Experience Music Project, 325 Fifth N, 770-2777
Fri-Sat 11am-2am, Sun-Thu 11am-midnight
Bar snacks only (lunch/dinner menu available from EMP's Turntable restaurant)
If you've come to the Seattle Center for some event, or for EMP itself, here's a place worth visiting. (If you haven't already parked in a pay lot, forget it.) Paul Allen's money and architects have created an undeniably cool space, with blue light bathing the insulation-covered beams and ceiling far, far overhead. Sure, the result is bad acoustics for the small live acts that perform here, but the good PA system compensates, and people actually listened appreciatively (a rarity in this town) to the Django-influenced Catwalk Trio on a recent visit. Prices are modest—subsidized?—and the menu small, in keeping with the nicely uncluttered vibe. The nostalgia-free Liquid Lounge seems like a minimalist diner updated with plywood and red Formica. Among snacks, the popcorn was both free (!) and fresh. "Real butter?" we asked. "I think so; it comes in a pouch," wavered the bartender.
upshot: Skip the gift shop below, forgive the cutesy drink names (e.g., Blue Suede Booze).—B.R.M.
105 W Mercer, 284-4618
Mon-Fri 11am-midnight, Sat-Sun 7am-midnight; lounge open daily 7am-midnight
Breakfast Sat-Sun; Lunch and dinner all seven
When the line gets too long outside Peso's, a crowded singles bar nearby on Queen Anne Ave, the lonely hearts join the locals at this humble neighborhood hangout. Cool doesn't count here, with its TGIF-meets-Farrell's decor and numerous, blaring TV sets. The truly depressed can try the pull tabs and other games of chance. Pool tables in back offer some consolation; after enough beer, the lovelorn can express their heartache through a suitable '80s ballad in the popular karaoke lounge—where the off-key caterwauling can often be heard over the traffic on Mercer. Comfortable mediocrity best describes the food here (it's a burger joint to its core). Incredibly, Ozzie's has a URL (www.ozziesroadhouse.com), although dot-com hipsters are more likely to stagger in than log on.
upshot: A step up from Sorry Charlie's, a step down from Duke's.—B.R.M.
2125 Queen Anne N, 283-4548
Daily 5pm-2am (Lunch, 11:30-3)
Dinner, lunch, snacks, weekend brunch
Exactly two things recommend the Paragon: cheap martinis and yuppie tail. And that's "yuppie" and "tail" in the most base sense of both words. Most nights, the Paragon is the quintessential yupster pickup joint—women in skirt-suits and guys in tasseled loafers with their neckties conspicuously removed—so you may as well know what you're getting into. That said, this veteran bar has one of the best martini specials around ($3, every weekday from 4 to 8), lots of warm wood, gentle lighting, strong drinks, an honest-to-God hearth, and all-pro service. The guys call each other "gentlemen" here, with those knowing, joshing head-bobs; if that doesn't make you choke on your olives, get yourself on over. Think of it as an anthropological survey. And who knows, you just might score.
upshot: An upper Queen Anne institution with strong, speedy drinks, the perfect place to meet your cute new broker.—P.H.
529 Queen Anne N, 283-3245
Daily 6am to 2am
Dinner, lunch, snacks, breakfast
Hipsters mix with old timers in the piano bar at Sorry Charlie's, where singers of widely varying experience and ability line up to sing a song with pianist Howard Bulson (playing every night but Monday). Singers from various productions at the Seattle Center have been known to show up, as have various up-and-coming jazz vocalists. No microbrews here, but the mixed drinks are strong, there are some good surprises on the jukebox, and the ambiance is the closest thing to a time machine Seattle offers. "You can imagine Humphrey Bogart sitting next to you, just watching the scene," says one longtime visitor of the dark, smoky piano bar. There's a restaurant, too, and a bar in front with pull tabs and sports on the television.
upshot: A gritty survivor of yesteryear in yuppie Seattle.—J.B.
2307 Eastlake E, 329-6558
Mon-Fri 11:30am-1am, Sat-Sun 3pm-1am
Dinner, lunch, snacks
"Eastlake's living room" is a truly comfortable hangout with big wooden chairs, a good selection of microbrews, and the ultimate comfort food, pizza and calzone. It's a great space in a historic neighborhood building, featuring brick walls, big wooden beams, and huge windows that let you watch the world go by on Eastlake Avenue. Pazzo's is hardly a sports bar, although the obligatory televisions are always tuned to the game of choice. And the regulars are a good group to watch a Mariners game with (they like the Sonics, too). Although beer and pizza are a tempting combination, many folks have figured out that mixed drinks are also poured here and have reacted accordingly. As most visitors arrive in search of a meal, the crowd comes (and goes) in waves, but don't be afraid to stay until last call.
upshot: A neighborhood meeting place. —J.B.
