The Montana bar on Capitol Hill offer cocktails on tap.

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Happy Hour |

There are bars with better cocktail programs and bars with more pizazz. But I would argue that Montana on Capitol Hill is the most studied and admired bar at this moment. Call it the little dive bar that could.

Cooks and bartenders gush about its cocktail system and its brutal efficiency.

Cocktails and shots are served on tap, like beer. You can’t really appreciate that unless you’re a bartender or have tried to get a decent cocktail on a busy night at an understaffed bar. Cocktails that take five minutes somewhere else take five seconds at Montana. And since the cocktail is made 5 gallons at a time, there is consistency, too.

The tap system has worked so well that Montana plans to expand its bar (but not its staffing) since the bartender doesn’t get bogged down with the time-consuming task of stirring and shaking drinks.

Co-bar owner Rachel Marshall, who also owns the acclaimed Rachel’s Ginger Beer next door, came up with the streamlined concept. Marshall plans to move her ginger-beer facility to Sodo within nine months to clear that space for the bar expansion.

Montana has three taps dedicated to cocktails — all carbonated — with more taps coming (the French 75 cocktail goes on tap this week). When the bar opened in December, I thought some of its citrusy cocktails were too tart. It’s better now.

Recently, I had a nice Negroni on tap, the perfect sunny day cocktail, followed by a thirst-quenching pint of Moscow Mule, made with Marshall’s ginger beer. It’s the best ginger beer in the city, a burst of fresh ginger without that pungent taste.

This bar was inspired by the dive bars in Montana that Marshall’s business partner Kate Opatz frequents. It has a rustic and woodsy feel, with camping logos and log-cabin décor.

Even the food is an unusual setup. Dinette restaurant, located two doors over, does a special gourmet sandwich menu for Montana. You order the sandwich — the kimchi pulled pork and the smoked pastrami were stellar — and a Dinette server walks over to the bar to bring your food.

Montana has a modest menu of nachos, Frito Pie and hot dogs, but I consider that more of a last resort when Dinette is closed.

Montana, 1506 E. Olive Way, offers happy hour daily 5-7 p.m. with $2 Tecate beer, $3 whiskey and ginger beer and $4 pickleback shot. The cocktails on tap cost $6-$7 (206-422-4647 or

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or

On Twitter @tanvinhseattle.