Stepping into Foreign National from the bright hustle of Pike/Pine is rather like walking into a theater midshow. Mostly because it’s dark—so much so that the staff provides bronze-plated flashlights with menus. But once your eyes adjust, Stateside’s new adjacent cocktail bar packs a stage set’s worth of moody intrigue, starting with a four-foot-wide disco ball that rotates like a languid meteor just above the dark green corner booth, the only seat in this tiny house offering more real estate than a bar top or diminutive cocktail table.
Suspending an enormous object in a small space begs the question—that thing’s solidly anchored, right?
It is, reassured bar manager Adam Fortuna. “But what a way to go.” With that he served a round of drinks that summon the same refreshing, subtropical flavors you’ll find next door at Stateside (a rare restaurant where cocktails outsell beer and wine) but dial up the technique by a factor of 10. The namesake Foreign National cocktail starts as a simple riff on a pisco sour, made with amaro Montenegro and honey for sweetness, but barkeeps add citric and malic acid to juiced Valencia oranges, delivering, as Fortuna put it, “the flavor of an orange with all the acid of a lime.” Chemistry lesson aside, it’s superb. So is the Silk Road, a noglike record scratch of rum, coconut cream, and…curry.
Foreign National serves none of the favorites from the airy Vietnamese-centered restaurant next door. Not even the rightfully adored rum concoction served in a hollowed-out coconut. But Fortuna has assembled one of the city’s most talented bartender lineups, who’ve slung drinks at places like Sun Liquor and Rob Roy, all flexing their creativity with ingredients like sorrel, pandan, and yuzu. Meanwhile, Stateside front-of-house partner Seth Hammond patrols this space with the same surgical-strike hospitality, and chef-owner Eric Johnson applies his exacting mind to bar snacks, their flavors gathered from across Asia. A tiny brioche sandwich, topped with dill and salmon roe, contains a pair of egg yolks cooked just long enough to hold their shape until the first gooey bite. The benignly named crispy potatoes are essentially jojos rendered by an artist’s hand and served with sriracha hollandaise. Sticky rice sausages make for a pungent drinking snack, but the Malaysian spiral-cut chicken curry puffs are the runaway hit, a labor-intensive spectacle of pork-fat-laminated dough.
Johnson, who spent nearly nine years cooking in Shanghai and Hong Kong, says Foreign National is an ode to “what bars in Asia really look like,” as encountered on the 26th floor of a Hong Kong skyscraper or down a Saigon alley. The shard of a former parking garage is now outfitted with 1970s-era French wallpaper, glimmering darkly against all the brass and black marble. The unapologetically mauve bathroom, with its swan-shaped faucet, is an Instagram fixture.
A foreign national is a person who resides far from his or her roots, a fitting name for a bar that inhabits the core of Seattle’s nightlife zone but transports drinkers away from the surrounding midconstruction midrises, away from Seattle’s standard Edison-bulbed decor, and away from our current old fashioned–heavy milieu. And with just 28 seats, there’s usually a line outside.
Johnson bought a velvet rope before the bar opened, a joking nod to pretentious mixology shrines, “but we’ve actually had to use it a few times.”