even that old warhorse Von’s has recast itself as Von’s 1000 Spirits GustoBistro.

Gustobistro? Well, someone ought to give a name to these places! Until one sticks, we’ll just give you the best of them. 

 

The Throwbacks 

Cutting-edge and classic cocktails in an old-timey setting

Image: Kyle Johnson
Canon a Chet Baker cocktail

 A Brown-Liquor Behemoth 

Canon
928 12th Ave, Capitol Hill, 206-552-9755; canonseattle.com

Canon boasts craft cocktails for thinking drinkers, a startling captain’s list (the deepest bench of Bourbons and whiskeys around, 36 varieties of absinthe, more chartreuse than some bars have gin, you get the idea), novelties like spirit flights and “shrouded roulette” (you name the spirit, they mix the mystery), and some of biggest celeb barkeeps in the biz. All in a twinkling and sepia-lit room, with just enough tables or bar stools to accommodate demand. Sophisticated noshes tend toward the meaty and substantial—including a well-cooked petite tender over vegetables—but make no mistake: The finesse in this house
is liquid. 

The edge goes to: The booze, of course

Who’s here:
20% Off-duty Seattle U law professors
30% Online daters (including a number from the “women seeking women” category)
50% Bartender geeks who just want a glimpse of the Great Ones

 

Drink Like Don Draper

The Gerald
5210 Ballard Ave NW, Ballard, 206-432-9280; thegeraldseattle.com (all ages until 8pm)

The Gerald’s owners might weary of Mad Men comparisons, but the low-lit midcentury modern lounge injects retro elegance to the teeming scene on Ballard Ave. And one of the best drinks in the house is named the Draper Point, an old fashioned made new with black tea–apricot liqueur, sweet vermouth, and nutmeg. Seasoned meatloaf in entree and slider form also evokes serious midcentury Americana. And the fried cheese curds? Beecher’s, of course, with sriracha-infused ketchup and mustard aioli. 

The edge goes to: The booze 

Who’s here:
10% Guys with slightly shaggy beards
45% Young couples deep in conversation
10% First-timers wondering why it’s not more crowded
35% The type of sports fans who don’t own jerseys (the big screen comes out on game days)

 

Steampunk Meets Casserole

Grim’s
1512 11th Ave, Capitol Hill, 206-324-7467; grimseattle.com 

An Edison-bulbed, reclaimed-wood prototype of a Capitol Hill bar (there’s a pulsating dance club upstairs), Grim’s surprises with a magnificent and deeply unironic tuna noodle ­casserole sparked with black pepper and fresh chives. It’s comfort food that doesn’t make a big deal about it. Imbibable highlights include the Root of All Evil, resembling a frosty Barq’s with the gentle bite of Bourbon. 

The edge goes to: The food

Who’s here:
45% Guys in hoodies
45% Girls in hoodies
10% An older crowd than you would expect

 

No Bombs Allowed

Knee High Stocking Company
1356 E Olive Way, Capitol Hill, 206-979-7049 (text only); kneehighstocking.com

Knee High Stocking Company’s roster of regulations—“This is a small bar, we may ask for your table after you’ve finished… We don’t have Jagermeister, nor any drink that ends in ‘bomb’ ”—may send you fleeing for the wagon. Don’t be rash. Text for a table at this tiny Capitol Hill speakeasy, ring the bell, and you’ll be greeted by the bartender and servers in vintage-inspired attire. Nibble lamb sliders with fries and seriously poppable spicy tater tots; and savor the loveliness of cocktails seasonal and classic, including a blue-ribbon Moscow mule. 

