Baseball, politics, and hosting major international events clearly aren't Seattle's strengths, but when it comes to going out and drinking, we rock! Take a drive (sober, of course!), and you'll see this city metamorphose into clusters of drunken hamlets—from the nattily dressed crowd spilling onto Belltown's streets to the frat-infested clubs of Pioneer Square, from the colorful quilt of queers and crazies on Capitol Hill to the Bud-swillin' types in Ballard—not to mention the refugees hunkered down in West Seattle watering holes or singing "You Oughta Know" at the top of their lungs at an International District karaoke joint. There's one problem, though. With so much variety conflicting with the human impulse to frequent the same place over and over until the bartender knows your social security number by heart, we Seattleites face an emotional tug-of-war each time we make a date, set up plans with friends, or simply escape the drudgery of our rain-soaked, hard-workin' lives. Should we go with what we know, or try something new? Shaking up the routine's the best way to achieve that fresh, vivacious feeling. We at the Weekly ventured out into the wilds of Seattle's nightlife and picked the 50 top spots to have a drink and a bite, check out a band or DJ, shoot some pool, or check out the action. Of course, there are dozens, maybe hundreds, more places out there, but these are the hangouts, dives, saloons, or—as we Halloween-spirited folks call 'em—haunts that we'd recommend to friends, Romans, and fellow Seattle night cats.
KEY: (disclaimer: It's damn near impossible to discern the nuances of every haunt. If you have issues with smoking, age, live music, or you're finicky about anything else, please, we implore you, call ahead!)
=Full bar =Beer, wine only =Cover =All ages =Darkness (1=lightest, 5=darkest)
=Loudness (1=lowest, 5=loudest) =Bands =DJ =Jukebox =Karaoke =No smoking
2200 Second, 441-5611
Tue-Sun noon-2am (kitchen 8am-11pm), closed Mon
Lunch, dinner, weekend brunch
On a Friday or Saturday night, few places pulsate like the Croc. A sort of rock oasis amid the Kenny G-izing of slick Belltown, this joint's hosted legendary rock shows, it continues to rate as a must-play for touring bands and local hopefuls, and the live music's only part of the appeal. (Meanwhile, many of us mutter about the inconvenient sight lines in the often packed and sweaty main room.) The backroom bar and seating area serves as one of Seattle's best see-and-be-seen arenas and hosts art shows by underground painters. The restaurant serves diner-style fare for lunch and dinner. To top things off, the weekend brunch is as casual and reliable as they come.
upshot: Rock 'n' roll all night, and come back for a tasty eggs Benedict!--R.A.M.
2421 First, 441-1677
Daily 5pm-10pm (restaurant), 4pm-2am (bar)
Previously renowned for its inventive dinners and Jell-O mold-adorned exterior, Cyclops has settled into its deep-Belltown digs and emerged a vibrant neighborhood hangout. A bit glam, a bit meat-market, but there's no denying the open invitation of this expansive counter and the warmth given off by the lava lamps, candles, sparkly vinyl seats, and art-covered brick walls. "It's like two places in one," my date said, with reference to the populated bar and the almost-empty restaurant area (OK, it was a weeknight . . .). The bar thrums steadily with a thirtysomething after-work jubilance that's very Sex and the City, but it's easy to assimilate. That said, the majority of women are gorgeous, and the men (gorgeous or not) are busy salivating. It ultimately makes for a good place to have a sweet, colorful drink (the grape nehis are awfully fine) and listen to the conversations fly against the stereo's reassuring backbeats.
upshot: Pretty, mellow, and pretty mellow; a huge relief from the self-consciously hip theme park that is First Avenue.—E.B.R.
Dimitriou's Jazz Alley
2033 Sixth, 441-9729
Mon-Sat 6pm-last show ('round midnight); Sun 4:30pm-last show (times vary)
A sleek, sophisticated decor complements Dimitriou's well-heeled crowd, which includes couples from Lake City as well as Japanese students from the Hill. With a stage accommodating two shows a night, this is the place to hear some of the better blues and jazz acts that come to Seattle—we recently saw the Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Orchestra, whose tunes were sultry and tropical. The only thing missing is a dance floor; even a small one could sex things up a bit for the polite patrons. Save your flirting for the long-haired waiter David, who has eyes like Antonio Banderas, or just indulge in any of the desserts, which are thick, rich, and generous enough for two.
upshot: Nice change from the rowdier club scene; good place to feel like a grownup.—S.I.
