The storied Seattle restaurant’s bar has new tables, lighting and glassware, plus a finger-food menu and Tiki drinks. But don’t worry; it’s still your grandfather’s Canlis.
Maybe you’ve heard: The bar at Canlis got a face-lift. The bar was moved a few feet to the right to create more space. New tables and lighting. New glassware from Tokyo and London with more being made in Poland specifically for this bar. A finger-food menu has been added. Tiki drinks, too.
It’s all meant to give Canlis’ bar game a more contemporary feel.
But of course, not much else has changed — indeed, will never change. It still feels like a Rat Pack-esque lounge with a sexy ring-a-ding-ding dimness. It’s still Canlis, and Canlis is Seattle’s restaurant for special occasions. A giggly group in a banquette cheers a birthday girl. Nearby, a couple clink flutes while the piano man plays “Take Five.”
Maybe you can’t afford Canlis’ $145 tasting menu, but you can afford Canlis the cocktail lounge. Bar food (most between $8-$12) ranges from wings (sous vide and deboned) to chicken-liver mousse on toast; a buttery mini Dungeness crab roll and golden, salty fries in copious amounts.
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The lounge feels more buttoned-down than the stately dining area, but the bar still upholds the Canlis standard.
Bartenders are bedecked in crisp white shirts and dark suits tailored at Mario’s downtown.
Behind the bar, the mixologists look like jewelers, their brows furrowing while they meticulously garnish each drink, using tweezers, with edible flowers and tiny bits of geometrically shaped zest.
Canlis takes its cocktails very seriously. You wouldn’t know that by the new bar design. A few dozen modest bottles sit on the shelves.
But the 200 bottles of scotch and rare spirits are hidden behind the bar to give the lounge a sparse, clean look. (There’s also a hidden door behind the bar that leads to more storage space.)
On a short but well-curated drink list, the cocktails range from classics from the 1800s to contemporary drinks cribbed from storied cocktail dens like NoMad Bar in New York City and Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco.
Bar manager James MacWilliams is the best bartender in Seattle you’ve never heard of. His aptly named “Almost Perfect Cocktail” (Stiggins’ Rum, Averna, Cocchi Americano, Maraschino, Grenadine and bitters) is some sorcery, a pineapple rum concoction that has the creaminess of a piña colada but tastes like a Manhattan.
“Something boozy. Something brown and stirred,” I replied.
MacWilliams gave a mischievous smile and threw some brandy, Curacao and Madeira together, sliding over a tipple that tasted like a port Old Fashioned, the “Bosom Caresser” from the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book.
“I’ve been wanting to put this on the menu, but it would be pushing the boundaries with our guests. You can’t put a drink with a name like that on the menu here.”
Canlis, 2576 Aurora Ave. N., is open 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. on weekdays and 5 p.m.-10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; closed Sundays (206-283-3313 or canlis.com).