The edge goes to:The booze (in spite of the seriously compelling fact that there’s deep-fried pie from A La Mode for dessert) 

Who’s here:
50% Rebels, zealots, activists, and tyrants—or those who fancy themselves such
50% Fourth dates initiated by someone bent on dazzling

 

Old-Fashioned Old Fashioneds

Tavern Law / Needle and Thread
Tavern Law, 1406 12th Ave, Capitol Hill, 206-322-9734; tavernlaw.com
Needle and Thread, 1406 12th Ave, Capitol Hill, 206-325-0133

From the duo behind Spur Gastropub, the Coterie Room, and the soon-to-open haunt for booze and smoked meats the Old Sage, Tavern Law is Dana Tough and Brian ­McCracken’s period piece: a smoky speakeasy without the smoke, amber lit and ambience rich, down to long-stemmed red roses in the ladies room. Food is highbrow renditions of lowbrow crowd-pleasers—mac and cheese with duck-fat bread crumbs, honey-drizzled fried chicken over kale—and booze is an impressive lineup of Prohibition-era sours, flips, punches, fizzes, and housemade innovations. Upstairs, Needle and Thread functions as—shhhhhh!—an intimate speakeasylike business within a business. Simply find the door of the antique safe and use the phone adjacent to see if Needle can accommodate you and your moll. 

The edge goes to: The booze

Who’s at Tavern Law:
10% Posers shopping screenplays
10% Comfort-foodies who tolerate the booze for the mac and cheese
20% Theater majors from Seattle U
20% Gay singles on the prowl
40% Distillery buffs

Who’s at Needle and Thread:
50% Ambitious romantics impressing their dates
50% Booze geeks asking, “Is the gin infused with Earl Grey tea or just bergamot?” 

 

The SPECIALISTS 

One thing (rum, vodka, noodles, etc.) done very well

Image: Kyle Johnson
Rumba An impressive wall of spirits

Total Sausagefest

The Augustus
3601 Fremont Ave N, Ste 207, Fremont, 206-547-5101; theaugustusseattle.com

Seattle is a magical place where unpretentious neighborhood watering holes just happen to serve scratch cocktails alongside gonzo housemade sausages stuffed with kalbi or brisket and pork belly. Or so it goes at the Augustus, a mellow spot in central Fremont. Owner and barkeep Robb Sheldon likes his drinks spirit forward and rooted in the classics, and those elaborate sausages come from the kitchen of sibling neighbor Hunger. So do all the house mustards, the sriracha mayo, and the habanero vinegar that perfectly dresses the pile of potato chips alongside the sausages. 

The edge goes to: The food—unless you’re a vegetarian

Who’s here:
20% Couples sitting side by side in booths
25% Sausage-fueled bromances
55% Fremonsters playing board games or watching TV on the sofas

 

Fry Fishing

Bait Shop
606 Broadway E, Capitol Hill, 206-420-8742; baitshopseattle.com

Linda Derschang’s wood-paneled and nautically themed new joint on Broadway could have sprung from a Wes Anderson movie. At Bait Shop, fried chicken is coated with tiny shavings of frozen dough, dehydrated overnight until it has a “cornflake bread-crumb texture.” The batter for the true cod fish-and-chips is pressurized into a foam that delivers a whisper-thin, tempuralike crust. The drinks aren’t quite as technical, but few can resist the frozen Painkiller, a sunny blend of pineapple juice and rum that merrily churns away in a slushy machine behind the bar. 

The edge goes to: The food

Who’s here:
5% Taxidermy fish
60% Hillebrities
35% Girlie-drink drunks 


Rotissibar

Bar Sajor
323 Occidental Ave S, Pioneer Square, 206-682-1117; barsajor.com (all ages)

Calling Matt Dillon’s new Bar Sajor a bar is like calling one of Matt Dillon’s meals a snack—but that’s how the lauded chef (Sitka and Spruce, the Corson Building) refers to the lineup of chickens roasted on a custom-built rotisserie, cured seafood, and vegetables (fermented, pickled, roasted). The corner space is Old World glorious—soaring ceilings, antiqued white brick, a blazing wood oven filled with roasting birds—and already, before we can fairly review the food, abubble with fans who don’t need to be told to love it. They are drinking a beautifully curated selection of Euro booze, ciders, aperitifs, and digestifs. They are eating those chickens in house or from a takeout window. They are reviving the pedestrian heart of Pioneer Square. 

The edge goes to: Don’t you think we’re dying to find out?! 