2226 Second, 441-5660
Your classic spillover joint, the Lava Lounge morphs like a goddamn Power Ranger; the scene changes from night to night depending on what's shaking in the neighborhood. The constants? Comfy, lived-in booths; outside tables when the weather gods are smiling; and shuffleboard for the more adventurous. But the real charm of this joint is that it's never the same place twice. In keeping with the random element, local DJs (our fave being the Weekly's own DJ Kerri) often stop by to mix up old-school favorites and post-punk hits (there's an increasingly popular punk-rock night on Wednesdays). The Lava Lounge is a great place to be eponymous or anonymous; be yourself or hide away.
upshot: Belltown's very own Karma Chameleon; the Lava blends right in and consequently, so can you. —L.L.
2320 Second, 441-5823
Breakfast, lunch, dinner
The people who drink at the Rendezvous are like a box of chocolates: You don't know which one has been injected with a toxic substance and is going to kill you. The Rendezvous is where beer comes in cans and ordering a fancy martini will (hopefully) get you smacked. It's unglamorous, held together with surliness and duct tape—a welcome respite from the dot-com rutting grounds that surround it. On any given night the backroom might feature a Discharge cover band or a yodeling guy playing washboard over techno beats—$50 rents the room. In a city where many bars feel like the end result of test marketing filled with actors clumsily imitating real life, the Rendezvous stands up as a real place with real people, and hence, will bum many people out. Others find it the best damn bar in Seattle, period.
upshot: Hard drinking for the hardliving—be polite and tip well.—M.D.
Sit & Spin
2219 Fourth, 441-9484
Dinner, lunch, snacks
The front is deservedly one of the most popular hangout spots in the downtown/Belltown area: roomy, comfortable, heavily accented in red. The food counter provides plenty of fruit juices and coffee to choose from as well as a decent array of munchables. The many tables and booths are comfortable, and hey, you can get your laundry done while you're at it. Meanwhile, the stage-enhanced backroom has, in the past year, housed more shows than usual. Good—it's a wonderful venue, and the booking, from Oakland agit-rappers the Coup to local power duo Sick Bees to local short-film screenings, has been stellar.
upshot: A multipurpose spot that feels comfortable and lived-in.—M.M.
2214 Second, 443-4221
Sun-Wed 3pm-midnight; Thu-Sat 3pm-2am
There's a certain community of jazz musicians in this town—as in most big towns—who've put down their stakes, who are holding down their jobs, who are never going to New York, and who nightly pour out their heart, soul, and sweat at whatever smoky den has kindly given them refuge. In Seattle, that place is Tula's. As welcoming and no-nonsense as the man who runs it—retired Navy bandleader Mack Waldron—Tula's has low lights, wooden beams, unfussy furnishings, randommemorabilia. Meat-and-potatoes jazz musicians take to the raised platform in the middle of the room every night at eight for a crowd that can be wall-to-wall raucous or sparse and sullen, but is always taking deep solace in the music. You can get a serviceable meal here, but even the waitstaff will tell you that "food is not the focus." It's about an easy drink, scruffy atmosphere, and another chorus on "Stella by Starlight."
upshot: If you don't feel at home at Tula's, you're obviously an asshole.—M.D.F.
