Food & Drink

The Best Cocktail Bars in Seattle

Published On 12/05/2013 Published On 12/05/2013

Nowadays, it seems like every bar -- with the exception of Seattle's most ardent dives -- has a fairly sophisticated cocktail program. This makes picking the very best of them (instead of the ones that simply want to charge you $12 for a gin & tonic) an extremely difficult decision. But not an impossible one… unless you've had one too many of said gin & tonics, which we didn't. We swear.

Sun Liquor Distillery

Capitol Hill

Nine blocks from the original Sun spot, this (mostly) hand-built 65-seater's serving its house-distilled hooch (two gins, two rums, a vodka, plus an incredibly popular aged eggnog at Christmas) in seasonal handcrafted cocktails like the Spring Buck, with vodka, fresh lemon juice, and a rotating seasonal shrub that's topped with ginger beer and, despite its name, actually costs 11 bucks.

Rob Roy

Belltown

This dark, intimate destination is a go-to for serious drinkers thanks to creative concoctions like the rum/Campari/pineapple Jungle Bird, or the rum-based Gunpowder Punch, which also features gin, citrus, turbinado sugar, "old world spices," and actual gunpowder. Seriously.

Rumba

Rumba

Capitol Hill

Inspired by '50s-era Cuban drinking rooms, Rumba's the second spot named after a dance -- it was opened by the dude behind nearby Tango. He's filled the former Goods space with nautical touches like vintage sea charts and a giant swordfish, and loaded it with what, at over 250 bottles, is the largest selection of rum on the West Coast.

Canon

Capitol Hill

One of the best cocktail/whiskey bars in America, this Cap Hill joint offers 1) the largest selection of American whiskey in the world, 2) a 94-page spirits menu, and 3) space-age devices like centrifuges with which to make cocktails with. But all of that is overshadowed by its apothecary-style space, where every piece of wood (and there’s LOTS of it) is stained with Angostura bitters.

Liberty

Capitol Hill

This coffee shop/sushi restaurant/speakeasy is run by a guy who's presided over the Washington State Bartenders Guild, and served as vice president of the Washington Distillers Guild, so it's got a lot to live up to cocktail-wise. And it does, namely by making everything it can from "scratch" (they hand-squeeze juice when you order), or with dozens of house-made ingredients ranging from bitters to tinctures, syrups, and infusions.

The Upstairs

The Upstairs

Belltown

Opened by the same crew behind Pintxo, this 49-seater is serving up expertly crafted cocktails in a vintage-inspired dark-hued space that's sneakily located in a pseudo-residential establishment that long ago housed an art co-op/kind of illegal drinking locale called the McLeod Residence. It’s accessed via a street-side stairway that's marked only by extremely subtle signs, which you won't be giving off after a few of their cocktails.

Herb & Bitter Public House

Herb & Bitter Public House

Capitol Hill

This recent addition to Broadway’s bar scene boasts a smart and mature drink menu centered around Italian amari: aperitifs, digestifs, and fernets, etc., and a spectacular space in which to enjoy them, with a dark tin ceiling, a beautiful chandelier, and an oversized patio with a retractable roof that might be one of Seattle's best outdoor drinking spots.

Bathtub Gin & Co.

Bathtub Gin & Co.

Belltown

The secret's been out on this speakeasy-style bar in a Belltown alley for the better part of a decade. It makes some of the best cocktails in the city (like the bourbon/fig & maple syrup/lemon juice Death Star), all in a tiny, two-level space with a tin ceiling, and, surprise… an actual bathtub in the middle of the floor.

Zig Zag Cafe

Zig Zag Café

Pike Place Market

This dim boozer below the Pike Place Market may have earned its fame under the watchful eye of Murray Stenson and his revitalization of the Last Word cocktail, but in the years since Stenson departed, the quality has been kept up and the lines kept down -- which is the perfect balance.

NAKA

Naka

Capitol Hill

Opened last summer, Seattle’s first kaiseki-style Japanese restaurant serves the kind of visually stunning, delicate, and technical dishes that don’t usually make it out of Japan, and pairs them all with an equally strong lineup of cocktails (the Ginakatonic #3 with CopperWorks gin, Bradley's Kina Tonic, a rhubarb shrub, and Scrappy's lime bitters) crafted by the award-winning Nik Virrey.

E. Smith Mercantile

Pioneer Square

Shopping 'til you drop is probably not a real thing, and if it were, it’d be every man’s worst nightmare... unless said shopping took place in a haberdashery like E. Smith Mercantile, and the “drop” involves its craft cocktails, which are made with rare and unusual liquors in the tiny 14-seat bar that's opened in back.

Percy's Seattle

Percy's & Co.

Ballard

A stunning apothecary-style spot from a crew whose past credits include places like King's Hardware, Rudy's, and Ace Hotel, Percy's is serving up a sophisticated selection of eats (confit chicken leg with slow-roasted carrots, wilted pea vines, and sweet corn purée), and drinks that, as the parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme-infused gin-based Garfunkel demonstrates, are practically works of... Art.

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Bradley Foster is a former Thrillist editor who really wishes you didn't have to climb quite so many stairs to get to The Upstairs.  

