Seattle, in midsummer, is nautical enough to make you consider buying some fixer-upper boat just to take to the water. Before you do, remember the advice: Don't get a boat—get a friend with a boat. But if all you want is the feel of the sea, tuck away in one of these spots: It's cheaper than moorage. —AC
This north Broadway bar is predictably a crowdpleaser, thanks in part to the sunny cocktails, fried fare, and brunch options. Nautical appointments are many: A seven-foot marlin hangs on knotted pine walls; a mermaid rests above the bar; lighting fixtures from maritime shop Cuttysark are found throughout, as are several wooden helms.
Atop a bed of crushed ice await row after row of various oysters, harvested from our local tidal flats and transported to this Ballard haven of seafood. Bivalve fiends can dig into happy hour (3:30 to 6 daily) for oysters on the half shell for two bucks each.
The Stone Way bar’s decor steers into its seaplane theme, as does the cocktail menu full of drinks like Burn Alert (Engine Out!) and Smooth Landing. Still, Bar Charlie is comfortable and approachable enough to warrant a casual after-work beer, landing safely between theme bar and neighborhood bar.
In a breezy Capitol Hill bar splashed with sprays of seafoam green, Seattle legend Renee Erickson pays homage to the shores of Normandy and Brittany. Thus a bowl of manila clams may arrive with tarragon and rings of shallot, halibut crudo might be brightened with pickled cucumber and fresh rhubarb, brined and smoked leg of lamb may be served with the French egg sauce known as sauce gribiche—all in addition to the half dozen fresh oysters daily. Meat gets more play here than at Erickson's other seafood-focused spot, Walrus and the Carpenter. (Little surprise here alongside Erickson’s French steak house, Bateau.)
Off East Olive Way lives a bar that checks many boxes: reliably divey vibe, a nautical theme that’s less yacht club and more goth beach house, plus a deck that overlooks Capitol Hill and some downtown skyline.
It’s a known fact that rockfish ceviche and plantain chips taste their brightest and best within quarters as cerulean and sparkling as a wave breaking on a tropical beach. That’s Manolin on Stone Way, whose rounded bar within and surroundable fire pit out front create all the right kinds of warmth—heightened when you throw in the sweetest service in town, a pisco cocktail or two, and a vibe that's oceanic without being gimmicky. Add food to the mix—small plates of halibut cooked with restraint over a light mole, smoked arctic char posing artfully on oiled and herb-flecked sour cream, one of those startlingly fine ceviches (there are two on every day’s menu)—and the place is not only transporting, it’s gastronomically spot on.
The palm-thatched, bamboo-adorned evolution of the No Bones About It vegan food truck has morphed into a fully formed coastal-inspired plant-based restaurant in Ballard. Seattle has its fair share of dreary weather to be sure, so No Bones Beach Club was born, a bastion of tiki-inspired cocktails and an oasis of paradise. Truly, it doesn’t get more offbeat than “vegan tiki bar.” Surfboards hang on the walls, Blue Crush plays on the TV over the bar, and just about every table has a towering plate of nachos, with cashew and smoked poblano faux queso as a decadent stand-in for the real thing. It’s food even an omnivore can love, and you’d have to be made of stone to resist a boat drink (painkillers, mai tais, a creamy coconut mojito) bedecked with a paper umbrella.
For the feeling of drinking on a ship, you can't get closer on Seattle land than Octopus Bar. This Wallingford spot is bedecked with buoys, ropes, nets, even portholes. The cocktails, tap options, and food (pizza, nachos, tacos) are what you’d expect at a neighborhood bar, but the large patio (covered! heated!) tips the average in the right direction.
Salty's multi-level deck serves sweeping views of downtown and Elliot Bay all the way to Magnolia, alongside blackened wild salmon, seafood chowder, or halibut and chips. The yellow-and-white striped parasols provide ample shade while you make your pick from the sizable wine list, and poke your fork into a crabcake or two. On a bad weather day, the floor-to-ceiling windows in the dining room ensure the view remains a panoramic backdrop to dinner.
A Ballard fixture for over 40 years, the Sloop Tavern serves its fish tacos, Hawaiian burgers, and jumbo hot dogs in a space lined with accurately-rigged sailboat models, classic nautical weather instruments, a compass or two, and row after row of vintage sailboat pictures. Look for the anchor-shaped order sign dangling above the bar. As bar gimmicks go, the 34-ounce “Sloopersize" pour is pretty good.
Launched in the ’30s on the Alki shore, Spud still uses the same recipe for its breaded fish and tartar sauce that made it—and Alki—such a destination. It's an old-school beach spot through and through: A ship's wheel as decoration, blue bench seating. You can also pop by the equally beachy locations in Greenlake, Kirkland, and Edmonds.
Settle into the whitewashed-and-windowpaned rusticity (dig the enormous, coralesque chandelier) of Renee Erickson’s Ballard oyster bar and sample a melon and cucumber salad or the house specialty, fresh oysters with champagne mignonette. Or cobble together a few heartier dishes—gin-cured Copper River salmon, perhaps, or breathtaking steak tartare with egg yolk and toast—and call it dinner. Thoughtfully selected Euro wines and a list of Frenchy cocktails lubricate richly. From its position on the backside of Ballard Avenue’s Staple and Fancy (the two share a windowed wall) the Walrus is at once at the center of everything and away from it all; on the back patio you can smell the tide turning.
In summer it’s pure Hamptons. Glide in by boat, tie up along Westward’s north Lake Union dock, then snag an Adirondack chair lined up resort-like along the shore. Next: Choose among beautifully shucked local oysters and sip shandies and pink champagne. These balmy afternoons ripen into long twilit evenings of roasted rainbow trout, herby grilled octopus salad, blistered rapini, and braised lamb shoulder with tzatziki—people speak of them afterward in terms typically reserved for lost Paris weekends and first loves.
From the good folks who brought us Matt’s in the Market and Radiator Whiskey comes a waterside pub along the docks of South Lake Union, which treats seafood as robustly as Radiator treats meat. The entryway, and indeed the whole place, is confusing—is it a cozy, broey bar or a sit-in-the-sun restaurant?—but nails elements of both, with casual food like clam chowder poutine, deep-fried brussels sprouts, steamed clams, and fried oyster salad taking no time becoming some of the city’s famous craveables. When it moves into more ambitious realms, spendy halibut in experimental preparations for instance, the kitchen can falter, so keep it simple. An adjoining fish-and-chip shack, 100 Pound Clam, services a glorious outdoor patio with steamed clams, deep-fried corn, and other delectable reminders of why we live here.