Monday, April 7, 2014

Bar #22: Speckled & Drake - Capitol Hill

There are plenty of reasons to dislike Speckled & Drake. They have DJ and karaoke nights, they attract a young, annoying crowd (although I went there on a Saturday night, so things are probably different during the week) and they have a vibe that's typical of places in Capitol Hill that my lady Francesca calls "blue-collar kitsch." Not sure exactly what that means, but I kind of get it: the place has a duck and duck-hunting theme, a "shot-and-a-beer" menu and bartenders and patrons who sport trucker hats or ironic hairdos. 

Petty gripes aside, I like this place. I appreciate the simplicity of it, and I like the whole shot-and-a-beer thing. It's the kind of drinking I like to do. When Francesca and I came in, I couldn't see the dimly lit chalkboard menu of shot-and-beer combos above the bar, so I just ordered a shot of Buffalo Trace and a can of Hamm's. Francesca got a gin and tonic. Total for that was $13, which is reasonable. If I'd seen the menu, I could've opted to go cheaper with the $5 Round Here (Rainier tallboy and shot of well whiskey) or $6 Fisherman's Friend (pint of Oly and shot of well whiskey). Higher-end options included the $11 Horny Woodsman (Rainier tallboy and shot of Woodford Reserve bourbon). 

If you want to go off-menu and get a mixed drink that doesn't have cheap well booze, there's a small but solid liquor selection. In addition to the Rainier and Hamm's in cans, there are six beers on tap and they keep it local: Oly, Schooner Exact King Street Brown Ale, Maritime Old Seattle Lager, NW Peaks Redoubt Red, Schooner Exact Evergreen IPA and something from Peddler. I bet the Oly is always on and the other five rotate. 

I'm looking forward to coming back to Speckled & Drake and having a shot and a beer on a Monday or Tuesday. Be willing to bet that the things that annoyed me on a Saturday will be absent, and I'll be able to relax and have a good time.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Bar #21: Cure - Capitol Hill

Wow, it's been almost three years since the last bar review? No time for excuses, though. Let's just jump back into it:

Cure is a small bar in Capitol Hill near Cal Anderson Park. The focus is on small plates (cured meats, fancy cheeses, olives) and drinks. There's an L-shaped bar area with nine seats, and 10 tables for groups of two to four. 

My lady and I sat at the bar and started with $10 cocktails, a Remedium and a Toronto. The cocktails were fine, but if I'm gonna pay double digits for a drink, I'd rather go to a place like Zig Zag, where the quality matches the price. We ordered a prosciutto plate, a speck plate and some olives. The meats and cheeses on the plates were tasty, but the portions were a little small for the prices ($11.95 and $12.95). Maybe the best thing foodwise was the complimentary bowls of spicy pumpkin seeds on the bar—we inhaled three bowls of the damn things.

I switched to beer and went with a Ninkasi IPA. Cure has three beers on tap (Ninkasi IPA, Odin's Gift and Busch), and a handful more in bottles and cans. The current can selection (Kokanee, Stella, Rolling Rock) is pretty lame. Would be nice to have something from Fremont or at least a more appealing shitty-beer option like Hamm's. The only good cheap beer option here is Rainier in bottles. But at $3.50 a pop, it really isn't cheap. You're better off throwing down $4.50 for a Ninkasi draft.

I liked the low-key feel of the bar. There were only a handful of people there on a Saturday evening, and I didn't want to strangle any of them (a rarity in Capitol Hill on a weekend night). While it's not the kind of bar I'd come to often, I could see returning occasionally for a snack and a drink.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Bar #20: Oliver's Twist - Phinney Ridge

Oliver's Twist specializes in high-end cocktails and upscale bar food. Some friends and I tried their happy hour, where you get $2 off cocktails, and $1 off all food items and beer/wine. I started out with a Presbyterian (shown above with Ezra Brooks bourbon, ginger ale, soda water) and moved on to a Duff and Blathers (rye, averna, maraschino, orange bitters, black pepper tincture). I could make a habit of the Presbyterian--it was tasty and refreshing--but not so much The Duff and Blathers. It had a lot of strong flavors going on, with an especially spicy kick to it. Interesting, but not really the sort of thing I'd drink often.

We also ordered snacks--garlic truffled popcorn and duck fat roasted fingerling potatoes with aioli dipping sauce. Both were good and we probably would've tried more things if we weren't saving our appetites for dinner.

Since we had a group of people, we chose table seating instead of the bar. I prefer sitting at the bar to talk to people and take in the atmosphere, but there was no reason to do it here. It's not the kind of place I'd go to drink solo, but I'd come back to meet a group of friends or my lady for a drink or two and some food. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bar #19: Local 360 - Belltown

Local 360's hook is that 90% of their raw ingredients are sourced from within 360 miles of Seattle. This is fine for the food, but doesn't work as well for drinks. I started off with an Alpine Pils. It was one of three taps, along with the Alpine Hef and Pike Double IPA. The pilsner was fine, but with only three taps, I'm not sure why two of them are Alpine beers. Why not mix it up and have more variety (Fremont, Black Raven, etc).

It's pretty telling that I only took a picture of the food at Local 360. The place is much more of a food destination than a place to drink. There are a lot of good eats on the happy hour menu. The tĂȘte de cochon (pictured above with french toast, pig's head, soft cooked egg and maple syrup) was decadent and delicious. The kielbasa corn dog was pretty tasty as well. There were other things I would've liked to try--pulled pork, mac and cheese, deviled duck eggs--and I didn't even get a look at the full dinner menu. I'll be back for a meal at some point.