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1. Sun Liquor 607 Summit Ave E, Seattle, WA 98102 (Capitol Hill)

Sun Liquor's a Capitol Hill distillery & bar that also serves New American dinner and brunch dishes (options include a Tilamook cheddar "Tiki" burger with grilled pineapple and buttermilk biscuits and gravy). This spot makes top notch cocktails (duh), the likes of which include riffs on the classics like French 75's (Sun's Oslo 75 features Aquavit and sloe gin) plus original creations, all of which are picture perfect to sip in SL's plush, speakeasy style establishment.

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2. Rob Roy 2332 2nd Ave, Seattle, WA 98121 (Belltown)

This 50s' style cocktail lounge in Belltown serves classic libations in addition to a solid beer selection and smattering of small-plate bar dishes to soak up your booze. Besides offering all the traditional tipplers (Negronis, Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, and of course, Rob Roys), Rob Roy's rotating artisanal offerings like the Campari and pineapple soaked Jungle Bird will whet your whistle if you're seeking a more creative boozy beverage.

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3. Rumba 1112 Pike St, Seattle, WA 98101 (Capitol Hill)

If you like rum and anything Tiki-related, hit Rumba and enjoy a selection of over 250 different kinds of rum, and a small but deliciously packed menu. Inspired by '50s-era Havana drinking rooms, Rumba's boozy and fruity libations pair well with a menu of Caribbean eats like baked empanadas, jerk chicken wings, and pork belly tostones.

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4. Canon 928 12th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122 (Capitol Hill)

This snug bespoke whiskey bar and bitters emporium makes up for its cozy quarters with an astounding collection of wine and spirits (peep the 94-page menu!). If that weren't reason enough to check out this Capitol Hill spot, Canon Whiskey holds the title for having the largest selection of American whiskey in the world... score!

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5. Liberty 517 15th Ave E, Seattle, WA 98112 (Capitol Hill)

Sushi and craft cocktails make a great pair at this Capitol Hill neighborhood eatery. Run by the President of the Washington State Bartender’s Guild/Vice President of the Washington Distillers’ Guild, this spot has a lot to live up to libation wise, and it delivers with a nice selection of well-made classic cocktails, house standards, and an extensive array of whiskey, vodka, tequila, and bourbon. Comfy couches make up for limited bar seating.

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6. The Upstairs 2209 2nd Ave, Seattle, WA 98121 (Belltown)

From the crew behind crowd-pleasing tapas bar Pinxto, this lounge-y local favorite in Belltown serves classic American cocktails and many unconventional variations in a speakeasy-like locale. An extensive bourbon selection's the main draw here, but The Upstairs offers nearly every kind of spirit to whet your whistle, including a well-curated menu of beer and wine.

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7. Herb & Bitter Public House 516 Broadway E, Seattle, WA 98102 (Capitol Hill)

Italian amari steals the scene at this addition to Broadway’s drinking scene: libations are smart and mature, and the space -- with its dark ceiling and beautiful chandelier -- is impressive, especially the oversized patio with optional covering for those Seattle drizzles. When the weather's nice, enjoy your drink on the oversized patio with a retractable roof that might be one of Seattle's best outdoor drinking spots.

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8. Bathtub Gin & Co. 2205 2nd Ave, Seattle, WA 98121 (Belltown)

A swanky and Prohibition-inspired drinking lounge, Bathtub Gin & Co.'s a must-visit, that is if you can find it. Nestled into a Belltown alley way, this pint-sized cocktail haven serves creative twists on the classics, custom cocktails, and an internationally inflected selection of gin by the glass.

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9. Zig Zag Cafe 1501 Western Ave., Seattle, WA 98101 (Central District)

This warm, intimate cocktail haven and American eatery in Pike Place has got your next date night covered. Plush banquettes flank the hip, bistro-inspired space, and a stellar happy hour (5-7pm Monday through Friday) makes it easy to knock back a few. Meticulously crafted entrees like the 12 hour beef shank with malted barley and horseradish gremolata are savory and sophisticated.

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10. naka 1449 E Pine St, Seattle, WA 98122 (Central District)

Shota Nakajima and Jason Lock helm the reins at this chef-driven Japanese kaiseki spot. The menu is seafood heavy, with both raw & cooked options, small plates, and tasting menus for when you're looking to go all out on a culinary experience to remember. Seasonal cocktails from mixologist Nik Virrey run the gamut from a rhubarb-infused gin and tonic to "smoked" Manhattans, Negronis, and Martinis.

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11. E. Smith Mercantile Back Bar 208 1st Ave S, Seattle, WA 98104 (Pioneer Square)

Shop till you drop at this boutique apothecary and mercantile, and then be sure to hit the Back Bar. Tucked away inside the shop (hence the name), Back Bar offers serious libations and intimacy in a 14-seater cocktail lounge. Order from a selection of craft cocktails made with rare and unusual liquors and refined small plates.

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12. Percy's Seattle 5233 Ballard Ave. NW, Seattle, WA 98107 (Ballard)

A stunning apothecary-style spot from dudes who's past credits include places like King's Hardware, Rudy's, and The Ace Hotel, Percy's in Ballard is serving up a sophisticated selection of locally sourced eats from a Southern and Creole inspired menu that pair perfectly with their herbaceous cocktails and house-infused liquors. Be sure to stop by on Monday for all day happy hour.

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