Who’s here on Opening Weekend: 
50% Food writers, bloggers, and Twitterati
50% Their readers

 

Aquavit with a Side of Bosoms

Copper Gate
6301 24th Ave NW, Ballard, 206-706-3292; thecoppergate.com

The ghosts of a thousand hammered Vikings haunt Copper Gate, a refashioned dive, which tips its sailor hat to Ballard’s working-class Scandinavian roots with quirky decor (by which we mean pictures of women’s breasts) and a kickass selection of Danish and Norwegian aquavits. These, plus infused vodkas and flavor tweaks from lingonberry to fennel, lend the cocktail list refreshing novelty. The food completes the Scandinavian theme with distinction: pickled herring, aquavit-braised short ribs, dill-speckled crunchy fries, even the genuinely terrific house signature Swedish meatballs with celeriac mashed potatoes and lingonberry preserves. 

The edge goes to: The food

Who’s here:
30% Young Ballard scenesters
20% Ballard geezers
30% Boozers in baseball caps
20% Prurient regulars

 

Geek Chic

Liberty
517 15th Ave E, Capitol Hill, 206-323-9898; libertybars.com

As unpretentious a joint for craft cocktails as exists in this town, this frayed rec room of 15th boasts community esprit all around. The brown drinks and the sushi: strange bedfellows, but emblematic of the passions of owners who are kinda nerdy—in the best way—about both. This list has everything, but mostly Bourbons, ryes, and whiskeys—over 120 of them, including Japanese whiskeys—neat or in artful cocktail form. As for the sushi, it is very fresh and better and broader in scope than you were expecting from a bar. 

The edge goes to: The booze

Who’s here:
50% Boys who didn’t comb their hair
50% Girls who didn’t put on makeup
100% People who walked (parking’s a pain)

 

A Masters in Rum

Rumba
1112 Pike St, Capitol Hill, 206-583-7177; rumbaonpike.com (all ages until 8pm) 

Tango’s rum-focused sibling bar exudes a languorous Havana vibe and fashions its signature spirit into a festive tiki drink, four perfectly balanced types of daiquiri on shaved ice, or something deep, dark, and moody as Papa Hemingway on a bad bender. Latin-tinged bar food includes spicy-sweet wings that are smoked, then fried, and tacos with sophisticated fillings like sauteed summer squash and pork dusted with peppery achiote. Save room for a sipping rum to finish off the night; a seat at the bar doubles as a fascinating seminar in the spirit’s regional nuances. 

The edge goes to: The booze…wow

Who’s here:
25% Theatergoers
25% Rum scholars
50% Grownups

 

One Tequila, Two Tequila

The Saint
1416 E Olive Way, Capitol Hill, 206-323-9922; thesaintsocialclub.com (all ages until 10pm)

Most people arrive with the express purpose of drinking. But under the watchful gaze of all those black-and-white matador photos, imbibers consume tortillas stuffed with tender, slow-roasted lamb or chicken smothered in a 21-ingredient mole. The tequila list is vast, and cocktails thereof range from simply citric to face-fanning spicy. 

The edge goes to: The booze

Who’s here:
30% Girls nights out—squeeee!!!!
20% Whiskey and gin lovers getting acquainted with tequila
50% After-work groups who will be really hung over tomorrow

 

Dazed and Infused

Venik Lounge
227 Ninth Ave N, South Lake Union, 206-223-3734; veniklounge.com

Even the water is cucumber-infused at this quiet bar next to a Russian spa. It’s intimate with a mellow groove—but one sip of a dill- or kumquat- or dark chocolate–infused vodka and you start imagining the genius chemists who must be in back madly creating. A vodka infusion is de rigueur, either in a trio flight or as a swooner like the Checkmate: a brilliant red cocktail of beet vodka, fresh orange, honey, salt, and orange bitters. Appetizer plates provide more ballast than interest. 

