Seating Room Only
Speakeasies tend to conjure images of stuffed-to-the gills cellars filled with skinny-limbed ladies in flapper dresses mixing gin in the bathtub. But find yourself in one of New York City’s many modern-day underground clubs, and it’s all about calm conversation and bargain libations. And so it is at Knee High, Jack and Michelle Valko’s bitty little bar where Pike/Piners chat it up over cheese plates and spiced nuts and specialty drinks that start at $5. If the bartender looks familiar, you’re probably no newcomer to Seattle’s own speakeasy scene: Dalilah Rambo was the clandestine cocktail mixer at the much-missed McLeod Residence. Knee High, 1356 E Olive Way, Capitol Hill, 206-979-7049
Tequila. The thought sends your gag reflex trembling, right? Well, Quentin Ertel, owner of The Saint, thinks it’s time you got over that. In April 2008 the New York transplant transformed the former Wingdome on Olive Way into a teal matador-themed watering hole. His mission: tequila salvation. “The goal was to do something that elevates tequila. It hasn’t been given its proper form yet,” Ertel explains. “If you look at tequila for what it is, it’s not just Cuervo Gold and vomiting—it’s elegant.”
Thanks to an arsenal of 85 top-notch blue agave bottles with accompanying sangrita chasers (a little-used mix of orange, lime, and tomato juice, kosher salt, black pepper, and Tapatio) and “I’ll-have-what-he’s-having” cocktails like El Santo (one of the best made-from-scratch margaritas you’ll ever have) and the Angelflower (Patron, fresh mint, homemade blue agave syrup, and cucumber), Ertel’s revolution is slowly sweeping Seattle. In fact, only 3 percent of the Saint’s liquor sales aren’t tequila related, he says. And if you need more proof that “to-kill-ya” has hit the mainstream, witness new agave-centric Lost Lady American Cantina in downtown’s corporate restaurants corridor. If the suity happy hour crowd at Sixth and Union is drinking it, you can, too. The Saint, 1416 E Olive Way, Capitol Hill, 206-323-9922; wwwthesaintsocialclub.com
More Room at the Inn
There was a time not too long ago when the Virginia Inn, one of Seattle’s oldest bars, was the kind of place where twentysomethings ironically slummed. You know these joints: Hoodies and patchy facial hair at the bar alongside grizzled old timers, everyone drinking Rainier. Then owners Patrice Demombynes and Jim Fotheringham renovated the bar they’d run for 27 years, expanding the space with a dining area and ditching the beer signs that made the youngsters feel so cool.
When the VI reopened in March 2008 many of the kids fled for grimier Belltown canteens. What they left behind was a French-meets-Northwest bistro and bar that outclasses some of the best restaurants in the city, a place that hosts, says Demombynes, “an eclectic collection” of tourists (the patio is the best perch in the city from which to behold Puget Sound), architects in angular eyewear (there’s a firm across the street), and, yes, a few of those hoodied bar stool excursionists, who, if they’ve wised up at all, are too busy devouring moules frites and sauvignon blanc to pine for Virginia’s divier days. Virginia Inn, 1937 First Ave, Belltown, 206-728-1937; www.virginiainnseattle.com