With one stretch in Fremont/Wallingford getting busier than ever, happy-hour writer Tan Vinh takes a look at two bars there.
If you had told me 10 years ago I would be crammed in a bar staring out at the busy foot traffic on Stone Way North, I would have thought you were off your meds. But that stretch in the Fremont/Wallingford area now? The well-heeled crowd to get into The Whale Wins, Joule and Manolin on weekends. South is the new Thackeray restaurant, from the folks behind Barrio and all those Purple Café & Wine Bars. Joining them soon will be Art of the Table restaurant, relocating to a slicker space with a bar. Ba Bar had considered expanding here as well.
It’s arguably the hippest drag in Seattle now, filled with new apartments dolled up in Mondrian colors. Grab a croissant in the morning at the new Sea Wolf Bakers. Meet up at the MiiR shop for a microbrew on your bike break off the Burke-Gilman Trail.
It’s a microhood forming before our very eyes. The pulse of every community is usually its neighborhood bar. Let’s look at two new bars here then, shall we?
Bar Charlie: In yet another new apartment building I had not seen is yet another new bar I had not noticed. Opened last December, Bar Charlie sits on the ground floor of a swanky mixed-use retail-and-residential complex, aeronautical themed with a chunk of engine hanging on its wall and a propeller nesting among the honeyed flow of whiskey bottles behind the bar. Cocktails come with cutesy names to play off its seaplane theme.
The gin cocktail, Smooth Landing, though, was anything but, too heavy-handed on the cassis liqueur with not enough vermouth to smooth out the rough notes. Its amped up whiskey sour, The Spruce Goose (scotch, Cocchi Americano, Cherry Heering, lemon juice and bitters) had more depth.
By the look of its food offerings, Bar Charlie likely runs a modest kitchen — crostinis, cheese and charcuterie are featured, and one of the few hot items we sampled, baked mac and cheese, was lukewarm to cold, as if it had been barely thawed.
On a recent Friday, the spot was packed by 6:30 p.m. with the bartender and one server playing catch up for much of the evening.
A communal table that holds about a dozen had an open seat between every party. But typical of shy Seattle, none of the waiting couples took the initiative to ask the customers if they could scoot over to make room for two. And so they stood. A long time.
Bar Charlie isn’t bad, nor did anything stand out. All the filled seats here speak more to the hunger of all these newcomers in all these new buildings looking for any sense of a community. Bar Charlie’s greatest asset may be its convenience.
Bar Charlie, 3801 Stone Way N., Seattle (206-708-9793, barcharlieseattle.com).
Russell’s: After 4 o’clock Saturday, patrons were standing shoulder to shoulder, downing cans of Rainier and pondering whether the Patriots would cover the spread the next day. At the bar, a Buckeye fan belted her alma mater fight song after Ohio State pulled out a close one over rival Michigan on the two flat screens, while nearby, a group huddled to decide how many tickets to get for the Mumford & Sons concert.
Like the old Pacific Inn Pub down the street, Russell’s has that neighborly vibe with folks trash talking about sports or bantering about the trivialities of everyday life.
Open until 2 a.m., it has become the after-work hangout of all the line cooks and servers from the nearby high-end restaurants. The drink list seems tailored for them. The beer-and-whiskey-shot-special costs $8. Most bourbons and ryes are under $10.
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Its gin list is longer than the vodka list, and the mescal menu runs three times longer than its tequila list, signs it’s targeting serious imbibers.
Pop in on Tuesday or Thursday, and you’ll also find talented barman Erik Hakkinen, formerly of Zig Zag Cafe, behind the stick.
Russell’s, 4111 Stone Way N., Seattle, offers happy hour on weekdays from 4-6 p.m. and weekends from 3-6 p.m. with bar snacks $4-$11 and $1 off on beer, $2 off on wine and $2-$6 drink specials (206-547-1653, russellsseattle.com).