The edge goes to: The booze

Who’s here:
93.2% Off-duty Amazonians
6.8% Homesick Muscovites

  

The EuroZone

A boozier take on the Continent’s small-plate meals

Image: Kyle Johnson
Von Trapp’s Käsespätzle and an Alpine Fix cocktail

 Viva Italia

Artusi
1535 14th Ave, Capitol Hill, 206-678-2516; artusibar.com

From a proprietor who regards the Negroni as “one of the perfect achievements of mankind,” the minimalist Artusi is Jason Stratton’s corner aperitif bar next to his Cascina ­Spinasse. Deeply reflective of the way Italians drink—lots of gin, simple Campari numbers, amari aplenty, a long list of substantive food—Artusi mixes complex and flawless cocktails; the smoothly bitter Miller’s Crossing, a masterpiece of gin and amaro with fruit and herb notes, is a standard-bearer. The careful dinner menu includes fine pastas and tripe stew and antipasti reflecting a regionally broad take on Italian food. 

The edge goes to: The booze—barely

Who’s here:
20% Cascina Spinasse guests waiting for tables 
30% Visitors from Manhattan, LA, Milan—any urban area that’s cooler than Seattle
10% Trophy couples
40% Young epicures Instagramming their food

 

Cap Hill Meat Up

Bar Cotto
1546 15th Ave, Capitol Hill, 206-838-9091; ethanstowellrestaurants.com (all ages)

Ethan Stowell’s newest bills itself as a salumeria and bar. But most people crowding into the 28 seats also make a meal out of salads of corona beans and romanesco, lamb’s tongue bruschetta, and crisp-crusted pizzas fired in two wood ovens in the back of the room. Bar Cotto shares a wall, a chef (Zach Chambers), and an Italian sensibility with Anchovies and Olives next door. The cocktail list follows suit; a sojourn in a barrel mellows out a classic Negroni, and white Lambrusco and Montenegro amaro make for a most grownup take on a Champagne cocktail. 

The edge goes to: The food

Who’s here:
10% Families excited about the pizza
50% Gleeful carnivores
40% Buzz followers 


Venice, Anyone?

Cicchetti
121 E Boston St, Eastlake, 206-859-4155; cicchettiseattle.com (all ages)

At Cicchetti Kitchen and Bar, the small plate sidekick across the courtyard from Serafina, cocktails are all about tinctures with flavors—caraway, saffron, date, fenugreek—that mirror the food menu. Dishes sail around the Mediterranean, and nearly half of them come in the form of titular cicchetti, smaller bites that are $5 each and quickly stack up to a (light) meal. 

The edge goes to: The booze

Who’s here:
40% People who can’t spell (or pronounce) “Cicchetti”
30% Convivial Eastlakers
30% Happy-hourers ogling the view upstairs

 

Can’t Believe It’s Belltown

List
2226 First Ave, Belltown, 206-441-1000

Barolo Ristorante built a beloved happy hour out of swanky Euro scene and Italian noshes, then used the same winning formula at List, a dark Belltown slot with lipstick-red chandeliers and clusters of fashionistas waiting for a seat. Good luck: This food gets lingered over. Off a long menu of small plates, diners savor gnocchi with black truffle cream, grilled sea bass on a bed of kale—and a full complement of cocktails (lots of vodka and Champagne numbers) that trend toward the girlie and, especially at happy hour, the weak. 

The edge goes to: The food 

Who’s here:
30% Yelp fundamentalists
70% Couples in which one party’s trying to close the deal  
100% People who can’t quite believe this is Seattle

 

Please Sir, We Want Some More

Oliver’s Twist
6822 Greenwood Ave N, Phinney Ridge, 206-706-6673; oliverstwistseattle.com (all ages)

Find the neighborhood’s best libations in candlelit digs fragrant with truffled popcorn. Devoted regulars order expertly made classics; happy hour crowds (and we do mean crowds) sip Old Sallys, a mix of Bourbon and huckleberry-sage shrub that satisfies dueling desires for brown liquor and tart fruity flavors. Plates are small and thoughtful, like the dates stuffed with bacon and blue cheese. 

The edge goes to: The booze

Who’s here:
25% Drinkers angling for a berth on the regulars board
30% Girlfriends sharing popcorn
45% Thirty- and fortysomethings who will be in bed by 10 

 

Spanish for Beginners

Pintxo
2207 Second Ave, Belltown, 206-441-4042; pintxoseattle.com (all ages until 10pm)

Txori’s tapas successor makes Spanish flavors accessible, but not oversimplified. Pintxo’s quail egg “toasts” are like tiny bites of breakfast with runny, nickel-size yolks and crispy chorizo confetti; blood sausage is laced with rice to gentle the funk. The kalimotxo—a blend of red wine and Mexican Coke—can and should be consumed for hours. There’s a sibling cocktail bar upstairs called…the Upstairs. 

