Better Times

Seattle's Future Contains Bars. Cool New Bars.

Here Today promises beer and views and sunshine. Inside Passage will plunge you to the bottom of the sea (and then serve you a cocktail). Both portend better days.

By Allecia Vermillion March 29, 2021

The seaworthy installation at Inside Passage.

Watching restaurant workers get vaccines and long-shuttered favorites reopen their doors and dining rooms begets all sorts of feelings: hope, optimism, a sense that brighter, more convivial days might be in reach. You know, sentiments that acquired a bit of dust over the past 12 months.

Two notable upcoming bar projects—forged pre-pandemic, adapted for our new reality—would be cause for joy at any point. But after a year of pivots and hardship and takeout cartons, the notion of immersing yourself in a hidden-away cocktail haunt, or taking in an Elliott Bay sunset with a sensational beer in hand feels otherworldly.

Inside Passage

Rumba, the den of rum at the foot of Pike/Pine announced plans for a sort of bar within a bar, Inside Passage, in early March 2020. Does anybody really need me to point out the rough timing on that?

Jen Akin, general manager of both bars, says the notion had been on Rumba’s collective mind for years, but became possible when the space next door to the bar opened up. A year later, the basic notion remains the same: A dramatic 40-seat room that immerses you in a different reality, where the tentacles of an enormous sea creature installation by Notch Gonzales spread across the ceiling.

The particulars of that world, however, evolved. “We decided to drop tiki from our vocabulary,” says Akin. “Honestly, the concept has changed based on our own education and growth.”

Society’s increasing awareness of insidious origin stories that lurk within seemingly benign pursuits has included a reckoning with tiki. Some facets of this conversation focus on appropriation, others around glamorizing colonial acquisitions in the guise of escapism. Either way, it leaves bars like Rumba and Inside Passage seeking new ways to embrace the carefree appeal of tropical rum drinks, plus those overtones of mystery inherent to classic tiki.

This group chose to embrace the heritage of our own waterways, which rank a smidge lower on the tropical scale, but teem with their own rich lore. The space evokes a pirate ship, stuffed with rum barrels, that has sunk to the bottom of the Puget Sound. “The whole bar is meant to make you feel like you’re underwater,” says Akin.

Gonzales—a former hot rod fabricator who has conceived of elaborate interiors for some seminal cocktail bars around the nation—unleashed his artistic skills on Inside Passage. The result also includes very private booths and, of course, the tentacled sea creature who swoops overhead. Akin hesitates to describe it in too much detail. “Walking in and seeing it all for the first time…we don’t want to take away that experience from anyone.”

Cocktails also embrace local themes, but in an offbeat way. Akin promises drinks inspired by The Goonies, the World’s Fair, Mount Rainier, Bigfoot, and MOHAI. Technically there is one nod to tiki, a cocktail homage to the quartet of undercredited Filipino bartenders who were instrumental in the success of America’s original tiki bar.

Mothership bar Rumba reopens for service May 12. Restarting the engine after 14 months takes effort, so Inside Passage will likely debut four weeks later. Keep an eye on Instagram for more specifics—and to ogle that sea creature, who really needs a proper name.

Here Today

A legit brewpub rises next to the former Old Spaghetti Factory.

This water-facing brewpub was big news when it was first announced in the former lifetime known as December 2019. And it’s big (and great) news that Here Today is moving forward once again. A few along-the-way adjustments have changed the tenor slightly, but the basic plot remains the same: A stylized watering hole pouring eminently drinkable beer, with a spacious patio that looks out on Elliott Bay. Here Today will occupy the base of the 10 Clay building, an undersung pocket of the city where Belltown meets the waterfront, a block away from Olympic Sculpture Park.

This project is the brainchild of Chris Elford, co-owner of Navy Strength and Vinnie’s, as well as No Anchor, a pretty groundbreaking beer bar before it closed in December (it’s slated to return this spring, in a more tavern-y iteration). While original brewing partner Averie Swanson decided to focus on her projects closer to home, Elford is elated that he found Mario Cortes. Here today’s new head brewer and partner has worked at Oskar Blues, Harpoon, Houston’s Karbach Brewing Co., and California’s Woods Beer and Wine.

It’s a resume that emphasizes consistency, critical in brewing, but Elford was even more impressed with Cortes’s answer to what I assume is a fairly standard beer interview question—what style of beer do you want to make? Rather than expound on his own personal jams, Cortes turned it around to ask, what kind of beer do you think people want?

Together, with ops manager and third partner Dave Riddile, they’ll focus on “creative beer that’s rooted in history,” says Elford. The trio share a love for German-leaning session beers, and it’s pretty much illegal to run a brewery in Washington if you don’t nail your IPA. Beyond that, Elford likens their beer strategy to music—“you can’t improvise on the classics unless you know how to play them.”

Elford describes the space as “neo-tropical,” which apparently is short for neon. The interior offers a full bar and a view into the brewing area; the 50-seat patio offers a different sort of view, one that involves ferries and Elliott Bay vistas.

For a cocktail and beer guy, Elford creates spots with an impressive track record for food (No Anchor was a James Beard semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in 2017). Here Today is still dialing in the kitchen situation, but Elford says dishes will be more classically American and Northwest than fare you might find at his other spots. “We need to make food for locals, but also for people that just stepped off a cruise ship.”

It might take a minute for cruises to revive themselves, but Elford has a point: The location and the setup seems likely to appeal to visitors, the credibility levels of this team ought to draw locals. Here Today should debut this summer, giving Seattle a top-notch new patio and a place that will impress the hell out of your future houseguests. Track progress on Here Today’s Instagram.

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