The Virginia Inn
1937 First, 728-1937
Mon-Thu, Sun 11:30am-midnight; Fri-Sat 11:30am-2am
Lunch, dinner, snacks
Founded in 1902 and long a Belltown favorite, packed solid at lunch and after work, the V.I. has a less frantic, less crowded vibe later in the evening (particularly midweek). As is customary, canvases by a local artist adorned the walls on a recent visit (Dan Amel's Hockney-influenced "Vague Images of Swimmers" series). Elsewhere, a quote from Henry Miller offered sour admonishment. My companions and I found the mixed greens, chicken Caesar, and smoked trout appetizer to be good, simple fare, although we were puzzled by the eclectic shuffle-play music that ranged from Moby-style techno to Tom Petty. While overshadowed by its newer, flashier, pricier competitors on First, this low-key haunt proves the virtue of modesty and consistency. For those seeking refuge from cigarette stench and pretense, the place still has a welcoming, vaguely Continental neighborhood-cafe feel to it. "So far, so good," a stranger offered from a nearby barstool. Right.
upshot: When the smoke and scene get too insufferable at El Gaucho, wander down here for a reprieve.—B.R.M.
85 Pike (Post Alley), 623-3180
Mon-Fri 11:30am-2am, Sat-Sun 11am-2am
Lunch, dinner, snacks
The big problem here is the bookcase full of bound scripts—as if there weren't already enough dreadful movies and screenplays in existence. No more encouragement is needed for the would-be Ron Basses and Joe Eszterhases of this world. A recent midweek visit found the joint surprisingly full of late-night diners and cooing couples, all skewed toward the pierced/tattooed/smoking demographic. The room is dark and ersatz trendy, projecting what one of my companions called "a Manhattan wanna-be vibe," without being oppressive. Tod Kalamar's B&W photo series "El Rancho Motel" helped smarten up the place. We also liked hearing Exile on Main Street all the way through, and the bourbon apple cobbler with cinnamon sauce rocked just as hard. Still, those scripts—which no one beyond
our table was reading—have got to go. As the lizard boy said to Dennis Quaid in that
immortal screen classic Enemy Mine, "I will never forget you, uncle."
upshot: If anyone attempts a live reading of their script, throw fruit.—B.R.M.
Back Door Lounge
503 Third, 622-7665
Lunch, dinner (restaurant), appetizers (bar)
Let's be perfectly honest: As far as I've seen, nobody who can actually, like, dance goes to the Back Door Lounge on Friday nights, when DJ Riz plays a predictable but unobjectionable blend of hip-hop, house, and R&B. But that's not really the point, now is it? The point is the opulently kitschy decor: colored lights, vinyl tabletops, ashtrays that look like orange peels with miniature carnival slides in the middle, and Barbie cars with ash-catching seats. The point is a dance floor meant for people who get on down as a reward for a hard-worked week, not as a way of life. The point is that this is what a pretty hip neighborhood bar should be.
upshot: An appealingly kitschy after-work hangout for would-be dot-com millionaires and blues-bar riffraff alike.—M.M.
614 Maynard S, 682-6830
Daily 11:30am-2pm and 5pm-1:30am
Dinner, lunch, snacks, weekend brunch
Bush Garden has the most foreboding Zen rock garden (formerly a pool, from the looks of it) and creepy dead tree in its foyer of anyplace in town. There's also a weird, alluring waiting area, but get yourself on back into the lounge for the karaoke, superstar. The lovely old-school bartendress reports that on Friday and Saturday nights she's kept busy peeling the more excitable crooners and fans off the ceiling as the whole place goes completely nuts. All this with a faux pagoda roof over the bar and comfortable Denny's-style seating; it's Chinoise meets airport cocktail lounge, and the results are pleasing indeed. Catch the appetizer and sushi happy hour (Mon-Fri 5-6:30pm) and you will be extra-happy.
upshot: The real deal for I.D. karaoke and a beautiful happy hour.—B.J.C.
1619 Ninth, 682-0100
Mon-Fri 11am-1am, Sat 4pm-1:30am, Sun 4pm-11:30pm
So I goes to the top of the Camlin Hotel, right? And there's this bar, but it's just full of people. Just normalish people sucking back the hooch. No clowns at all . . . anywhere. So I'm thinking to myself, 'cause that's really the best way I think, I'm thinking, "Well hell, what the hell, man? Where the hell are the goddamn clowns?" So I grab the bartender, right, and I pulls him up nice and close, cock my head, and in a sideways hoarse sorta whisper squeeze out, "What's the deal with the clowns, man?!" And he looks at me all spooked, right, and he says real calm and soft, "I think you'd better leave." As they shuffle me toward the door I notice they have a piano and a patio overlooking the city. Oh, and an elevator.
upshot: Will be THE place to go when they get the clowns.—P.D.
