A certain sort of bar is best described as a joint. Not skeezy or rank enough to be an actual dive. A place where the thing offered is more about atmosphere than what, precisely, is in your glass. You don’t call Canon, with its obsessive refinements, a joint. Nor your prototypical neighborhood pub, with its gleaming Bud Light signage. A joint gets by on charisma, on a curated vibe, whatever that may be.
At Neon Boots you dream in color. You're struck immediately: what a very pink place. The walls, the padded barstools, the bathroom (and even the ornate frame on its mirror) are all pinkly cast. And when the sun goes down, the red orb fixtures above bar rosy the air like a red scarf tossed over a nightstand lamp. But the effect isn’t cloying, nor especially lascivious. There are so many skeletons in Neon Boots—in a vast psychotropic desert mural on the wall beside the door, a woman’s literally bareboned ribcage glows and sprouts flowers; above a back booth, a deceased statue lounges in a wicker chair—that the pink in this room feels somehow corporeal, as though you’d entered a cavernous and very healthy heart.
If that sounds a little acid-tinged, well, so is Neon Boots—like the psychedelic sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators might, at any moment, issue from the southwest-style arches and light-catching crystals in the front windows. “Psychic Oasis” a window decal portends, above the turquoise tables corralled on the sidewalk.
That sustained effect falters a little in the glass. The cocktails run at craft prices—$10–$12—without achieving craft heights, and the flavors, even if they sound eccentric, land close to the boilerplate. The Agave Haze (tequila, lemon, black pepper simple syrup, orange blossom) tastes pretty damn close to a margarita. The Father Yod (Tanqueray, lemon, rose water, and elderflower liqueur with soda water) runs so heavy on the gin and lemon that it edges toward collins territory.
So this is more a shot and a beer bar, and the owners seem to know that: happy hour knocks the prices on draft beers, PBR, and wells. The taplist runs safe by Seattle standards (where it’s easy to find an adventurous option even in a neighborhood pub): Hale’s Supergoose IPA, Manny’s, Fremont’s Summer Ale. Ditto the strangely Italian sandwich menu, which though it has eight options is full of renamed classics. The Mojave is a meatball, marinara, and mozz sub. The Cormac replaces those meatballs with sausage.
But that’s all fine—here you needn’t parse your sandwich or beer. You grab a round with friends, listen to some fuzzed out garage rock or a French cover of “These Boots Are Made For Walkin,” snag one of the books from a vintage mystical collection in the back (with such classics as Drugs: Prescription and Non-Prescription or Murder Can Spook Your Cat). It's somewhere to while away the day or night, to turn on, tune in, drop out—you know, a joint.