Where to Drink With Your Kids

15 Seattle bars that let youngsters watch their parents imbibe.

Let's say you're running errands with your 6-year-old daughter in just about any American city—St. Louis, for example—and, upon peering through a tavern window, you notice that a college basketball game you're interested in is tied with less than 10 minutes to go. You walk in, order a beer for yourself, a Sprite for your daughter, and a plate of tater tots for the two of you to munch on. Because the sun has yet to set, nobody is inebriated, and a laid-back, convivial time is had by all (except for the team you're rooting for, which loses at the buzzer). Walking into a place of drink is not viewed as taboo by your offspring because it's something she's been exposed to—casually and responsibly—all her life.

Sadly, Seattle is different. Even with the imminent abolition of the state's monopoly on hard-liquor sales, we're still saddled with a collection of archaic, blue-nosed liquor laws which largely prevent the sort of scenario outlined above. Seattle fancies itself an ultra-progressive city in a left-leaning state, yet kids are left with the impression that the corner bar is tantamount to a strip joint, a place where clandestine, nefarious behavior takes place behind tinted panes. (Or worse: Washington state bars which served anything stronger than wine were not permitted to install windows until the 1970s.)

To the contrary, throughout the world, the public house (such terminology did not develop by happenstance) has served as a gathering space, a de facto community center where people engage in civic debate or socialize at the end of the week or a long workday. Yet in most Seattle watering holes, bound by licensing regulations which typically require the erection of a physical barrier near the bar should that establishment wish to allow minors through its doors, a pint of stout might as well be a lap dance as far as your kid is concerned. And when it comes to drinking, mystery often breeds excess.

Thankfully, a handful of local bars (restaurants which happen to have bars don't count) have seen fit to jump through the necessary licensing hoops to create environments where Mom and Dad don't have to feel like degenerates while hoisting a few adult beverages in the company of their spawn. And despite assumptions to the contrary, breweries like Fremont and Two Beers are among the most progressive when it comes to accommodating families.

In these pages, as a service to parents who struggle to navigate what amounts to a geographic crapshoot of where they can take their kid and be an adult too, a group of writers who have contributed to the creation of tiny humans provide a guide of their favorite places to drink—with their kids, as in most civilized cities. MIKE SEELY

*****

In Ballard, the Sexton has quickly become a go-to for craft cocktails; Noble Fir has some 20 different microbrews and ciders on tap (and another 20 available in bottles); and regulars line the bar at salty fisherman dives like the Sloop and the Smoke Shop from sunup to sundown. But you know what none of these offer? A place for a girl to get a drink—with a baby. When the mood strikes, head over to the Ballard Loft—it looks and feels like a bar, but no one will bat an eye if you roll up with a stroller. The Loft actually prides itself on being family-friendly—there's a kids' menu with tiny corn dogs, cheese quesadillas, and the like—but keep in mind that minors aren't welcome after 9 p.m., when the place fills with the boisterous Ballard nightlife crowd. Before then, however, you're free to bring the kiddies in for a pint (for you, not them) on the patio, where you can graze on Uli's sausages and contemplate something stiffer off the specialty-cocktail list. CHELSEA LIN 5105 Ballard Ave. N.W., 420-2737, ballardloft.com, BALLARD

*****

As its name suggests, the Barking Dog Alehouse is dog-friendly. It's also kid-friendly. Combine dog-friendliness and kid-friendliness in a white, upper-middle-class residential location (that description fits most of Seattle) made possible only by grandfathered-in zoning laws which date back to when Ballard was an independent entity, and you've got a consistently packed pub where anyone wary of waiting for a table would be wise to show up by 5, even on a weekday. (For the most punctual of families, the six-top near the bar is a luxury box of sorts.) Adults put off by dog- and kid-friendliness can take solace in the Barking Dog's beer and Scotch menu, geared to the geekiest of geeks. Mondays are especially welcoming, with $9 microbrew pitchers and 20 percent off the pizza menu, where the Sicilian (prosciutto, grape tomatoes, and mozzarella doused in balsamic) stands out. With the newly opened Ridge located a few blocks east, Phinney has become a pizza-and-pint mecca—no babysitter required. MIKE SEELY 705 N.W. 70th St., 782-2974, thebarkingdogalehouse.com, BALLARD/PHINNEY

