As a dedicated drinker, I mean cocktail aficionado, I have to say that it is EXTREMELY EXCITING to leave London, where craft cocktails cost £10, and come to Seattle, where most cocktails don’t cost more than $10. Do I need to point out that this is slightly more than half the price of cocktails in London? Really, under these circumstances there is no legitimate excuse not to drink. During happy hour, most bars discount their drinks even further. At some point, you’re making money!
Thursday afternoon friend S took the train up from Portland to Seattle, and showed up at my office downtown at 4:30, i.e., at happy hour. It was plain what NEEDED TO BE DONE: a cocktail crawl up Capitol Hill. (In the interests of research and science, of course.)
At the new(ish) and swanky Melrose Market sharp-eyed S spied a happy hour sign for Still Liquor. As happy hours go, it wasn’t much. Absolut vodka drinks $5 ($1 off the usual price), well drinks $4, and Session beer $2. None of the exciting craft cocktails were discounted, but nevertheless I obviously had to order the Ex-pat Sour ($9), billed as Cynar, Jim Beam rye, London East sherry, lemon, and Angostura Bitters. It was unexpectedly served on the rocks, dry and tart. I thought it was a manly drink. Friend S disagreed, because she thinks men don’t do citrusy cocktails. She’s right. The ex-pat sour is a drink for a lady. Which I’m not. Still, I thought it was a nice drink, if not enough to transform Still Liquor to a destination bar. (Also, if it’s called Still Liquor, you’d kind of expect them to have a still. They didn’t. But it was really quiet, so maybe that’s what they meant.)
Onward and upward.
The thrilling new development in Seattle (and in the Pacific Northwest generally, but who’s talking about Portland? Not me) is the proliferation of craft distilleries. Arguably the most exciting of these is the new Sun Liquor Distillery. They’ve just released their new vodka and gin. (Like a week ago!) That would have been enough, on its own, to draw us in, but in fact, there’s plenty more to recommend it. It’s much bigger than the Sun Liquor lounge (one of my favourite bars in Seattle – so much so that I never took an internet date there because I didn’t want to taint it – TMI, I know – sorry, mom) but, like the original Sun Liquor, it has that perfect bar feeling where the passage of time doesn’t matter. It helps that Sun Liquor Distillery is also a beautiful bar.
So the gin. The gin is really good. It was smooth, aromatic, complex, and balanced – delicious. So good, in fact, that it persuaded non-gin drinker S to order the Suffering Bastard (only $6 during happy hour), a tall drink consisting of bourbon, (Sun Liquor’s own) gin, lemon juice, angostura bitters, and ginger beer. S, who likes dry drinks, found this a little sweet, but to me it tasted like the perfect lazy summer afternoon drink. Fizzy, a little spicy, and lethal, too, because it was one of those drinks where you grossly underestimate how much alcohol it contains. We loved our bartender, who, upon realizing that S wasn’t wild about her drink, immediately offered to make her another. He was also really friendly and solicitous (e.g., he tried to make sure we were drinking plenty of water).
Our adorable bartender strongly recommended the Alaska ($9 at happy hour). Also made with Sun Liquor’s own gin, this was two and a half OUNCES of gin, shaken with just a little bit of yellow chartreuse and then served up with a twist in a martini glass. Basically, a smart little, I mean gigantic, riff on a martini.
Friend S went off-piste for her third drink, ordering a Boulevardier. Bourbon, Campari, and sweet vermouth, served on the rocks with a twist of orange. Basically, a shit-ton of booze.
We were sad to leave our new friend the bartender, but duty called. We finished our evening at new “bourbon and bitters emporium” Canon, reportedly the new home of America’s best bartender, the lovely Murray Stenson. I was quite fond of Canon’s predecessor, Liquorous, and so was pleased to see they kept the tin ceiling.
I’m afraid I can’t tell you exactly what I ordered, as my photo of the cocktail menu didn’t come out so well, but I believe I had the first thing on the menu, which was made with egg whites and rye (I think?) and was DELICIOUS. Friend S had “shrouded roulette” ($10), described as, “tell us your base spirit and we’ll create the mystery.” The spirit was bourbon, and drink #1 very good, although all of us (three by this point) were a bit annoyed when our server brightly told us she wouldn’t say what else was in the drink because “it’s roulette!” The server also lit the table lamp and moved it out of reach “so you won’t blow it out this time” (we hadn’t) and was not exactly polite when we asked when our next round was coming (we had waited over 20 minutes). So, I suppose I liked Canon, but it was a reminder of how service can make or break your experience of a restaurant.
Plainly the destination of the night was the new Sun Liquor distillery (worth a visit for the gin alone – although be warned, because of the stranglehold Washington’s liquor control board has upon liquor sales, you can’t buy the new brews by the bottle on-site), but Seattle brought it yet again. And if you really want to know, yes, I was hungover the next day. (But it didn’t stop me from going on ANOTHER COCKTAIL CRAWL! Stay tuned…)
Still Liquor, 1524 Minor Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101, (206) 467.7065, www.stillliquor.com
Sun Liquor Distillery, 514 East Pike, Seattle, WA 98122 (206) 720.1600
Canon, 928 12th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98122 (no phone) http://www.canonseattle.com