Search & Distill: A “Speakeasy” in Name Only

And without the comforts.

My parents belonged to many private clubs in the Midwest, and my dad even made it to vice-poobah of the Moose Lodge. I remember these clubs fondly for their 99-cent fried-egg sandwiches. My parents loved them for the $1.50 vodka tonics, and we all loved the poker machines that paid out. One good hit on the machine could pay for an entire visit. These places were dumpier than the average tavern, because all the profits went to keeping things cheap for members. So I've never really gotten the allure of the fake speakeasy, the illusion of exclusivity followed by zero benefits.Forget the argument that a liquor license, by definition, disqualifies a bar as a speakeasy. My beef with these joints is that while they give some people a needed false sense of importance, they more often are set up to make many others feel at least awkward, and at the most...bad. To get into the Knee High Stocking Company (1356 E. Olive Way), you must ring its bell. Then you wait. The bar takes pride in the fact that it guards your comfort, only seating approximately three dozen people with absolutely no overfilling. Hey, any bar can better serve its customers by not being busy. However, the sponged-blue walls and claustrophobic space are nothing worth waiting for, nor are the drinks. On two occasions I was served a Ramos gin fizz that didn't resemble the classic drink at all. Maybe Knee High should spend more time trying to ring my bell with its drinks. Otherwise, I'd rather tuck into the tiny, breathtaking bar up the street at Dinette.The downstairs "public" bar at Tavern Law (1406 12th Ave.) reminds me of a decommissioned Top Pot as reconstructed by Starbucks, with extra tchotchkes from your dad's fake study. All's mostly copacetic downstairs, and the cocktails can be as balanced and fabulous as at Tavern Law's sister establishment, Spur. But their commitment to time-consuming from-scratch cocktails starts to fall apart as the bar hits capacity, when your pricey drink can suffer.Ah, but then there's that secret bar upstairs. The secrecy is absurd, because to get in, you need only speak into a fake phone and give the person who answers the number in your party. If there's room, you're up a gorgeous staircase lined with vintage cheesecake. The chintzy, curlicue detailing and blatant art direction of the not-so-exclusive second bar at the top almost suffocates, looking as if someone forgot to tear down an Elle Decor cover shoot. The thing about those interior-design mag covers is that they rarely portray rooms where you'd actually want to settle in, let alone eat or drink. Add to that the dumpy Seattleites who, in their ironic anti-finery, look like a flash mob which jumped the rope at an exhibit. I might have some respect for Tavern Law if they had the nuts to install a camera by that phone and only let up people dressed as well as the staff.Affectations aside, if you're going to make hoops for customers to jump through, I want to know what my motivation as a prospective customer is supposed to be. I expect something magical, special, different. Why are the expectations of others so pitifully low? This absurd trend wouldn't work if Seattleites weren't prepared to play the gangster's moll with a chorus-girl past and a battered-wife complex. You want to feel like part of the in-crowd? You want exclusive? Get someone to sponsor you at the Fraternal Order of the Eagles, a place where membership actually offers an honest-to-goodness drinking privilege.msavarino@seattleweekly.com

 
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