The Pioneer Square restaurant has a late-night rowdy back bar that serves margaritas on tap plus tasty tacos and gorditas.

Share story

In Pioneer Square, it seems like every doomed spot has found a second act these days. Take the back bar of Casco Antiguo. It’s tucked away in a dark alley dotted with garbage bags and, on a recent Saturday night, customers had to run a gauntlet of hobos and peddlers of every ilk.

But that was no drag on the proceedings.

Inside, bar hoppers were making friends at the communal tables and giddy couples were swaying to Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say.”

The backroom of Casco Antiguo is part of the wave of nuevo tequila bars that’s prevalent in every hip ’hood these days. It looks industrial and shuns the Tex-Mex motif — no hanging sombrero, mariachi music or caricatures to amp up the south-of-the-border theme. Only the 47 bottles of tequilas and mescals on the shelves hint at its fetish for agave.

Washington Liquor Library

Since Washington's craft-distillery law passed in 2008, more than 100 distilleries have popped up around the state. Here's our guide to some of the locally made gins, vodkas and whiskeys that should be on your radar.

This menu is tailored for downtown workers with buses to catch and sports fans heading to the gates. Margaritas are poured on tap like beer. And happy hour consists mostly of tacos and gorditas with a couple of proteins, along with the usual staples of chips, salsa and guacamole.

That streamlined approach comes in handy on a frenetic night like Cinco De Mayo. Tacos were flying out of the kitchen so fast, you would’ve thought there was a Red Bull-fueled assembly line of cooks back there.

Owner Ward Van Allen, who also owns a piece of Altstadt’s two blocks away, has his finger on the pulse of the neighborhood.

His latest project feels like two separate entities: a restaurant facing Occidental Avenue South and the back bar. Come 10 p.m., the restaurant and the front doors close; the only entrance to the bar is through the alley.

On busy evenings, a mishmash of apartment dwellers and office workers takes over the bar — and the rowdiness ratchets up three decibels if it’s also a Sounders or Mariners game night.

If you avoid Thursday and Friday nights, Casco Antiguo feels, as one patron said, “tranquilo.” The simplified happy-hour menu is surprisingly good — crispy corn cakes filled with spicy pork and tacos stuffed with chunks instead of strands of beef brisket. The tequila on tap comes with a nice, sharp bite.

Come early in the week, when crowd is sparse, and you won’t have to fight for a table outside.

Casco Antiguo, 115 Occidental Ave. S., serves happy hour daily 3-6 p.m., with $6 margaritas, tacos and gorditas and $3 Mexican beers (206-538-0400 or