One evening, as the setting sun streaked golden light over JarrBar’s narrow quarters, two staffers in striped V-necks presided over a changing of the jamón. This solemn ceremony happens about once a month and involves relieving a massive leg of famed, acorn-fed jamón ibérico—now shorn nearly meatless and shaped like a rifle—from its duties atop the bar, unsheathing its $700 replacement from a bag shaped like a tennis racquet, and installing it in a metal brace.
“A master would get it paper thin,” the bar manager allowed, presenting a platter of not-exactly-paper-thin slices. Just set each piece on your tongue, he advised; let the fat melt luxuriously away. But flavor that rich and nutty evokes the owl in those old Tootsie Pop commercials: You can’t help but sink your teeth into that meat.
Like this luxe ham, JarrBar is distinctly Spanish, but presented without much fuss. It’s Bryan Jarr’s approximation of watering holes in San Sebastián or Galicia or Lisbon, in a white-walled space that literally used to be a storage closet beneath Pike Place Market. Now it offers sunny cocktails—mescal softened with orgeat, a sorta-Spanish-style gin and tonic garnished with juniper berries—and a turntable partial to Curtis Mayfield. Most of what you can eat or drink is stored on shelves above the bar.
In proper Iberian style, snacks are mainly cured meat or seafood preserved in jars, like a rich rillette of smoked black cod. Order from the menu’s Tins section and you’re getting exactly that: a fancy oval can of sardines or cockles cracked open and dispatched with fresh aioli or salsa verde for garnish. In some cases—like the smoky, tender octopus—simple flavors forked straight from their olive oil packing are even better than the housemade bites.
Jarr co-owned Madison Park Conservatory and is planning a full-blown restaurant in Pike Place Market’s expansion in 2017, applying Spain’s preserving techniques to Northwest seafood. But he’s already doing something impressive at JarrBar: hiding a neighborhood bar in the thick of the tourist zone.