*****

If one American hotel chain epitomizes insufferable hipsterism, it's the Ace—to the point that it was deservedly lampooned during Portlandia's inaugural season. And yet the Seattle original bears none of the obnoxiously precious trappings of its offspring in Manhattan, Portland, and the like. It's sleek and minimalist, sure, and you can probably get a room with a guitar in it. But the Seattle Ace doesn't grab a megaphone when touting such attributes, and the Cyclops, which occupies the hotel's ground floor, is as self-assured as the Belltown boutique itself. There's no overarching vibe, no "make all patrons feel as though they stand a very real chance of chatting up Zooey Deschanel while listening to an unannounced acoustic set from Bon Iver in the faux-speakeasy VIP balcony area" mandate. Rather, through knowing ambiguity and endurance, the Cyclops has emerged as one of downtown's most dependable bars, and is comfortable enough in its chameleonlike skin to allow young parents to drink in the company of their tots in a barely cordoned-off nook near the bathroom—as well as in the attached dining room—without ghettoizing them. MIKE SEELY 2421 First Ave., 441-1677, cyclopsseattle.com, BELLTOWN

*****

Tuesday nights are "Bruce's Night" at the Eastlake Bar & Grill. The specials are $5 Headbutts, $4 Whadyawant well drinks, and $5 Mac & Cheese Nachos—veteran bartender Bruce Lloyd's version of the food pyramid. But it's Brucie Bob, as longtime customers call him, who brings me to the Eastlake, along with my baby daughter Darcy, who turns 40 next month. She was still in grade school back when Lloyd blew in from Denver and began tending bar and bantering with customers at Jimmy Coury's old newspaper hangout, the Villa Real on Wall Street near the old P-I Building. From there I followed him around to a succession of Seattle drinking spots, earning a free drink now and then by commiserating with his tales of Denver Bronco woes, eventually recruiting my daughter as a Bruciephile. He works the upstairs and downstairs bars at the modern Eastlake, a popular steak and burger eatery with unique Lake Union views and one of the city's great decks. Customers with little kids can sit just off the downstairs bar and still take in one of the HD sports screens, or gather on the patio near the outdoor tiki bar. Happy hours are 3–6 p.m. and 9 p.m. to close every day. Bring the family on Sunday night for a three-course dinner at $15 per person. RICK ANDERSON 2947 Eastlake Ave. E., 957-7777, neighborhoodgrills.com/eastlake, EASTLAKE

*****

If ever an establishment could be forgiven for banning minors from its premises, it would be a brewery. After all, persons under 21 are barred from legally consuming alcohol (that antiquated regulatory norm is for another day), and breweries are primarily concerned with producing alcoholic beverages. And yet, more than any other commercial boozing enterprise in the Seattle area, breweries seem to be the most kid-friendly. The original Elliott Bay Brewery in the West Seattle Junction (there's a roomier duplicate in Burien, and another on the way in Lake City)—which, along with Rocksport, West 5, and A Terrible Beauty, anchors a formidable kid-friendly crawl—perfectly embodies the brewer's live-and-let-live ethos, where really good beer is no big deal and the food which accompanies it rises high above soak-it-up standards. For a microbrewery, Elliott Bay is especially welcoming to sports fans, with little television sets in every available nook and cranny and a balcony to accommodate main-floor overspill. Here you'd expect the fish and chips to be excellent, but a stellar Cuban sandwich? That's as pleasant a surprise as being permitted to quaff a pint of B-Town Brown alongside your toddler. MIKE SEELY 4720 California Ave. S.W., 932-8695, elliottbaybrewing.com, WEST SEATTLE

*****

There's good and bad news regarding Hale's Brewery's kid-friendly policy. First, the good: There's a spacious room separate from the bar where you don't have to feel guilty being that person who brought their kid to a brewery, and where you can stuff your little one full of jo-jos and cheese pizza while you get your drink on with one of Hale's custom brews. Bad news: Seemingly every lush of a parent knows this, so the "family room" is frequently packed with sleeping babes in car seats and ankle-biting toddlers. Thankfully they keep the blues and '70s arena rock loud enough that you hardly notice the tantrums. Pints of more than a dozen beers—ranging from the flagship Hale's Pale Ale to small-batch and seasonal beers like the Irish Style Nut Brown Ale—are available any hour, and if you go for brunch on weekends, Bloody Marys and mimosas are just $4 all day. The food is a solid representation of no-frills pub fare; you'll find half-pound burgers, house-smoked pulled pork, country-fried chicken, and English pub standards like shepherd's pie and bangers and mash. CHELSEA LIN 4301 Leary Way N.W., 706-1544, halesbrewery.com, BALLARD

