Best Bars

Neighborhood Bars: Capitol Hill

Hideaways in the thick of the nightlife zone

By Darren Davis April 3, 2016 Published in the April 2016 issue of Seattle Met

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Sun Liquor Lounge

Image: Sarah Flotard

Sun Liquor Lounge

At some point we started calling it Little Sun, the original Sun Liquor situated on that surprising block of food and drink among the lush trees and stately brick apartments on the north end of Summit. Whereas the Sun Liquor distillery on Pine welcomes passersby with its tall windows, vats of gin and vodka, wide booths made for clinking glasses to boisterous toasts, Little Sun is a den hidden in a forgotten corner of the tropics. There are hints of paradise—the tiki cocktails, the bamboo furniture, exotic wall murals of unknown locales—but the interior is in perpetual dusk, even during the stellar afternoon happy hour. A warm bowl of assorted nuts makes up the entirety of the food menu, but if you’re going for food, you’re missing the point. It’s a place for close talking, for the solo drinker wanting a Pimm’s cup made right instead of a Manny’s, for the last stop on a third date. The bartender keeps pulling that lever on the juice press, squeezing fresh grapefruit into the third, fourth, fifth greyhound. What time is it again? Even though it’s situated in one of the most desirable residential neighborhoods on the hill, Little Sun still feels like a secret.

Speckled and Drake

While certainly not the only bar in town featuring stuffed and mounted game on the walls—take nearby weekend hot spots like Montana and Linda’s—there is something unique about this hideaway decked out like a prairie schoolhouse, all raw wood booths, cafe-teria chairs, a chalkboard menu with classic shot-and-a-beer specials next to surprising mescal concoctions. It’s a setup that calls to Capitol Hill hipsters with rural fantasies and diverse tastes who frequent trivia nights, and a reminder that we too were part of the Wild West. 1355 E Olive Way, 206-403-3514

The Stumbling Monk

Sometimes when it’s cold out you just want a beer closer in appearance to crude oil and an ABV north of your average California cabernet. Stumbling Monk’s whiteboard lists dozens of Belgian names you’ve never heard of and can’t pronounce anyway, the wares ranging from malty and refreshing to pungent and medieval. With its snug wood booths, a library of board games, and street-facing windows that, when fogged up, turn the outside world into a distant memory, the Monk is where to shack up and wait things out. 1635 E Olive Way, 206-860-0916 


You’ll find something right down the middle at Hopvine—DMZ between the disparate bars and restaurants on the fertile stretch of 15th Avenue that bisects east and west Capitol Hill. The tap selection, a celebration of Washington brewers, isn’t so deep that you need a guide to pick a pint, and the space is more conducive to friendly chatter and live music enjoyment than broing out over the big game at nearby nouveau Canterbury. And if you’re not in the mood for bone marrow at Smith or a plate of impeccably composed pasta at Rione XIII—if you’re just hungry for some food—rely on the Hopvine’s trusty sandwiches and pizza. 

Roanoke Park Place 

Has the Roanoke always been here? Its ivy-covered facade does look like it sprouted up from the ground back before a Kwakwaka’wakw mask became the Seahawks logo. The North Capitol Hill institution runs the gamut of pub grub (burgers, nachos, chili, a few hearty salads to keep the regulars alive), plus 15 taps to wash everything down. There’s also a fire for January and a patio for July, when Ping-Pong matches get occasionally heated and then promptly resolved with more beer.

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Seattle’s Newest Old Bar

Parallel universes converge at the concrete corner of Ninth and Madison on First Hill. Pass through the front door at Vito’s, and it’s 1953, the era when power dining meant red sauce Italian and high style meant circular red booths, faux-wood-paneled walls, and a mirrored ball casting its slow glitter above a grand piano. In light this dim, everything you do feels glamorous; every word you say is witty. It seems completely normal that the guy in the next booth is wearing a tux, even though it’s a Mon-day night in the middle of the hospital district. The room is a shrine to our first iteration of cocktail culture, but the bar is firmly present day, serving drinks dark as the environs, punctuated by of-the-moment liqueurs like nocino or byrrh or genepy—a new identity that dovetails perfectly with the old. Five years ago the owners of the nearby Hideout bought this Seattle classic, updating its bar cred but still honoring the fact that Vito’s predates the lemon drop and cosmo era and all the sweet drinks they begat.

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