The Watering Hole: Macleod's Scottish Pub, 5200 Ballard Ave. N.W., 687-7115, BALLARD
The Atmosphere: This prime spot on the corner of 20th and Ballard used to house Harlow's Saloon, but the "pre-fab dive bar" went belly-up, and the space has undergone an impressive facelift since Macleod's opened in December. The most striking feature is the magnificent, hand-painted map of Scotland on the ceiling, which gives the place sort of a Sistine Chapel feel.
There are all sorts of other homages to Scotland, including a wall with framed pictures of famous Scots. The bar itself has been rebuilt, too, and the tacky chic favored by Harlow's was wisely replaced with handsome dark-wood shelves to house Macleod's impressive collection of single malts. On a Tuesday afternoon, indie rock is on the stereo and two TVs are tuned to Champions League soccer.
The Barkeep: Kevin Parisi moonlights at Amber in Belltown, and also lists the "Scotch-heavy" cocktail bar Tini Bigs on his resume. He is set to embark on a three-month trip to India in May, but plans to return to Macleod's when his odyssey on the subcontinent is over.
The bar's namesake and co-owner Allen Macleod was on hand as well. Born in the U.S. but raised in Scotland by Scottish parents, he explains that this is his first foray into the industry stateside after previously working as a barman in the UK. He's partnering with the owners of Poquitos and nearby Bastille.
The Drink: Parisi offers two options when given free rein to mix whatever he pleases: something like a Manhattan or "something tiki." With the sun shining outside, I say something tiki sounds about right. "Good," he replies. "Then I get to beat something, and that's fun for everybody involved."
He shovels ice cubes into a canvas sack, then whales away at it with a heavy wooden muddler. It looks like a good way to blow off steam, and Parisi jokes, "I'm much happier now," as he pours the finely crushed ice into a pint glass. He explains that this stress-relieving prep work is for a Singapore Sling, chosen in honor of a friend of his currently traveling in southeast Asia. On his iPhone, Parisi researches the other ingredients for the century-old cocktail, which originated at Singapore's Raffles Hotel: pineapple juice, Gordon's gin, Cherry Heering liqueur, Bénédictine, and Angostura bitters. He shakes it all up and pours it out, adding a dash more Heering and Bénédictine after tasting a few drops with a straw. Unlike a classic Sling, there's no foamy top, but it looks colorful and tropical served over the ice, garnished with a dark cherry and lime and lemon wedges.
The Verdict: The syrupy Heering is the dominant flavor, and the potent drink tastes a bit like a dark-cherry slushy spiked with gin—not something I'd order often, but apropos given the peculiarly warm weather. On the whole, Macleod's is certainly worth visiting, if only to chat up Macleod himself. On this visit, he was giving free beers to a pair of new customers and quoting Trainspotting in his thick Scottish brogue. Discussing the prickly relations between Scots and Englishmen, Macleod dropped the film's famous line: "Some hate the English. I don't. They're just wankers. We, on the other hand, are colonized by wankers."