807 First, 447-7704
Mon-Thu 10am-2am, Fri 10am-8am, Sat 6pm-2am, Sun 6pm-5am
Smooth naked torsos anyone? Yes, that's right, smooth AND naked. Come to think of it, the whole place is kind of smooth and naked. Or was it all a dream? Contour—where Pioneer Square, Kirkland, and Belltown coalesce in mind, body, and spirit. Contour—not very large, but always in charge. Contour—filling the space with style and grace. Contour—pay the cover, meet your lover. Contour—dance and prance, split your pants. Contour—swanky, spanky, make me cranky. What can I say, drink some martinis and shake what your momma gave you. Submit to Contour.
upshot: Think "tight."—P.D.
1921 Fifth, 374-9492
Dinner, lunch at Nation
With two and sometimes three fully operating rooms for DJs and/or performers (Nation, the restaurant on the top floor, frequently becomes part of the club during dance nights), I-Spy is one of the best music venues in Seattle. The booking policy is eclectic, encompassing everything from the aggressive experimentalism of Monday nights' SIL2K to Jetset, Nation's Saturday parties focusing on DJs both local (Nasir) and national (Radar and Z-Trip, Ming and FS), to touring bands like Trans Am and Saint Etienne. As a bonus, they've also got one of the flat-out nicest staffs I've ever encountered at any club—courteous and nearly attitude-free.
upshot: Three floors featuring something for just about everyone.—M.M.
Marcus' Martini Heaven
88 Yesler, 624-3323
Mon-Fri 3:30pm-2am, Sat 5pm-2am
Nestled surreptitiously under the wing of Taco Del Mar in Pioneer Square, Marcus' Martini Heaven is easy to walk by, but after sampling a few of the hundred or so different martinis here, walking back out may be the problem. It's dark and bricky and hipster red, with local art on the walls, a huge fish tank, big booths, and a few couches. Seating is readily available during the week after work and the atmosphere perfect for meeting a special friend, but as night brings the minions of hollering high-fives to Pioneer Square, rumor has it that backwards baseball hats and button-ups multiply like E. coli at a state fair. Still, if you are a fan of the martini, or a fan of sipping things from martini-shaped glasses, this place has enough fixes to keep you fresh for weeks.
upshot: Dark and sultry place, perfect way to start an evening.—M.D.
1926 Second, 448-4852
Mon-Fri noon-2am, Sat-Sun 10am-2am
Whenever I'm at the Nite Lite, I get this weird flashback to that Simpsons episode where Lisa was scheming to win the Diorama-O-Rama contest. Remember that one? Lisa was hell-bent on beating that chick Allison, and Ralphie made the startling revelation that his cat's breath smells like cat food. I guess it's the odd, diorama-like rendering of the Golden Gate Bridge in the wall near the ladies room that does it, or maybe it's the cat food thing. I really don't know. I do know this: The Nite Lite is one hell of a good dive. The drinks are cheap and stiff, just like the patrons; and it's crusty enough to warrant extra toilet paper on the seat while peeing, and just friendly and homey enough that you'll start to miss it if you stay gone for too long. If you're looking to bookend a rock show at the Showbox or the Moore, you ain't gonna do any better than this.
upshot: So damn bad it's real damn good.—L.L.
212 Alaskan Wy S, 621-7903
Bar opens Mon-Sat at 3pm, cafe opens Wed-Sat at 6pm
Back in the day, this place had some ass-kicking all-ages shows like Lungfish and Treepeople, but now it's sort of all over the board. It functions as a bar, a cafe, a gallery, and a venue, with live performances ranging from folky-dokey bands to poetry slams and DJs. Like most creatures tucked under the viaduct, the OK lacks a solid identity but still manages to have a fingerprint. Weeknights are pretty quiet with plenty of dark corners to skulk in. Weekends tend to get some of the Pioneer Square spillover. The rotating art installments are more interesting to stare at when you're drunk.
upshot: Get shit-faced, grab a Big Mac, ride the ferry.—P.D.
