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For what looks to be an impressive wine bar, the folks behind Triumph Bar do protest a bit too much.

Triumph certainly looks and feels like a wine bar, with towering shelves of Italian bottles and a rolling library ladder that reaches two stories up. It’s owned by two brothers who are sommeliers, one of whom told me Triumph is meant to “look like a warm tasting room, like something out of Woodinville.”

And yet, when I called it a wine bar, the owner and my server were adamant I was off base.

Since its opening in late August, the staff has painstakingly tried to avoid being pigeonholed as just for wine lovers.

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I suspect it’s because Triumph wants a piece of the action on the barhopping, where the stiletto set and the happy-hour revelers favor Toulouse Petit and other cocktail-and-beer-centric spots around Queen Anne Avenue North.

Triumph is harder to find, tucked on the back side of Seattle Center, and even then, you have to trust your phone’s GPS that you’ve reached your locale.

It doesn’t have the festive vibe of Toulouse, but it can hang with the best of them when it comes to food and drinks.

This wine bar — sorry guys — focuses on small plates and mostly European cheeses, and its refined happy-hour menu straddles Italian and Southern comfort food, with Northwest tweaks. Plenty of bites can be had for $5 or less, from a buttery salmon pastrami slider to a crispy pork belly smeared with jam over toast.

On another evening, I opted for something more substantial, the panini-of-the day. Mine was stacked with layers of thin mortadella and a handful of arugula, bound by melted provolone — a hearty snack for $6.

Owners Jim and Brandon Marsh are University of Washington graduates who have spent a fair amount of time in Rome, which explains the Italocentric wine list, with more than 200 different bottles. The $6 happy-hour wines I’ve had here were approachable for the mainstream palate, including, recently, a stellar earthy, fruity red.

The brothers don’t dabble much in mixology, but they have an intrinsic sense of how ingredients play together. There’s an aromatic whiskey cocktail, with floral notes from the Italian liqueur and topped with carbonated sherry to soften the rye.

The bartender made me a gin cocktail (with Chartreuse, poached apple and lemon) with a hint of olive oil to give this acidic drink heft and a savory note. Both cocktails were outstanding and inventive, though the brothers may learn that few bars in Seattle can pull off selling $13 cocktails.

Triumph, 114 Republican St., offers happy hour daily from 3-6 p.m. and again 10 p.m. to closing (up to 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and closing around 11 p.m. to midnight on other nights). The menu features small bites, most for under $6. Wine by the glass is $6 and selected cocktails $6-$7 (206- 420-1791 or

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or On Twitter @tanvinhseattle

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