With beer and food out of the way, I moved on to an Old Fashioned ($5 using Snake River Stampede Canadian Whisky from Oregon as their well whiskey) and a house cocktail called The Pioneer Square (Ransom Old Tom Gin from Oregon, dry vermouth, lemon). The drinks were okay, but limiting spirit choices to Oregon and Washington is a little risky. If I'm gonna spend money on a fancy cocktail, I'd rather go to a place where I'm able to pick from the best of the best, not just the best of the Pacific Northwest. I'll probably stick with beer when I go there again.

The bar itself was fine, except for the uncomfortable bar stools (maybe my ass is just too skinny). There's nothing about it that makes you wanna settle in and stay awhile, but the service was knowledgeable and friendly. Overall, it's a decent spot for a couple drinks and a quick bite to eat.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Bar #18: Liberty - Capitol Hill

[Geoff Kaiser has given me the keys to Seattle Beer News for a few weeks, so I’ll be cross-posting some of my bar reviews over there. Since the focus at SBN is beer, I’ll be scrutinizing each bar’s beer selection more closely than I do here.]

A couple days ago, I paid my first visit to Liberty on 15th Avenue in Capitol Hill. I’ve lived close by for the last five years and I’ve never set foot inside until now. The reasons? First, Liberty is known for its cocktails and I’m primarily a beer drinker. But the main reason is that every time I walk by, the place is crowded with the kind of people who… well, let’s just say they don’t seem like my kind of people.

It was a good decision to go to Liberty during happy hour early in the week. It wasn’t packed and my special lady friend Francesca and I were able to snag two seats at the end of the bar. It took several minutes for me to page through the thick drink menu, which lists a crapload of cocktails by spirit (whiskey, vodka, gin, tequila), as well as house infusions (some in cool skull jars on the bar) and flights where you get four half-ounce pours of different liquors. I decided on the Holy Grail, a house-created cocktail with Maker’s Mark 46, Peychaud’s bitters and lemon verbena. It was tasty. My lady had a well gin and tonic and the gin was higher quality than most well gins.

After the cocktail, I turned my attention to the beer selection and found it left something to be desired. They have seven taps, five of which–Guinness, Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Manny’s Pale Ale and PBR–can be found at almost any Seattle bar. The other two were the 3 Skulls IPA and Odin’s Gift Ruby Ale. I’ll give Liberty points for offering local beers, but feel like they could be a bit more adventurous with their choices. The bottle list was similar, with a few things I’d drink, but nothing out of the ordinary. I ended up having a couple pints of Manny’s and also sampled a few bourbons. For food, Liberty has fresh sushi, and after watching the sushi guy preparing orders, we couldn’t resist trying some. It was good, but not enough to make it a sushi destination for me.

Overall, I liked Liberty more than I thought I would. If you’re into inventive cocktails or want to sample and learn about high-quality liquor, it’s a place worth seeking out. Unfortunately, if it’s good beer you’re after, you should probably go down the block to Hopvine or Smith.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bar #17: The Grizzled Wizard - Wallingford

When The Grizzled Wizard opened several months ago, the word was that a metal bar had opened in Wallingford. That might've been an exaggeration. The owners are metal fans, but more than anything it's a simple, neighborhood bar.

The Wizard consists of two rooms. The main room has a long bar, television, jukebox (the good kind, not one of the shitty internet ones that cost $1 a tune) and a multi-arcade game machine. The lighting is dim, with the only illumination coming from paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling. The other room has a pinball machine and a bunch of cool movie posters.

Drinkwise, they have a few beers on tap (including a couple local selections), canned and bottled beers and a small selection of spirits. They've also developed some house cocktails and infused vodkas with questionable stuff like Sweden Fish. The two times I've been to the bar, I stuck with tap beer like an IPA from Elliott Bay or cans of Hamm's.
Foodwise, they were only offering frozen dinners when I was there, but I hear they've since added pulled pork sandwiches and a few other real food items. The co-owners cooked at Swingside Cafe and other places, so the food is probably worth checking out.

On its website, the Wizard claims to be a "clean dive." As I've said before, I think people in Seattle are too quick to call places dives. I guess calling a bar a dive gives it some kind of cache with hipsters who want to drink PBRs and pretend they're in a seedy and dangerous place. There's nothing seedy or dangerous about this bar. That's not to say that I don't like the Wizard. The place feels comfortable and there is metal on the jukebox. It's a place I'd drink at regularly if I were still working in Wallingford.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bar #16: Clever Bottle - Belltown

A group of us headed into Belltown to check out Clever Bottle, a place that focuses on on cocktails featuring wine and/or beer. We were there on a Friday during happy hour, and it was pretty dead. The feel of the place has more in common with the area's upscale eateries than it does with bars like Shorty's and Lava Lounge.

In addition to the non-spirits cocktail angle, there are wines by the glass, a few taps of typical local beers and a menu of small plates using high quality, local ingredients from Pike Place Market. I had a Black Velvet made with lemon, sparkling wine and Deschutes Black Butte Porter. It was decent, but nothing that'll have me rushing to mix wine and beer again in the near future.

We wondered if Clever Bottle will survive if it's so dead on a Friday late afternoon. I talked with the owner Kristen, and she said business has been good overall and usually picks up later in the evening. While it may not the best choice for a pub crawl, Clever Bottle could be a good call for a date. I could see it being a pre- or post-dinner option for people eating nearby. Despite its cute name and the limited options for beer drinkers, I could see coming back with my lady for a drink and some eats.