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Top 5 bars in… Seattle

The city that made its name with grunge offers a mix of dives, speakeasies and sophisticated cocktail bars, all with a focus on local products. By James Lawrence.

SB names the top 5 bars in Seattle
SB names the top 5 bars in Seattle

‘Eclectic’ may be one of the most commonly overused words by eager PRs, but it does ring true for Seattle, a city that gave us Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, and the iconic grunge scene of the 1990s. From sophisticated cocktail spots and kitsch hipster venues to hard­-partying clubs and dive bars, Seattle’s nightlife is nothing if not diverse.

But this is just the beginning: Seattle is a city obsessed with great music, and despite some stiff competition, it still boasts the most dynamic live music scene in the US – punk rock, country and western, blues, and indie all compete for your attention as the sun sets.

Meanwhile, party animals who recoil at the thought of chic interiors will love the city’s numerous dive bars. These are miniature venues where loud tunes, hard booze, and a laid back attitude is de rigueur. The best of this grungy firmament is Eastlake Zoo Tavern, a local dive in the truest sense, with paraphernalia by the bucketload.

Nevertheless, Seattle does not shy away from offering its citizens a more sophisticated evening. Atmospheric speakeasy bars with discreet entrances and designer cocktails are all the rage, but you need to know where to find them as most reside in unmarked buildings.

Researching your neighbourhood is, therefore, the key to a great evening out in Seattle. Pioneer Square is full of neon lights and rowdy crowds in a poor attempt to emulate Las Vegas, while Belltown, north of Pike Place Market, is a completely different world, full of hipsters and high-­end clubs.

The most luxurious venues, meanwhile, can generally be found in Capitol Hill, which exemplifies a stark contrast to the former Scandinavian neighbourhood of Ballard, where low­key, friendly taverns and local beers are what draw the crowds.

So whether you seek the salubrious or the sedate, cutting­-edge design or hipster grunge, you’re bound to find it in this diverse Pacific-coast metropolis.

Click through the following pages to discover the top five bars in Seattle. 

Knee High Stocking Co

1356 E Olive Way

Responsible for kick­-starting the speakeasy resurgence when it opened in 2009, Knee High Stocking Co continues to pull in the crowds in search of top­notch bespoke cocktails and a relaxed, intimate vibe. That’s presuming, of course, that they can find the secret door that leads to an underground bar and lounge, a charming space that is covered in gold wallpaper.


1118 E Pike Street

Everything about this quirky bar screams kitsch: rampant stripes, salvaged carousel panels, arcade games and a menagerie of taxidermy may be intimidating for some punters. But they should stick around to sample the first­-rate food and cocktails. Excellently concocted Manhattans, Mimosas and Daiquiris serve as the ideal foil to Unicorn’s selection of deep-­fried delicacies, including corn dogs, mac and cheese and tater tots.

Bathtub Gin & Co

2205 2nd Avenue

The trick is finding it (“We’re between 1st & 2nd, 50ft north of Blanchard Street – look for the wooden door,” advise the owners). It’s worth the effort, though, as this discrete bar houses the finest gin collection in Seattle, as well as some of its most talented bartenders. A low-­lit, multi­level lounge with a small pine bar sets the scene for an unbeatable Tom Collins, Old Fashioned, and the best Aviation money can buy.

The Hideout

1005 Boren Avenue

There are many reasons why The Hideout is a must-­visit destination, but let’s start with the most important: Lauren Darnell. One of Seattle’s finest bartenders, Darnell tends to favour innovation over the classics. Her current recommendation is the Li’l Filthy, an intoxicating blend of Del Maguey Vida mezcal, damiana leaf, Carpano Antica, Scrappy’s Chocolate Bitters, and an orange tail garnish.

Oliver’s Lounge

405 Olive Way

A 41­-year-­old institution, Oliver’s Lounge is the antidote to Seattle’s grunge scene bars and unmarked hole-­in­-the-­walls; at Oliver’s, they do things a little differently. Instead, expect a gorgeous interior, complete with floor­-to­-ceiling glass windows, a contemporary jazz track, and the most professional, slick service in Seattle. Cocktail wise, the focus is seasonal ingredients and premium Martinis – try The Bergonian.

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