The windows of The Old Sage are still covered in brown paper, and there’s a giant sign on the front door demanding entrants wear hard hats. So after months of silence, I was sort of flummoxed to walk inside this morning and find a fire crackling, tables arranged, and the bar ready to go.
In other words, Dana Tough and Brian McCracken are thisclose to opening their fourth establishment at 1410 12th Avenue, just down the way from Tavern Law on Capitol Hill. Seattle restaurateurs are having a love affair with smoked meat and whiskey right now, so the guys are treading carefully to avoid terms that have become buzzwords. The Old Sage, they say, is about meats and malts.
After a longer-than-average delay, McCracken and Tough say doors will open, for reals, on Wednesday, July 31. And that food and drink get equal billing here, even moreso than at any of their other establishments. Which is saying something.
Here, five reasons to get excited about this meaty, boozy newcomer in the former Local Vine space.
The meats. The Old Sage is not barbecue and it’s not a charcuterie bar. It is an assemblage of meats, each one getting a different smoking treatment. Like a deboned chicken thigh might be rolled into a cylinder, with the skin, and cold smoked with rosemary and rosemary branches. Meat dishes generally come with a sauce and some sort of salad (in the chicken’s case, a summery panzanella) and is share friendly; the other half of the menu is dedicated to “accompaniments,” in the form of vegetable dishes like an amarinth salad of beets, chard, and Incan quinoa with a smoky, chocolatey vinaigrette of urfa biber. On the starchier side, everyone seems awfully giddy about the fennel pollen “puffed sourbread,” which sous chef Matthew Woolen terms “solid beer” for its deep, sour flavor. I’m a little giddy myself thinking about the butterflake roll, essentially layers of flaky roll and good butter baked in a sourdough dish.
The malts. Here the term applies to both whiskey and beer. Service director Anne Magoon and budget director/whiskey maven Angela Kimber researched the hell out of both and came up with a beer list (bottles plus 12 taps and a 13th nitro) full of deep, sour, smoky, blowout flavors. (“It makes you want the food Magoon intoned over a La Folie sour brown ale from New Belgium’s Lips of Faith line). As for the whiskey side of things, an entire wall is dedicated to single malts, and the bottle count will keep growing long after doors open. Whiskey flights often focus on “families” of a single brand, but a flight at the Old Sage might consist of four different whiskeys all aged in a sherry cask. There is indeed a cocktail list, but the focus here is straight-up maltiness. All the better to differentiate the Old Sage from neighboring Tavern Law.
A familiar face behind the bar. Charles Veitch, whom my esteemed predecessor termed “more gentlemanly history professor than blustery bartender,” will be a fixture at the Old Sage. Veitch helped McCracken and Tough open Spur back in the day, had a great run at Bastille, then went to Manhattan to work at NoMad. Now he’s back and you’ll find him behind the bar three nights a week (technically his title is assistant GM).
Tons of tiny touches. The cutting boards behind the bar are made of walnut, the fruit bowls and water pitchers are glistening copper. Magoon says the staff training included some nervous moments when everyone eyed the artful Akiko’s Pottery tableware and the unforgiving concrete floors. Some seriously diminutive imperial schooners let you order savor-sized pours of all those deep beers, but still feel like a grownup. The guys even got some custom aprons, made of a waxed canvas, with copper grommets and leather ties. Plus, you just hose ‘em down at the end of each shift and give them a regular waxing.
Hello, there’s a spray-paint portrait of Arthur Denny. Sue me—I’m a sucker for founding fathers of the local and national varieties. This one, overlooking the lounge, is by local muralist Joey Nix, and Denny’s visage is done entirely with aerosol paint. There’s also a mural of a train. Because, why not?
The Old Sage will be open at 5pm daily.