If you’re paid to visit bars, where do you go to drink after work? Reporter Tan Vinh recommends these 10 bars in Seattle, Tacoma and beyond.
When it comes to covering the drinking scene, I spit out the copy and then those bars I write about are often banished from my mind. It’s as if they’re here today, gone tomorrow.
But in recent months, I revisited two dozen bars that I wrote about in the past five years. They have become bars I frequent when I’m not on the clock, haunts I stop by for a nightcap after hitting The Showbox or for a $6 cocktail in the North End.
A few opened recently and got a lot of ink but bear repeating because they’ve carved a particular niche. Others are standbys I send out-of-town guests to.
Let’s pause a moment, shall we, and pay homage to those old reliables. Below are some of my favorites that have held up over time.
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928 12th Ave., Seattle; canonseattle.com
In Seattle, there are cocktail bars and there’s Canon. It’s in the running for “Best Cocktail Bar in America” every year, mostly for having the world’s largest booze selection (3,500 different bottles). But Canon also consistently puts out the most ambitious and cutting-edge cocktails in this region. Try the “Bright Idea,” an earthy, tart beer cocktail made with tequila, watermelon, pomegranate, lemon and IPA — served in a light-bulb shaped glass.
Chuck’s Central District Hop Shop
2001 E. Union St., Seattle; 206-538-0743 or chuckscd.com
In his seminal book, “Celebrating The Third Place,” Ray Oldenburg contends that after our First Place (home) and Second Place (work), we need a gathering space (Third Place) to sustain a vibrant community. Chuck’s Hop Shop is that “Third Place” to the Central area. It’s a beer hall with an outdoor patio. Locals gather for PTA meetings, neighborhood crime-watch organizing, Seahawks-game watching, rec-league trash talking, family catch-up time and online dates. How many bars can say they have all that covered? There’s even root beer and nitro coffee on tap for teetotalers. Oh yeah, Chuck’s also has one of the best craft-beer lists in the area.
415½ Main St., Edmonds; on Facebook
Bar man Desmond van Rensburg is as loved in Edmonds as Murray Stenson is in Seattle. He croons Rat Pack songs to entertain guests. (He has a soft spot for Dino.) In his booming voice, he greets regulars by their first names and makes sure first-timers feel cozy. With only eight bar stools and two banquettes, Daphne’s looks like one of those tiny bars along the alleyway of Tokyo’s famed Golden Gai. The bar is attached to the movie theater next door, with a sign that reads, “NO DRAMA AT THE BAR. TAKE IT NEXT DOOR.”
Holy Mountain Brewing
1421 Elliott Ave. W., Seattle; holymountainbrewing.com
We have about 300 breweries in the state, but most newbies seem to make beers indistinguishable from their competitors, and their IPAs are undrinkable. One newcomer who stands out from the pack is Holy Mountain Brewing, the most impressive brewery to debut in recent years — with distinctive yeast-forward beers, easy-drinking saisons, Belgian pale ales and arguably the best lager in Seattle.
Old 5th Avenue Tavern
8507 Fifth Ave. N.E., Maple Leaf, Seattle; 206-522-1515 or on Facebook
Like a sports debate, you can never settle the score about the best dive in the city. I won’t try. But if the bar is inundated with hipster wannabes or filled with visitors who found it by Googling dive bars, then the haunt won’t have the soul of a dive. My go-to this year is this convivial Maple Leaf gem, a classic Northwest dive with beer nuts, pull-tabs, old-school wooden ice boxes and even 50 cent Taco Tuesdays.
6822 Greenwood Ave. N., Phinney Ridge, Seattle; 206-706-6673 or oliverstwistseattle.com
In this cocktail-crazed city, bartenders are as well-known as chefs. Somehow, talented bar man Robert Rowland managed to toil in anonymity despite turning this Phinney Ridge spot into one of the best cocktail bars in the north end. In a state that has the nation’s highest booze tax, Oliver’s Twist cocktails are underpriced. Most craft cocktails go for around $10 and during happy hour some are as cheap as $6-$7.
1825 72nd Ave. S.E., Mercer Island; 206-232-0800 or on Facebook
A cross between a road house and a club house, the Roanoke Inn feels a zillion miles from those sterile chain-bars in downtown Bellevue. Even when it’s crowded, this Eastside institution feels as comfy as a pair of slippers. On a clear day, schmooze along the front porch, patio or backyard. On cloudy days, hang at the dimly lit bar with all the beer antiques and memorabilia and listen to the old-timers relive the good ol’ days. During Prohibition, this bar was notorious for serving booze in coffee cups.
728 Pacific Ave., Tacoma; 253-222-4184 or tacomacabana.com
A dozen bars host Tiki Night in Seattle, but for the best, head south to Tacoma Cabana. This downtown bar has a cult following with rum-and-tiki fanatics coming as far as Seattle and Everett. They come at 5 p.m. when the doors open to grab a bar stool to a front-row seat and be bedazzled by barman Jason Alexander’s rum concoctions. The frozen, minty drink, Missionary’s Downfall, may be the best variation I’ve ever had of that tiki classic.
8230 35th Ave. N.E., Wedgwood, Seattle; 206 523-1115 or wedgwoodbroiler.com
A time portal into the 1960s, this dark, carpeted lounge is part of the old-school Midwestern-type steakhouse. “Liver & onions” and salad-topped with Cheez-Its are still on the menu. And the stinger cocktail is still served. Some servers have been here for three decades; regulars have been coming here even longer. Wedgwood Broiler is so old that the cool kids like it because it looks vintage.
Zig Zag Café
1501 Western Ave., Seattle; 206-625-1146 or zigzagseattle.com
Sure, this bar is known for perfecting craft cocktails long before that got trendy, but Zig Zag’s dirty little secret is that making great cocktails has little to do with being a great cocktail bar. It’s about hospitality. Zig Zag does that better than everyone. The servers at Canlis, the high-end restaurant famed for its customer service, frequent here after their shifts. The bartenders here are approachable, remembering patrons’ names and even their favorite drinks. They never make you feel like you’re asking a stupid question and will expound on whiskeys if asked without being condescending or showy. It’s the best spot to hang out after 11:30 p.m. after the crowd has died down.
Where are your favorite bars around town? Share them in the comments below.