The edge goes to: The food

Who’s here:  
50% Happy-hour sangria guzzlers
35% People fighting over the last bacon-wrapped date 
15% Groups on their way to the Crocodile

 

The Hill Is Alive…

with theSOUND OF BEER STEINS

Von Trapp’s
912 12th Ave, Capitol Hill, 206-325-5409; vontrapps.com (all ages until 10pm)

A bar? More like a supersize, opulent playground of beer and bocce and enough housemade sausages to require a glossary. Cocktails make liberal use of lager and IPA, layering subtle flavor without overshadowing the base spirits. Most tables order the Wendel, a whole potato cut into a single spiral that’s part parlor trick, part French fry. 

The edge goes to: Food wins for sheer scope.

Who’s here:
15% Bocce fiends
15% Students with better taste than we had at that age
70% Elbow-to-elbow crowds

 

The Laboratories

These cocktail virtuosos can’t stop experimenting.

Image: Kyle Johnson
Essex Bar manager Gary Abts makes a maple pisco sour

 No Pizza? No Problem.

Essex
1421 NW 70th St, Ballard, 206-724-0471; essexbarseattle.com

Vintage-inspired wallpaper, bare-filament bulbs, marble two-tops lined up like good soldiers across from the bar: What Essex lacks in romantic seating it makes up for in Romantic attitude. It’s all about the chemistry, as devoted barkeeps innovate intelligent drinkables according to some higher law of herbal harmony, extreme freshness, and fizz (in an uncommon number of carbonated cocktails). Among the enchantingly quirky nibbles—no pizza from partner biz Delancey next door, alas—are deeply flavorful misshapen pretzels out of its pizza oven, toast topped with roasted cauliflower and pine nuts and harissa, maple-roasted stem-on carrots in a smear of fine ricotta. Order a lot: This food is tasty, soulful, and minimalist. 

Which is why The edge goes to: The booze

Who’s here:
50% Poor hungry saps waiting for a table at Delancey
50% Neighborhood dwellers who walked over for a unique drink

 

The Founding Fathers

Spur
113 Blanchard St, Belltown, 206-728-6706; spurseattle.com

True, most bars don’t have $28 entrees and a $100 eight-course tasting menu. But cocktails get equal billing at Spur, chefs Dana Tough and Brian McCracken’s original spot in Belltown. It’s been around long enough to establish its own house classics, aka the citrusy Broken Spur #2, one of several cocktails on the menu attributed to departed bar managers—a cocktail riff on retiring someone’s jersey. Cool kids drink the Industry Punch, Fernet mingled with lime and soda. Technique-heavy fare includes the famed taglia­telle, tossed with Parmesan foam and sous vide duck egg, and a delicate hamachi that’s smoked and strong enough to stand up to the cocktails. Spur also nails the quintessential bar benchmark—a killer burger and fries. 

The edge goes to: The food

Who’s here:
45% Perfectly coiffed couples
30% Belltown loyalists  
25% People who intend to try something new, but can’t help ordering the burger 

 

Bartender Heaven

Vessel
624 Olive Way, Downtown, 206-623-3325; vesselseattle.com

If the cocktail list and the iron-and-leather-clad room at Vessel are acid jazz, the food menu is a catchy song by the band Fun. In its new downtown location, the revered cocktail bar serves dual masters of spirits geeks and the downtown office set seeking a good happy hour and a place to grab a nice salad. The menu’s biggest hits include the sunchoke hummus and a memorable braised lamb French dip. The cocktail menu changes depending on the day (and who’s behind the bar), but Kevin Langmack’s “root-Byrrh” float is topped with Angostura gelato and well on its way to becoming a house favorite. 