2253 N 56th, 633-5828
Daily 3pm-2am (kitchen closes 10pm weekdays, 11pm Fri-Sat)
Dinner, lunch, snacks
As a rule, bars shouldn't have themes other than drinking. The decor never makes the booze taste any better, and somebody's got to pay for all that crap on the walls. So why would you ever set foot in a place near Greenlake calling itself a "Polynesian Lounge"? Your reasons, in roughly ascending order: an unbeatable PuPu platter, tikis up the yinyang, coconut cups, Bloody Marys made with fresh wasabi, that weird Japanese Chex Mix, the Scorpion Bowl (a bowl of, basically, liquor served with straws), buckets of 7-oz. Coronitas on ice, and enough rum behind the bar to kill a pirate. And not only does the decor not annoy, this cozy little place verily glows like some earth-toned island sunset, all surf boards, grass skirts, and fat bamboo.
upshot: The closest you'll get to island
living in Wallingford. Lu-WOW!--P.H.
5510 University Wy NE, 524-7677
It's a theater, all right, complete with chairs (155 of 'em) and a decent-sized stage, as well as a lobby. Yes, those chairs are ratty and the stage has seen better days and the lobby is attenuated enough to discourage much between-bands mingling. But that's what the space in front of the stage is for—that and moshing, which the punk bands who frequently play this recently established all-ages venue would really, really like you to do. Most famously, though, the Paradox has become a reliable stopover for touring indie-rock bands—the most recent example being the recent Bright Eyes/Her Space Holiday show.
upshot: The all-ages rec room of your teenage dreams, complete with Twix and Skittles for sale.—M.M.
4209 University Wy NE (upstairs)
Located above a tattoo parlor and record store, the three-month-old Spirit is essentially the kind of old rec room upstairs over a bar that you'll find in every residential neighborhood. But its opening as an 18-plus late-night spot (we visited on a Thursday night—they were playing '80s hits and they were planning to stay open till 6am) is a boon for the college crowd it's situated smack in the middle of. So far their range seems eclectic enough—the aforementioned Duran Duran/Culture Club-heavy retro-chic—and they're a sort of home away from home for the SIL2K collective. Good lights, too. As for the future . . . we shall see.
upshot: Brand new—so new, in fact, that its identity isn't quite yet established.—M.M
8230 35th NE, 523-1115
Sun-Mon 11:30-midnight; Tue-Sat 11:30-1am
These are really the only two conceivable reasons why I would agree to meet you someplace other than the Broiler: 1) the Broiler is not open; 2) you are looking to make time with women under the age of 50. Short of that, I'm afraid we're headed back through those blessed heavy doors into the dim and faintly orange lounge, where time has stood still and where, over cold Alaskan Ambers and sour cocktails, old folks and other locals can nestle into the little upholstered caverns, adorned with vintage photos of Northwest lumbermen, and exchange woozy, murmured confidences over an exquisitely selected background of soft rock. If you prefer brighter lights, mirrored walls, and pastel booths, we can always repair to the restaurant. Either way, the full menu is at our disposal, including London Broil and the famous weekend Prime Rib.
upshot: No kitsch, no scene, no attitude. Just large slices of pie.—M.D.F.
456 N 36th, 634-2575
Food available upon approval of liquor license
I have to admit, between the neon sign with the dancing couple on it and the name, I was kinda hoping Ballroom'd be a gay bar. Nope. This place is going for the classy Anthony Michael-pool-hall look. Nine tables. Nice tables. Nine nice tables. No cramming your quarters in these bad boys; they have what the jet set like to call "pockets." Long, vaulted ceilings with skylights, soft ambient lighting, and a bit of outdoor seating to boot. Caters to the older post-frat and sorority crowd, but will soon be serving hard liqs, so look out for Lambda Lambda Lambdas and Omega Moos. Hey now, you're a rockstar, get your game on.
upshot: One stop shopping for bros and broads who want to rack balls and get laid. —P.D.
Hattie's Hat/Tractor Tavern
5231 Ballard NW, 784-0175; 5213 Ballard NW, 789 3599
Daily 3pm-2am (kitchen closes at 11pm); Tractor varies depending on show
Dinner, weekend brunch (at Hattie's Hat)
Life's greatest pleasure's are simple: Bourbon, chicken-fried chicken smothered in gravy, country music. Between these neighboring haunts, all three are easily obtained; on prime show nights at the Tractor, traffic to-and-fro the two doesn't let up. With its ornate carved wooden edifice and yellowing novelty prints, the bar at Hattie's suggests Grimms' Fairy Tales recast in a Montana mining town. Folks finicky about their elbow room are forewarned: the cozy booths and curved dividing wall can cause congestion when the joint fills up. But you can usually find refuge in the dining room in back, which offers top-notch down-home cooking (the meat loaf is comfort food personified, but we still miss the spinach-and-cheese casserole) amidst pastoral scenes of wan Nordic maidens. Screw the weekend warriors who make the rest of Ballard feel like Disneyland on a Friday or Saturday—Hattie's truly is the happiest place on Earth.
upshot: Old Scandinavian fishing village meets the urban jet set.—K.B.R.
