I OFTEN HAVE nostalgic yearnings for old-time Seattle—those halcyon days before fleece parkas, software, and designer cups of coffee invaded our rainy shores; that time when you could trot down mud-soaked cobblestone streets, tie your horse to the hitchin' post, push past the swinging saloon doors, and order a shot of firewater alongside some gruff trailblazer.
Big, bold, and beautiful, the J&M Cafe stands out like a fine quarter horse in the Pioneer Square stable, allowing patrons to revisit our city's rough-and-tumble past and get drunk doin' it. Can't say that about the Underground Seattle Tour or those ridiculous Duck Boat rides.
A bald-headed bouncer now replaces the sheriff at the door, but once inside, the mahogany bar, antique light fixtures, and pressed tin ceiling put you into Western mode, allowing a glimpse of what the wild frontier might have looked like—that is, if you can ignore the six TVs, neon beer signs, blaring rock-and-roll music, and 150 badly dressed Seattleites standing around on any given Saturday night.
Founded in 1889, the J&M Cafe and Cardroom was a boisterous saloon serving 'em up in the height of the Gold Rush, featuring a gambling cardroom. While you can no longer play poker for cash (or earn free drinks for swallowing 3-inch nails or screws), this is probably the closest any of us will get to experiencing Seattle's antiquity. Not only that, they've got Jagermeister—on tap.
Like the Pike Place Market, the J&M is a friendly, old-school relic, full of character that will hopefully be around for the next 100 years, or at least until they mow the entirety of Pioneer Square for bad condos or the newest convertible-roofed boondoggle.
In my ceaseless effort to bring enlightenment to the ratings game for bars, I have compiled a list of categories by which to evaluate watering holes. I'm happy to say that the J&M stacks up pretty well for a throwback saloon—like an old died-in-the-flannel Northwesterner, it puts the newcomers to shame. My scorecard:
Overall Belly Up Rating: Four shotglasses (out of five). Booze, whiskey-drinkin' saloon charm, and the opportunity to meet and sleep with new and interesting people. It's Gold, Baby! (Chances of scoring with members of the opposite sex increase exponentially as blood alcohol levels and the clock advance).
Specialty Drink: J&M Punch: Absolut, Malibu Rum, pineapple, and some other shit. $6.50. Since you weren't able to ride in on a horse, this oughta kick ya in the head instead.
Spirit Selection: Above average. Plenty of variety in all the main non-food groups (tequilas, vodkas, scotches, and, yes, Schnapps). As far as mixers go, it's pretty standard "from the gun" action; if you're looking for fresh-squeezed juices, fuhgetaboutit.
From the Well: Potters. Never heard of it? Exactly. (But when you're chugging a Kamikaze, it really doesn't matter that much, does it?)
Wine List: There are more beers on tap (12) than bottles of wine. The wine list includes four reds and six whites (without vintages), and you can get a fine Hogue Cab/Merlot for fifteen bucks. If you really want to splurge, the spendiest bottle of vino in the place is a J. Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon for 22 clams. Which means you should be drinking something else.
Prices: Beers are $3.50, glasses of wine range from $3.75-$6.00, and call drinks will put you back $4.75 (Makers Mark). With "upgrades" only $.50 more (Knob Creek, Belvedere Vodka at $5.25), it's one of the more reasonably priced bars in the city.
Bartenders: Friendly, unobtrusive, and somewhat knowledgeable (one out of two actually knew how to make a Presbyterian—Bourbon and ginger ale).
Barstools: Forty some-odd, not counting the "Cardroom"—which, sadly, is now just another bar.
Bathrooms: Adequate. Three stalls for the ladies; two urinals, two stalls for the cowboys.
Food: Yep. The salsa with chips was actually surprisingly good ($2), and the only protein source available after 9:50pm, when they shut their greasy spoon on down. The rest of the menu is typical burger fare.
Parking: Sucks. Ride the monorail (Oh, it doesn't go that far? Guess you'll have to wait for a light rail train, which will sit in traffic along with all the other cars, mini-vans, and drugged-up Clydesdales dragging wanna-be romantics down First Ave.)
Decibel Meter: 8.5. It's damn loud at the J&M, which is good, because a lot of the customers are loud and drunk themselves. ("What's your name? [Pause.] I said, 'What's your NAME!?' [Pause.] OK. YOU'RE CUTE! Wanna have sex?!")
Smoke Density (a.k.a. Death Level): Surprisingly low, considering the number of people you can pack into the place. If the Mecca is a ten on the second-hand death meter, the J&M is a two. Cigars also available for purchase.
Clientele: Sports lovin', beer-drinkin', straight white folk ages 21-30 make up 75 percent of the J&M crowd. What did you expect? It was probably the same in 1889.
Dress Code: None, which is a damn shame. They should at least mandate cowboy boots and ten-gallon hats.
Scam Factor: Extremely high. Prepare to look or be looked at. Packs of guys and girls go on the weekends to be chatted up, and the 70-foot-long stand-up hitchin' post in the middle of the room allows for plenty of mixing. The J&M also is a favorite bachelor/bachelorette party stop, allowing you to participate in stupid, harmless games (lick the bride, donate a condom, tequila slammers, etc.).
Pay Special Attention: to the Austrian mahogany woodwork, impressive original paintings, and Wall of Fame photos adorning the back half of the Cafe.
And, finally, the ritual Bar Joke: A chicken and an egg meet at a bar. They get drunk, go home together, and screw. The chicken lights up a cigarette and says, "Well, I guess that settles that."