One for the Road: Seattle’s Thriving Bar Scene

Seattle is famous for its steady rain, fresh-roasted coffee and grunge music scene. But there’s one more thing that the city should be known for: cocktails. Quietly, over the last dozen years, a vibrant bar culture has developed, which now rivals those in New York, San Francisco and even London.

It’s hard to say why Seattle doesn’t get the recognition it sorely deserves. While its laid back residents aren’t prone to boasting, they are passionate about their drinking. There’s even a Washington State Bartenders Guild, which is helping to train and educate the next generation of mixologists. As I found out on a recent trip, you may be sleepless in Seattle but you’ll never be thirsty. Here are some of my favorite places to get a drink.

Bathtub Gin & Co., 2205 2nd Avenue, 206 728 6069:

There are intimate bars and then there’s the quaint Bathtub Gin & Co. It’s inside a tiny townhouse located in an alleyway in Belltown and feels like somebody’s home bar. There are just eight libations on the menu, but you can also order a classic cocktail.

What to Drink: Bobby Love Margarita (Pepper Infused Reposado Tequila, Agave Nectar, Cointreau, Lime Juice)

Liberty, 517 15th Avenue East, 206 323 9898:

This bar completely embodies the Seattle vibe with its, dare I say it, grungy ambience. The walls are plastered with old concert posters from the ‘90s and its no-frills furniture makes it more dive than cocktail lounge. But the drinks menu is first class and the bar has an impressive selection of homemade bitters, syrups and infusions.

What to Drink: The Bardstown Cocktail (Rittenhouse Rye, Laird’s Applejack, Cointreau, Orange Bitters, Angostura Bitters)

Moshi Moshi Sushi, 5324 Ballard Avenue, 206 971 7424:

It takes a lot of skill to pair cocktails with sushi. You won’t be disappointed at Moshi Moshi, which has a big collection of spirits and more than 30 cocktails on its menu.

What to Drink: Duppy Punch (Rum, Cognac, Ginger Syrup, Lime Juice, Bitters, Allspice Dram, Cava)

Rob Roy, 2332 2nd Avenue, 206 956 8423:

Rob Roy is a hipster cocktail bar complete with taxidermy displays, antique books and vintage barware. But its style is also part Seattle with a vintage stereo blasting Hendrix and Zeppelin and psychedelic posters. You’ll feel at home sipping a perfectly crafted classic cocktail at this eclectic establishment.

What to Drink: Rob Roy (Scotch, Sweet Vermouth, Angostura Bitters)

Spur, 113 Blanchard Street, 206 728 6706:

New York City’s Spotted Pig may be the country’s premier “gastropub,” but Spur isn’t far behind. The restaurant’s drinks menu, full of British classics and seasonal cocktails, would make most bars jealous.

What to Drink: Hanky Panky (Beefeater Gin, Sweet Vermouth, Fernet-Branca)

Tavern Law, 1406 12th Avenue, 206 322 9734:

The Tavern Law of 1832 legalized drinking in saloons and it’s now the name of a popular bar in Seattle. On the first floor you can eat great food and order fresh cocktails made by mixologist David Nelson. Go upstairs and find a second secret bar hidden behind a fake bank safe. There are no menus, but just tell the bartender what you feel like and they’ll make it.

What to Drink: Gun Club (Gin, Maraschino Liqueur, Lillet, Scotch)

Vessel, 1312 5th Avenue, 206 652 0521:

For years, popular cocktail blogger Jamie Boudreau used Vessel as a laboratory to develop his imaginative creations. The bar (pictured above) continues to pay homage to his vanguard approach to mixology and its menu is a great mix of experimental and classic drinks.

What to Drink: Black Friars Pint (Plymouth Gin, Sherry, Cardamom-Cinnamon Spiced Guinness, Egg White, Bitters, Agave Nectar)

Zig Zag Cafe, 1501 Western Avenue, 206 625 1146:

Zig Zag Café helped kick-start the cocktail revival in Seattle and in the country. It is home to the award-winning (and super-speedy) bartender Murray Stenson—a.k.a. “Murr the Blur.” Owners Kacy Fitch and Ben Dougherty opened the groundbreaking bar 12 years ago. Its extensive cocktail list has been an inspiration for drinkers from around the world.

What to Drink: The Last Word (Gin, Green Chartreuse, Fresh Lime Juice, Maraschino Liqueur)

Looking for more great watering holes? Check out our bar guide for the best bars in the world.

Simon Ford is an award-winning bartender and director of trade outreach and brand education for Pernod Ricard USA. He is also a Liquor.com advisor.

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