*****

Lottie's Lounge is the kind of neighborhood joint you can take your snot-nosed offspring to and still manage to feel like a grown-up. There's no kid pit, no box of toys, no kids' menu, and only one lonely booster seat. What Lottie's has is a genuine bar with three local beers on tap, creative cocktails with names like Rosemary's Baby and Red Rum, tasty snacks, and servers who won't turn up their nose if you order a cold one after breastfeeding your infant. Lottie's, in the heart of Columbia City, inhabits a 1905 building that once housed the Columbia Hotel. It opened as a coffee shop in 1998 and spent years as an a.m. coffee joint/p.m. bar before transforming fully to the latter in 2005. But it's maintained its morning-friendly trappings, proudly brewing Victrola coffee (free refills) and offering a weekend brunch that rivals anything in this very breakfast-friendly neighborhood; it's the perfect spot if you have kids who don't like hour-long waits, and features a legitimate Bloody Mary bar for Mom and Dad. Simply put, it's the kind of low-key place every 'hood needs—even sweeter in that it's somehow made peace with Washington's draconian liquor laws and said yes to kids. AIMEE CURL 4900 Rainier Ave. S., 725-0519, lottieslounge.com, COLUMBIA CITY

*****

In the category of Bad Parenting for $100, Alex, the answer is: "At this Eastside bar, you can down Jäger bombs in front of your kids while giving them balloons and becoming a perfect dysfunctional candidate for Dr. Phil's next show." Newport Hills' Mustard Seed Grill & Pub offers two big family-friendly sections—each with 10 booths, four tables, and several big screens on which to watch the Super Bowl while teaching little Johnny the merits of taking the Giants and 3½. A longtime waitress says the Seed is just like Cheers because 90 percent of the customers are regulars—and the other 10 percent soon will be after they try the crispy-on-the-outside, juicy-on-the-inside pressure-cooked chicken. With jo-jos and homemade coleslaw, it's an absolute steal at $8.99. For a great way to end your week, try the five-hour Happy Hour, 4 to 9 p.m. on Fridays. Bribe your kid with a triple-decker PB&J and hope he won't tell Mommy where he and Daddy have been for so damn long. If he does, head back to the Seed, because Friday night is ladies' night and you're already in trouble. JIM MOORE 5608 119th Ave. S.E., Bellevue. 425-603-9001, mustardseedgrill.com, NEWPORT HILLS

*****

It's no secret Seattle's had its struggles with all-ages rock shows. To most, more lenient rules mean 16- or 17-year-olds can come out and enjoy some live music, but what they also mean is that you can slap a pair of noise-restricting headphones on a toddler and take them to venues like the Neptune. Of course, if you want to take full advantage of the bar, as minors and adults are still separated, I'd recommend bringing a 16- or 17-year-old to babysit and watch your kid run amok while you hang back in the elevated drinking area and pretend to be appalled by other parents' poor choices as your offspring screeches by. If you have older kids, have them invite a friend and spring for one of the VIP seats right next to the rail, so they always know where to find you as you let them rock and roll while you sip and observe from a distance. The Neptune's shows are generally over at a reasonable hour, and its U District location makes for an easy cab ride home. MA'CHELL DUMA LAVASSAR 1303 N.E. 45th St., 781-5755, stgpresents.org/neptune, U DISTRICT

*****

The Owl N' Thistle is a traditional Irish pub that occasionally masquerades as a sports bar. If a local team is playing, it's a convenient stop for folks seeking a beer priced in the single digits before they head to the stadium. The Owl N' Thistle rocks a full-service bar, a small stage, a game room, and a front room where kids are welcome until 9 p.m. Their budget-friendly happy hour, 3–7 p.m. daily, offers fish and chips for $3.50, a "happy" burger for $3.50, and hand-cut fries for $2.25, while the regular menu includes chicken strips as well as full-size versions of the happy-hour offerings. A little word of caution: Feisty and fueled-up sports fans frequent this pub, so beware of your child's ears being besmirched by "colorful" game commentary. MA'CHELL DUMA LAVASSAR 808 Post Ave., 621-7777, owlnthistle.com, PIONEER SQUARE

*****

Drinking is woven into the fabric of the European lifestyle to the point that legal imbibing ages, if they exist, are all but ignored. In Germany, however, drinking is so culturally central that every other task is effectively a means to the biergarten. Sister pub to the original Prost! on Phinney Ridge, Roosevelt's Die Bierstube, and South Lake Union's Feierabend, Prost! West Seattle's exclamation point and cozy ski-lodge interior should compel customers to order a full liter. Drink 50 of these dumbbell-heavy steins and you'll earn yourself a personalized wall plaque. The menu is authentically German; those brave enough to order braunschweiger would be wise to summon some horseradish mayo alongside their spread and rye. The lone drawback: no changing tables, which forces toddlers and their personal assistants onto the bathroom floor for pampering. Daring dads could try to wipe out in the dining area, but they wouldn't want any discharge getting confused with the aforementioned 'schweiger. MIKE SEELY 3407 California Ave. S.W., 420-7174, prostwestseattle.com, WEST SEATTLE