The edge goes to: The booze

Who’s Here:
20% Ice snobs taking pictures of their crystal-clear cubes
40% After-work Nordstrom types
40% Bartenders on their night off

 

Kind of a Big Meal

It looks like a bar, but the dinner menu is huge.

Image: Kyle Johnson
Smith A charcuterie plate and a Retired Gun cocktail

New Joint, Old Soul

Brass Tacks
6031 Airport Way S, Georgetown, 206-397-3821; georgetownbrass.com (all ages)

The raw, arty aesthetic of the sprawling warehouselike space that houses Brass Tacks captures the inimitable chi of Georgetown. (Why yes, that is a one-legged baby pole dancing in a cage.) The bar wraps around to an adjoining sandwich shop, Ground Control, but here the menu boasts grilled rapini with a duck egg, porchetta spirals over mustard, house-smoked brisket mac and cheese, the obligatory short rib sliders brightened with shiso and ginger aioli. The kitchen’s reach sometimes exceeds its grasp, but cocktails are sure (try the spicy rye concoction the Georgetown), and the deep sense of place feeds the soul. 

The edge goes to: The booze

Who’s here: 
80% Georgetownies (required by neighborhood ordinance to have pierced tongues, vertical hair, and body ink)
20% Empty space where the rest of the patrons should be. (It’s new.) 

 

Southern Latitudes

The Innkeeper
2510 First Ave, Belltown, 206-441-7817; innkeeperseattle.com

For folks who want a belt in Belltown but want it with grownups, the Innkeeper is a dark, decoratively underwhelming haunt fusing the warm welcome and breezy courtyard of ­Marco’s Supperclub (its former inhabitant) to the food-for-drinkers savvy of Black Bottle (its owner). The no-nonsense, beautifully poured drinks focus on tequilas and rums—including a mighty Dark and Stormy. The long menu likewise roams the tequila and rum latitudes, offering big, smoky, impressive pulled pork tacos, chicken drumettes with fiery salsa, and a slow-roasted chicken quarter over pigeon peas and rice with fried plantains. 

The edge goes to: Both food and drink in this Belltown find

Who’s here:
50% Large groups of officemate creatives
30% Small groups of officemate lawyers
20% Genuine crusty barflies
100% More mellow, mature crowds than at Belltown’s more southerly bars

 

Boozy Man Cave

Lot No. 3
460 106th Ave NE, Bellevue, 425-440-0025; lotno3.com (all ages)

This gathering spot adjoining its sibling Purple pins downtown Bellevue down to earth with a clear respect for the stiff cocktail. Clad in urban brick and red-draped windows, the manly haunt is sophisticozy from the wraparound bar to the (perfect for an assignation) loft, with a long comfort food menu (chopped salads, hot melty sandwiches, mac and cheese). Chicken and waffles is the winner, with an herby crust and malted, salted waffles that harmonize brilliantly beneath a drizzle of bourbon-maple syrup. A serious list of beers, brown spirits, aperitifs, and digestifs make this Bellevue’s best for booze. 

The edge goes to: Booze (and chicken and waffles)

Who’s here:
40% After-work tie looseners
30% Trawling singles
30% Unrepentant aging frat boys who regard shot glasses as perfectly reasonable beverage containers

 

Soba, No Sushi

Miyabi 45th 
2208 N 45th St, Wallingford, 206-632-4545; miyabi45th.com (all ages)

Wallingford’s new arrival: a Japanese-born chef with mad soba-making skills and a passion for French and Spanish techniques matched only by her love of drinking. ­Mutsuko Soma’s artful soba noodles (made by hand from Washington buckwheat) are the star at her new Japanese gastropub, Miyabi 45th. They’re served hot in broth, or cold with hot dipping sauces of mushroom and black truffle oil or pork belly and egg. The composed small plates are too intricate (and pricey) to be called bar food but beg to be paired with cocktails, namely ones made from the house-infused liquors. 

