Tan Vinh, who covers the Happy Hour scene for The Seattle Times, offers his list of favorite cocktails.
Seems apt to talk about what’s being shaken or stirred behind the bar these days. The Seattle-area cocktail scene is vibrant; the drinks more sophisticated and inventive than ever.
Look at all the fuss around drinks. Some cocktail dens require reservations. Patrons scurry to grab bar stools as if they were front-row seats to a sporting event. Folks know bartenders’ names like they do our big-name chefs.
And like chefs, bartenders talk about seasonal ingredients and hit farmers markets during spring and summer. Liberty, the cocktail bar on Capitol Hill, is even putting an herb garden on its rooftop.
Cocktail bars boast $10,000 ice machines, vintage glassware and oak barrels to age cocktails. This is all a way of saying our cocktail culture has evolved in the past five years, and I’ve experienced a lot of it covering the Happy Hour scene for The Times.
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This list of my favorite cocktails focuses on original drinks, though some are updated or riffs on the classics.
I like balanced, spirit-forward drinks. I like them bitter and smoky. With big finishes, not subtle or wimpy. But I also varied the list with drinks that are fruity, sour, spicy and even savory. Cheers.
Charlie Don’t Surf, at Liberty on Capitol Hill. For those who like fruity cocktails: Mango and ginger are the dominant flavors, with hints of lemon and apple from the Pommeau de Normandie in this gin drink. It’s garnished with a Kaffir lime leaf. Goes down easy. 517 15th Ave. E., Seattle (206-323-9898 or libertybars.com).
Death in the South Pacific, at Chantanee Thai Restaurant in Bellevue. A full-bodied, well-structured, three-rum Tiki drink from barman Evan Martin. This take on the Planter’s Punch was named the official drink of the 2010 Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, one of the world’s biggest boozefests. 601 108th Ave. N.E., Bellevue (425-455-3226 or chantanee.com).
Death Poem, at Moshi Moshi in Ballard. The cocktail menu conjures images of sunbathing in the Caribbean or that night in Cabo. In this drink, the Guatemalan rum softens the rye, and the cinnamon-bark syrup brightens the fruity flavors from the grapefruit, lime and Aperol liqueur. A well-thought-out and -executed drink by barman Erik Carlson, who makes some of the most creative rum and tequila drinks in Seattle. 5324 Ballard Ave., Seattle (206-971-7424 or moremoshi.com).
El Nacional, at Barrio on Capitol Hill, and Lot No. 3 in Bellevue, both under same ownership. One of the best mezcal cocktails in the Seattle area. It’s complex, earthy and smoky, with a chocolate finish that will stay on the palate long after that last sip. This potent cocktail is too bitter for many patrons. But bartenders and cocktail geeks love this drink, made with Sombra mezcal, Campari, Ramazzotti Amaro, dry vermouth and chocolate bitters and topped with drops of Laphroaig. Barrio, 1420 12th Ave., Seattle (206-588-8105 or barriorestaurant.com). Lot No. 3, 460 106th Ave. N.E., Bellevue (206 708-6021 or www.lotno3.com).
Enzo, at The Living Room on Capitol Hill. The classic “Old Pal” cocktail is Seattle’s most popular rye drink now. The Enzo is a fruity riff on it, with Aperol liqueur, fresh-squeezed lemon and orange juice and rhubarb bitters. 1355 E. Olive Way, Seattle (206-708-6021 or www.thelivingroombar.com).
Eyes Like Twins, at Rob Roy in Belltown. It’s barman Bryn Lumsden’s take on The Caprice cocktail, with gin, Cocchi Americano, St-Germain elderflower liqueur and orange bitters. But the secret is the spoonful of sherry vinegar that gives this savory drink a subtle tartness. 2332 Second Ave., Seattle (206-956-8423 or robroyseattle.com).
Hot Charlotte, Zig Zag Café in downtown Seattle. Legendary barman Murray Stenson came up with this beauty in honor of Charlotte Voisey, an internationally known figure in the bartending world. Bartenders from as far as New York City have been calling Zig Zag to get the recipe for this fiery, floral drink. Features Hendrick’s gin, elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, cucumber and several dashes of Tabasco. 1501 Western Ave., Seattle (206-625-1146 or zigzagseattle.com).
John Cameron Cocktail, at Mistral Kitchen in South Lake Union. Andrew Bohrer, former Mistral Kitchen barman, makes some of the area’s most talked-about drinks. This may be his best. He dials down the vanilla volume from the Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth with a bit of smoky Ardbeg, aerobatic orange bitters and exotic Persimmon vinegar. A simple yet elegant drink. This cocktail is also available at Rob Roy, where Bohrer now holds court on Saturdays. 2020 Westlake Ave., Seattle (206-623-1922 or mistral-kitchen.com).
Nuevo Sol, Sambar in Ballard. Jay Kuehner is famous for doing wild and weird flavor combinations. This pisco cocktail includes Palo Cortado sherry, pineapple, lemon, saffron syrup and Angostura Orange bitters — an aromatic, nutty, sour drink. 425 N.W. Market St., Seattle (206-781-4883 or sambarseattle.com).
Pimento, at Knee High Stocking Co. on Capitol Hill. A savory drink that recalls your morning-after Bloody Mary. A concoction of brandy, elderflower liqueur, olive juice and lemon. I take mine with five dashes of Tabasco. 1356 E. Olive Way, Seattle (206-979-7049 by text message only or www.kneehighstocking.com).
The 30th Century Man, at Tavern Law on Capitol Hill. A sophisticated drink, based on the circa-1939 cocktail 20th Century. It’s smoky and citrusy, with hints of bitter chocolate. Ingredients include Ardbeg, lemon, crème de cacao and Cointreau, and the glass gets a rinse of absinthe. 1406 12th Ave., Seattle (206-322-9734 or www.tavernlaw.com).
Honorable mentions, in Seattle: Guido Contini, Il Bistro, downtown; Hot Mango Love, Suite 410, downtown; Judas Kiss, at Vito’s on First Hill; Macbeth, at 611 Supreme on Capitol Hill.
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org