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Mr. Darcy's bar. 

Image: Mr. Darcy's

A good conversation bar is a rare and wonderful thing. Plenty of craft bars in Seattle will crank the music, especially on weekend nights. The other bar noises, cocktail shakers and chatter and glassware, seem to escalate in response, and soon you strain to hear even yourself. Of course, rowdiness has its place—these are bars after all—but so does quietude. On a recent Friday night in Mr. Darcy’s, one of Belltown’s latest wine and cocktail haunts, conversation was the most prominent sound. The stereo, which eased “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” into the room, was kept as low as the lights: gentle incandescent bulbs above, a few tea-candles fluttering light on the rail.

A conversational tone is especially appreciated on Belltown’s Second Ave, where a swath of new bars have revitalized the area—Neon Boots, Screwdriver, Cursed Oak, Navy Strength, Jupiter—mostly by bringing good loud fun to the strip.

I suppose this should be expected from a bar named after a Jane Austen character, and that genteel literary mood gently infuses the space: gold-lettering on the windows, a decorative (presumably) phonograph and piano, an antique clock, lots of woodwork, a shelf of books. And, yes, the menu’s last page is full of Austen quotes: “We are all fools in love.” But the tone digresses enough that you needn’t cinch a corset or dig out your ascot and top hat. Above one of the old wood tables is a large painting of barebreasted mermaids and while there’s a cocktail called the My Fair Lady, another is called Dapper As F***.

There are five house cocktails and another five faintly obscure classics like the Champ Elyees (owner Marcus Johnson plans to expand that to about 10 of each). All run $10 each and hew to current craft conventions. The Dapper as F*** is a booze-forward whiskey drink: rye, Barolo chinato, dry vermouth, Oloroso sherry. The Pace of Nature gets a little wild with rum, rooibos earl grey tea, orgeat, and bubbles. Nutty, sweet, citrusy and eccentrically aromatic, it lands more in simply interesting category of craft cocktails. It’s not bad or offputing, but it also doesn’t floor you with perfect harmony. You sip, and tilt your head, and sip again. 

The wines—a chalkboard listing five white and five reds, each $9–13 a glass ($7 at happy hour from 5-7 every day)—rotate frequently and roam the globe: Spain, Morocco, France, Washington, Hungary, Uruguay. For a time, the list skewed heavily natural and organic, which Johnson says is definitely a consideration, though they're also happy to feature playful wines from less featured countries. 

I asked the bartender about those natural wines, which their website featured, but that night they had only one, a pet-nat rose from Oregon’s Johan Vineyards. She then ran through tasting notes on the rest of the list—what was fun and funky, what was big and fruity—in a way both informative and inviting.

And without leaning even slightly forward, I could hear every word.

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