*****

A shrine to 1980s Seattle—back when a fulfilling Friday meant cheap pitchers of beer and the Sonics on the big screen followed by a whiskey-shot/cover-band chaser—Rocksport stands in strict service to the activities bluntly referenced in its name: rock and sport. (It stands in service to booze, too, but Rocksportbooze is a pretty unwieldy moniker.) Rocksport serves standard, affordable bar fare, and boasts an ambience about as cheerful as a parking garage. So you might be surprised to find that it welcomes kids. With its cavernous, no-bullshit aesthetic, Rocksport is reminiscent of everybody's favorite multipurpose Midwestern-college-town sports bar. For parents looking for a prescription to immunize their kids from the smug tug of hipsterism, it's the ideal pharmacy. And even in an age when wall-sized flat-screens are mounted in every other living room, there's still nothing quite like watching the big game on a big screen surrounded by a big crowd of like-minded strangers—a crowd that could include your kids. MIKE SEELY 4209 S.W. Alaska St., 935-5838, rocksport.net, WEST SEATTLE

*****

There's something very un-Seattle about Rookies, Columbia City's newest sports bar. Despite its luxury-box feel, there's a Midwestern warmth about the place, with cheerful servers dressed in collegiate garb and the unapologetic number of giant TVs. And Rookies doesn't discriminate: football, basketball, hockey, soccer, and more obscure sports are all welcome on those large plasmas. Also un-Seattle is the lack of sideways glances when you bring in your toddler to enjoy the game. On a recent Friday, Rookies was comfortably populated (as opposed to crawling) with little ones, and the hostess didn't flinch at our request to cram a four-and-a-half-person party into the only available four-top. Our server showed up immediately with a nicely appointed plastic suitcase full of crayons, a coloring-book-inspired kids' menu, and a mini-water glass, complete with lid and straw. She kept the beer flowing for the adults and served quality burgers, while our 2-year-old was mesmerized by high-def glow and mildly entertained while trying to decorate her own "Rookie" T-shirt on said menu. Later, when we knocked an entire pint across the table onto the floor, we were instantly surrounded by a team of employees asking us not to lift a finger while they mopped up the suds. We informed them that the mess was due to an overexuberant high-five, to which one server replied, "Then it was totally worth it. How about another pint on the house?" AIMEE CURL 3820 S. Ferdinand St., 722-0301, rookiesseattle.com, COLUMBIA CITY

*****

Even if The Royal Room didn't allow kids, it would be the kind of place you'd be telling your friends about. Columbia City's newest hangout, started by jazz pianist Wayne Horvitz and partners, is at once a sophisticated music club and a cozy neighborhood bar and restaurant. Horvitz's idea is to give the city's musicians a place to try out new projects, and he books an eclectic range of artists: an Afro-funk group one night, veterans of Roosevelt High's jazz band another. There's something big-city about this sizable space's vibe; you feel somebody interesting is bound to stop by to play or listen. Horvitz himself regularly performs with his wife Robin Holcomb, an ethereally beautiful singer. Opening night in December was so jammed and alive with chatter that Horvitz pleaded with the crowd to be quiet so she could be heard. A number of those in attendance that night were children, who are allowed until 10 p.m. Macaroni and cheese, an ice-cream cookie sandwich, and an excellent housemade Key lime pie are on the menu. For parents, there are wine and cocktails, including a stiff cosmopolitan. NINA SHAPIRO 5000 Rainier Ave. S., 906-9920, theroyalroomseattle.com, COLUMBIA CITY

*****

Ballard's Sunset Tavern isn't trying to pass itself off as a family dining establishment; it is and always will be an old-school Seattle rock bar. But since it joined forces with Flying Squirrel Pizza Company, the Sunset's been able to allow minors in for early-evening pie. Aside from the occasional PG movie night, the Sunset isn't pandering to kiddos at all. You'll need to bring your own activities to keep mini-mes occupied, but the pizza, discounted from 5–7 p.m., is stellar, and the house music (Paul McCartney, on my last visit) appeals to all ages. The Sunset's downtown-Ballard location makes busing to and from there a breeze, and all the easier to enjoy their amply stocked bar. MA'CHELL DUMA LAVASSAR 5433 Ballard Ave. N.W., 784-4880, sunsettavern.com, BALLARD

mseely@seattleweekly.com

 
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