The edge goes to: The food

Who’s here:
25% Curious neighbors 
70% Japanese Americans consuming noodles with loud, appreciative slurps
5% Aspiring soba geeks 

 

Not Just for Suds

Quinn’s
1001 E Pike St, Capitol Hill, 206-325-7711; quinnspubseattle.com (all ages)

Quinn’s, a raw-timbered warehouse in the heart of the Pike/Pine district, is the winning gastropub with the killer bacon cheeseburger. But we prefer the arugula salad with beets and crisped lamb breast, pan-roasted trout on braised greens, and other entries further up the food chain. To drink: a full complement of cocktails, wines, Trappist beers, and cult microbrews. It’s a good place to try cocktails made with suds, like the Gentleman’s Gentleman, Campari bitter and Calvados fruity, with a stiff head of creamy Guinness foam. 

The edge goes to: The food

Who’s here:
80% Quasi hipsters with platinum credit
20% Scene-seeking establishmentarians
100% Ahead of you in line  


Southern-Fried Ballard

The Sexton
5327 Ballard Ave NW, Ballard, 206-829-8645; sextonseattle.com

The folksiest joint on Ballard Avenue, the Sexton wears an alt-funky-Southern aesthetic from the narrow entry to charming back patio, from wood-sided walls to Mason-jar chandeliers. The deal is small plates of Southern food and spirits aplenty, emphasis Bourbon—in cocktails like the alluringly spicy ginger beer blend the Double Bind; in flights like the $24 tour of four distilleries. Food is a major part of this operation, fat a major part of this food: crispy yam fries with chili aioli, mac and cheese with bacon roux. Even the Brussels sprouts are fried, and thus delish. 

The edge goes to: The food

Who’s here:
40% Ballard hipsters
30% Expats from Athens, Georgia
30% Comfort foodies over 50 

 

LindaWorld

Smith
332 15th Ave E, Capitol Hill, 206-709-1900; smithseattle.com (all ages)

The most sure-handed link in Linda ­Derschang’s boozy chain, Smith brings a rough-hewn elegance—raw-wood tables, gilt-framed oils, only the classiest taxidermy—to the business of strong drink and hearty sustenance. The former has always been commendable—take the stunning Blacktail, mingling Bourbon with a spicy-smooth amaro, Benedictine, and old-fashioned bitters to taste like a Manhattan poured through a mince pie—but the latter is enjoying a renaissance, from a rich three-cheese mac and cheese to flavorful crab fritters and an astonishing bacon cheeseburger, suffused with wood smoke and served with exceptional yam fries. Brunches, too. 

The edge goes to: Both, in a triumphant tie

Who’s here:
10% Solo drinkers, journaling
20% Group Health employees, happy-houring
30% Capitol Hill usual suspects
40% Hill sophisticates who are considerably more buzzed than people who told themselves they were “just going out to dinner” should probably be  

 

It’s a Bar, We Swear

The Walrus and the Carpenter
4743 Ballard Ave NW, Ballard, 206-395-9227; thewalrusbar.com (all ages)

Given the Walrus’s acclaim, parties sometimes arrive expecting a Canlis-level night of fine dining. But underneath all those layers of accolades beats the heart of an oyster bar. One that also just happens to serve plates like fried mackerel tails, shaved celeriac salads, or pork belly of Yarmuth Farms pigs fattened up with cheese. Savvy creations like the Mustache Ride, a gentle wash of Bourbon, lemon, Cynar, allspice dram, and maple—are surprisingly perfect oyster companions.

The edge goes to: The food

Who’s here:
80% Parties that waited at least an hour
20% Dazzled food writers from New York



Better Together

The chef and bar manager at Smith explain how they make food and cocktails play nice.

I try to make my food super approachable, like somebody would make at home, but kind of dress it up. Marley makes my job super easy because her cocktails are really well balanced and she uses a lot of savory mixers, like Fernet and Campari and stuff that’s not super sweet. It’s difficult to pair sweeter drinks.  —Dave Lamping, chef at Smith

With all the amazing liqueurs and bitters, more bartenders are making great drinks that really pair with food. I start by looking at the whole dish, then breaking it down to its flavoring agents. I think about the base spirit and supportive in-gre-dients to achieve the flavor profile and mouthfeel I want. Then I experiment.... —Marley Tomic-Beard, bar manager at Smith 

 

Published: April 2013