Lurid weirdness is served so freely here—candy striped walls, taxidermal array, a whole menu section for corndogs—that carnival-themed Unicorn feels like Halloween year round. Sip cocktails like the famed Unicorn Jizz or a Fireball-vehicle called the Hellicorn; try to shout over the music. Refined it ain’t (Fireball should tip you off), but fun? Hell yes.
The Germanic food is cheap, the drinks cheaper, and with its decor at once gaudy and aged to dingy grayscale, this subterranean downtown den feels like a Rhineland remake of The Shining. The effect only deepens if you hit the men’s room and see that some referential defacer scrawled “REDRUM” above a urinal. Bernard’s is a relic that surely felt odd when it opened in the 70s and is now ripe with uncurated strange, a true haunt.
As far as clown-surrounded drinking in the city goes, Shorty’s is it—either apotheosis or nadir, depending on how you look upon a painted face. That the circus decor here is antiquated only adds to the bar’s bent, after-hours luster. Shorty’s belongs in the same category as places like Blue Moon Tavern—true drives hanging on in an increasingly renovated city. Play pinball, drink Rainier tallboys, and get spooked when you notice the vaguely melted clown mask hovering over your friend’s shoulder.
Everything at Yen Wor feels like a dreamy non sequitur: where else in Seattle can you get a Jello shot in a to-go container while watching, say, a white mustached man croon Sinatra followed by twentysomething patron pristinely spout OutKast’s “Roses” as a leathery motorcycle gang looks on? This backroom karaoke bar at a Chinese restaurant shows what West Seattle’s underbelly looks like: baroquely diverse and darkly neonlit.
Sometimes the creepiness is more narrative than atmospheric, but if you know the story behind the Pine Box—a former mortuary, that hosted Bruce Lee’s funeral in 1973—even the chic oldworld austerity here takes on a sepulchral vibe. Never fear: 33 meticulously culled taps offer plenty of Belgian-leaning beer to take the edge off even a bone-deep shudder.