5433 Ballard NW, 784-4880
Ballard apparently needed another magnet for bar-hopping, twang-loving, Bud-gargling folk, because the Sunset opened a few months back to an immediately full house. With its red walls and offbeat art shows providing all the decor this cleaned-up and revived dive needs, and live rock, blues, and DJs, the spacious room just down the street from Hattie's and the Tractor is a hit. The styles of music vary nightly, so it's best to call ahead or check the concert calendars. Then again, the open-minded can stop by most weeknights and shoot some pool, claim a stool at the lengthy bar, maybe even score a table. Check it out soon, though; once the warm, dark, and dangerous Sunset opens its kitchen and obtains its liquor license, the lines'll be around the block.
Upshot: Ballard's new hotspot for rawk-lovin' night owls.—R.A.M.
3507 Fremont Pl N, 632-0880
Sun-Thu 11:30am-11pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am-midnight
Lunch, dinner, snacks
Though funky Fremont's more boutique-y than freaky these days, there's still an isosceles-shaped place for hipsters to call home. Standing symbolically in the center of the Center of the Universe across from the statue of Lenin, this beloved institution's laid-back, kick-it-with-your-buddies, start-the-weekend-on-Wednesday-afternoon vibe has inspired legions of loyal fans to hoist a cocktail or two. This ain't no Belltown swank—this is about comfortable bar stools, style without posing, and the comforting squish of neighbors out getting loaded with you, community-minded folks that they are (hey, Adobe workers need beer, too). Need directions? A giant neon arrow thoughtfully guides you to the door, where you turn right and walk through the (nonfunctioning—too bad) bowling-ball returns, then follow the gleaming red neon "Prescriptions" sign straight toward your poison. The Triangle Lounge makes all the other bars look square.
upshot: "Cheers" for the young urban set. —D.S.
1325 E Madison, 860-5155
Lunch, dinner, weekend brunch
Time it was, oh, what a time it was when the Breakroom hosted some of the most kick-ass shows in town. These days the bands that play this Capitol Hill watering hole have names that speak of potty-humor and songs that smack of uninspired posturing. Sure, every now and then you get lucky and someone good will grace the stage, but for the most part, it seems the glory days are gone. And that's a real tragedy, because the Breakroom is a great space for tossing back a few; the food won't kill you, there's plenty of tables and extracurricular activities like air hockey and pool, and the bartenders are downright friendly. Word on the street is that the 'Room's booker split town and they haven't yet recovered. What do ya say we throw our dollars in a jar and start a "Save Our Rock Clubs" fund and get this place back on its feet?
upshot: Break a leg, break the bank, or break the wind, but for shit's sake, Breakroom: Break on through to the other side.—L.L.
2020 E Madison, 324-7462
Mon-Fri 5pm-1:30am, Sat-Sun 4am-1:30am
The Twilight Exit has the distinction of being located on a stretch of Madison known to be among the sketchiest of stretches in town. But, like all else in our once diverse city, this area's coming up in the world, as evidenced by the invasion of the first pioneers, the hipsters. Unassuming from the outside, the interior of the Twilight Exit offers the aggressively funky '70s basement make-out decor of the old Back Door Lounge (maybe they just brought that stuff up here?). The crowd's a fine mix of young tattooeds and good local drunks, including a gentleman in a fantastic suit and totally pimpin' hat. Karaoke night on Sundays is rumored to be a love fest of Seattle's rock scene, and there are free-range cats to pet. Beer and crap wine only, alas.
upshot: The new colony of the superhip postgrunge set with some fine local flavor. —B.J.C.
Admiral Benbow Inn
4212 SW Admiral Wy, 937-8348
Mon-Thu 10am-12:30am, Fri-Sun 10am-1:30am
Dinner, lunch, snacks, weekend brunch
Ahoy! The Benbow sure is weird, in a really, really good way. Follow some kind of semisubterranean body of water in the restaurant (does the Admiral have his own inland sea?) to the back and enter what seems to be the hold of a very divey ship indeed. Don't-fuck-with-me regulars smoke, smoke, smoke at the bar, their backs to the bizarre charm of the union of bad-carpet lounge and the Pirates of the Caribbean. Drinks are cheap, service is appropriately curt. The bathrooms are cutely nautical in their compactness; the ladies' room is so small as to be difficult to get in and out. Visit the Benbow when you're in West Seattle, but please don't be a jackass—you will be keelhauled.
upshot: Come for the strange and strangely compelling seafaring decor, stay for the cheap bottle o' rum, matey. —B.J.C.