1114 Howell, 233-9873
Call for hours
If ever there was an oldie-but-goodie, it's Re-bar. While other Seattle nightspots attempt to lure in the city's nouveau cosmo crowd and dot-com riche with glossy fronts and pricey cocktails, Re-bar's got a faithful following hooked because the club—along with owner Steve Wells—is all heart. The venue has nurtured some of Seattle's edgier performing talents, from Dina Martina to various Northwest drag kings, in addition to offering a handful of the city's more enjoyable dance nights, including a Saturday evening devoted to ladies who love ladies, Sunday's electronic explosion Flammable, and Thursday's classic Queer Disco. Hosted by MC Queen Lucky, Queer Disco kicked other clubs' Prada-clad bootys in Seattle Weekly's "Best of Seattle 2000," coming in at the top slot for best dance-music night, thanks to an adoring public. Sounds reasonable to me: Why hand over your AmEx card for 14-karat gold when Queer Disco's selling '70s solid gold for $5?
upshot: The place to feel like an established part of the antiestablishment, whether it be by delivering an erotic monologue or break-dancing to Prince's "Little Red Corvette."—D.M.
1426 First, 628-3151
box office Mon-Fri 11am-6pm; events 7pm-1:30am
A cross between a first-rate discotheque and the cyclops cave from Homer's Odyssey, the Showbox looms large. Not only because of the venue's expanded interior—management K.O.'d the lounge a year ago to add even more room to the showroom—but also because the space attracts major acts, from indie-rock giants Sleater-Kinney to hip-hop mavericks the Roots to monumental turntablists like Derrick May. While daily live acts manage to fill the space with various Northwest types, weekend electronica nights are unofficially reserved for a particular crowd: the Belltown Beautiful. Don't be intimidated by the blondes in heels or the frat hunks in sparkly muscle shirts. There's plenty of room to get your groove on, and two bars for taking your inhibitions off. But journeypeople looking to make it home to Ithaca tonight, take heed: While the Barbies are as harmless as Penelope, the hornier Kens, like the cyclops Polyphemos, just might be pointing that one eye at you.
upshot: A downtown spot with an uptown feel, showcasing the nation's coolest acts and Seattle's hot-under-the-collar singles.—D.M.
W Hotel Bar
Thu-Sat 11am-2am, Sun-Mon 11am-11, Tue 11am-12:30am, Wed 11am-1am
1112 Fourth, 264-6187
Bar snacks from earth & ocean
There's a new leather bar in town—which is something of a warning, if you are so confident as to venture to this monochromatic style palace on a Friday night without so much as a buttery black handbag. And don't even think about jeans, unless, of course you're willing to accessorize with—everybody now!--LEATHER. Part of the fun of sitting in a giant, high-backed couch and slurping down frosty Cosmopolitan-like concoctions (not one woman was drinking a beer here; it's all about the retro, rainbow-colored girlie cocktails) is the people-watching. You will sit, drink, and maybe even sample the aphrodisiacal bar snacks, but you will be swept up into this Dieter-esque fantasy world of black leather and geometric haircuts and insistent electronica. This is good. You are half-expecting to see someone famous, and half-convinced you yourself are famous. Maybe you are. Or, maybe you're leatherless and stinkin' drunk.
upshot: Welcome to the Land of People Who Aren't From Here.—E.B.R.
Zig Zag Caf鼯B>
1501 Western, 625-1146
Not only was Zig Zag voted "the best place to hide out and get tanked" by Seattle Weekly readers, but cutie Ben Dougherty, who is one of the owners, was voted best bartender in town. Tucked in the zig of the Pike Place Hillclimb (go down the stairs next to Kasala on Western), this pretty hideaway has the intimacy of a European bar—sophisticated but not flashy, hip but not trendy. The rose-colored lights are flattering, the drinks number in the hundreds, and the mostly thirtysomethings who favor the mixed cocktails are professional but not boring. And because it's quiet enough to have a deep conversation, it's a good place to take a first date and get to know him/her. (There's also live music Sunday and Monday).
upshot: As intimate as you wanna get. —S.I.