Reading and drinking don’t always come to mind together. But their binary oppositions—noise and silence, introversion and extroversion, focus and forgetting—can actually complement each other nicely. In Seattle, now an official UNESCO City of Literature (one of only 28 in the world, and two in the U.S.), and also a self-anointing beer and cocktail town, there are plenty of options for putting the lit in literary.
Yes, this is the most storied bar in the city. Since it opened in 1934, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Tom Robbins, Theodore Roethke, and Thomas Pynchon, and a slew of other writers knocked back pints here. Now it hosts live music nearly every night. So is it actually a great bar to read in? During the day, yes—provided you’re comfortable with some side-eye from the white-beared regulars at the bar. Most afternoons the bar's many wood booths lie empty and smell equally of literary history and spilled beer, as if the two were ever separate.
The first Wednesday of each month the Hotel Sorrento hosts a silent reading party, started by the Stranger's Christopher Frizzelle. You arrive, get a drink, open a book, and shut the hell up. It’s almost a parody of the Seattleite quietude, but nine years deep it’s popular enough that lines can be out the door and it’s expanded into other cities like New York and Portland. The rest of the month the Fireside Room is about as ideal a reading bar as you can imagine. There is indeed a fireplace, and plenty of cushy seating, and a restrained tone that shan’t impeded on your third attempt to read War and Peace.
Come to Artusi, Capitol Hill’s best apertivo joint, early. Sit at the bar. The windows offer plenty of light. The music won’t overpower and the staff won’t overstep. Get a snack, or maybe some pasta, and a cocktail. There’s not much on paper that makes Artusi better for reading than many other cocktail bars, but once you’re halfway through your book and onto your second Aperol spritz, you’ll understand. It has that most frequently forgotten part of elegance, which is repose.
For a city pretty serious about drinking, we have a pretty serious dearth of great wine bars. The downtown wine nook Le Caviste nonchalantly bucks that trend. Francophilic to a fault—with a fantastic wine list and small smart menu—Caviste is also unassuming enough to invite whatever you feel like doing. Chat with friends, watch passersby on the sidewalk, eat charcuterie, or, if you’re feeling cohesive, crack some Camus.
Your Neighborhood Brewery Taproom
You already knew this. Whether you’re at one of Ballard’s umpteen breweries or Holy Mountain or Standard Brewing, you’ve seen someone sitting peacefully alone, working through some tome. Maybe they brought lunch. Whatever the reason—the relaxed tone, halfway between coffee shop and actual bar; the connoisseurial act of drinking at the source—I’ve seen more people reading while they drink in taprooms than I have anywhere else, so if nothing else, you’re among friends.