The Best New Bars Are Restaurants

By Katherine Koberg March 20, 2013 Published in the April 2013 issue of Seattle Met

To think that one of the most interesting restaurant trends of the moment can be traced to a 65-year-old state liquor law. Before 1948, the only way to (legally) get a mixed drink in Washington was to join a private bottle club where you could bring your own hard liquor—provided it was purchased from a state liquor store. Enforcement was laughable. Then voters approved Initiative 171, which allowed any establishment serving full meals to serve liquor by the drink—the temperance--minded goal being that if you ate and drank, it’d promote moderation and reduce drunkenness. And so for years, including and well beyond the time I became old enough to imbibe, mixed drinks were served at hotels and restaurants where grownups sipped pricey cocktails in dark, men’s-clubby lounges—which goes a long way toward explaining why I guzzled beer and danced away my postcollege years at the Rainbow Tavern. 

The state’s mandatory ratio of food sales to hard liquor sales went away in 1995, but today any restaurant that serves hard alcohol must meet these requirements: have at least eight complete meals served at least five hours of the day between 8am and 11pm at least three days a week. The menu has to include an entree and a side dish. Lucky us. Over the last decade, artisan cocktails, small plates, and culinary innovation have led to an explosion of a new kind of restaurant-slash-bar. (We’re still trying to figure out what to call these places.)

Our restaurant critic, Kathryn Robinson, has been onto this trend for a while, but when she and our food and drink editor, Allecia Vermillion, started making a list of bars with advanced cocktail programs, craft liquors, and sophisticated entrees and noshes, we found the phenomenon was even more widespread than we thought. At the very least—in part due to the vagaries of the state liquor laws, in part thanks to the city’s plethora of creative bartenders, distillers, and chefs—Seattle can claim to be at the forefront of the movement. 

Also in this month’s magazine are dozens more innovators—in politics, the arts, technology, media, style—whose ideas and influence are propelling the city into the future. You’ll meet an author who makes us see ourselves in a new light, an attorney who drove the legalization of marijuana, chart-topping musicians who challenge the meaning of hip-hop, a corporate executive who prizes both profit and environmental conscience, a public health officer who designed flu protocols for the nation, and more. Just as with the, er…distillaurants, the list is rich and diverse and inspiring. A toast to all!


Published: April 2013

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