The Unforgettable Fire(place)

A quartet of local bars where 'getting toasty' is a double entendre.

Most scholars agree that when Robert Frost wrote: "From what I've tasted of desire, I hold with those who favor fire," he wasn't talking about bars with fireplaces. Yet the longtime New Englander likely enjoyed a brandy by the fire now and then, perhaps between winning his four Pulitzer Prizes and teaching English at Amherst College. I mention Frost because I'm determined to popularize a more refined mode of Seattle nightlife. Let others frolic in prismatic club lighting and/or slouch in dingy all-night diner fluorescence; I'll be curled up by the hearth like a dormouse, thank you, getting toastier by the minute—and, hopefully, leading by example.

It might not require much leading, actually, to get the club-and-diner crowd to Matador (2221 N.W. Market St., 206-297-2855), a little slice of Belltown in the heart of Ballard—and a petri dish of modern dating behavior, much of which happens around the bar's circular fireplace. You can stand at it, put your elbows down, and ask someone: "Come here often?" (The answer will invariably be yes.) Recently, a friend and I spent an entertaining 20 minutes at the long, long bar, sipping Maker's Mark neat and chatting with two perfect strangers about why dating married people so often leads to heartbreak. Soon enough, our yen for the fireplace became too great to ignore, so we moseyed over. Alas, we couldn't get close to the flames. The firesiders' mating dance had begun, and there wasn't an inch of prime real estate to be had. My advice: Go early in the evening, early in the week, if you want your cheeks to burn with anything besides the shame of arriving too late.

At the Edgewater Hotel's restaurant, Six Seven (2411 Alaskan Way, 206-269-4575, www.edgewaterhotel.com), a giant stone fireplace separates the dining room from the bar, the latter of which is awash in aquatic decor. There's a fish tank at the entrance, Elliott Bay just out the window (and I do mean just; one leap and you're in the drink), and a video of a mountain waterfall is projected over multiple TV screens on the bar's far wall. It's as though nature's most elemental forces are doing battle as you sip your fruity cocktail and moon over the bay view. The lodge-podge aesthetic includes what my companion called "robo-trees" (fake trunks festooned with metal-jointed branches), which can lead to cinematic nightmares of the David Cronenberg–meets–David Lynch variety. You've been warned. On the Eastside, a similarly Ralph Lauren–esque experience is available at the Barking Frog (14582 N.E. 145th St., 425-424-2999, www.willows lodge.com/barkingfrog), though you'll have to stay for dinner if you want to warm yourself by their fire; it's in the dining room.

The W Bar at the W Hotel (1112 Fourth Ave., 206-264-6060, www.earthocean.net/wbar.html) may not resemble a Currier & Ives engraving, but it's got a welcome sense of humor about its retro-futuristic lounge concept. Note the furry pillows and the illuminated sign that greets guests ("Well, hello there/Welcome"), and note that the fireplace practically begs you to sip a Hottie Toddy (made with Jameson and passion-fruit syrup) and park your derriere beside it. And you can. The W's hearth has a convenient seating shelf that allows for close contact, making it a brilliant meeting spot for a second date following a very good first one.

Like the W, the Sorrento Hotel's Fireside Room (900 Madison St., 206-622-6400, www.hotelsorrento.com/fireside Room.html), with its monogrammed captain's chairs and gleaming Honduran mahogany, lets you masquerade as a high-society type. Make that a warm and cozy high-society type. The fireplace boasts a pedigree that few bars in town can match—it was the first commercial installation done, in 1911, by Cincinnati's Rookwood Pottery Co., renowned for its matte glazes. There's a plaque on display that says as much, but even if you don't take the time to read it, the hearth's vintage design—and the old-fashioned brush and shovel that hang in a corner, made obsolete by the substitution of gas for wood—communicates something about the way America used to be, at least in the popular imagination. It also inspires the urge to put on a nightcap, a red velvet robe, and slippers—and maybe even read a little Frost.

nschindler@seattleweekly.com

 
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