When you enter Alchemy, a new “chemistry-inspired” cocktail bar and small-plates restaurant in West Seattle (4717 42nd Ave. S.W., 900-0400), the gothic inspiration is immediately apparent. From the textured black walls and Victorian velvet chairs and settees to the candelabras dripping with wax and the black crow presiding over a wall of insect specimens, it’s anything but subtle; in fact, it veers toward camp. Yet their decision to add light-gray barn-style plank floors, huge windows, and outdoor seating ultimately gives the space a counterintuitive cheery, polished vibe.
While there’s ample seating—much of it in comfy velvet—I highly recommend sitting at the bar. This is where the magic happens, literally. Many cocktails have been created to emphasize the restaurant’s name, and you can’t help but be entertained as bartenders hook up contraptions to fill tiny crystal vials with smoke (which then gets infused with liquors); freeze condiments with liquid nitrogen, its cold, billowing vapors wrapping around you like fog on a misty night; or pour a citric-acid solution into a purple cocktail and watch it instantly turn fuchsia. It’s a little shticky, sure, but can’t we all use a little whimsy in our lives? Not to mention the cocktails are pretty damn good. My favorite: The Black and White—gin, lime, mint, egg white, and activated charcoal. The mint is frozen with liquid nitrogen, which brings out its flavor, and the activated charcoal turns the whole thing a moody black. With foamy egg white on top, it becomes luscious, almost milkshake-like (though not too sweet).
Besides the wizardry, the cocktails are novel in their ingredients. The Beetdown, for instance, pairs rye and lemon with fresh beet juice, which gives it a gorgeous ruby-red color. Its vegetal flavor is softened with barrel-aged maple syrup. Regardless of which “potion” you choose, they all come served in beautiful crystal glassware, which is stacked up handsomely on the bar. The back wall of the bar is made of tiny metal file cabinets—of the type an alchemist may have kept his secret recipes in—some of them opened to hold flickering votive candles.
Since this is first and foremost a cocktail bar, the food menu is small and tightly curated, with just over a dozen options (snacks, salads and soups, meats, sweets). And, surprisingly, they’re more classic than unusual, with a twist here and there. Unlike the drinks, they’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, which makes sense; the food’s simplicity allows the cocktails to take center stage. Deviled eggs come with cured, smoked yolks, bacon, and a topping of crème fraiche. They’re better than most I’ve had. A chilled asparagus soup with Walla Walla sweet onion and thyme “ash” is more straightforward than it sounds; it’s quite simply liquid asparagus, and that’s nothing to complain about. A cold salad of carrots, zucchini, and yellow squash gets marinated and then roasted, and is served over farro, doused with a tasty dandelion mayo (go figure), and garnished with marigold and lovage. A sirloin is cooked to a beautiful medium-rare and thinly sliced, but for $16 I’d like more than four small pieces. Braised riblets are fine, but the sweet, one-note sauce could easily come from a bottle of Trader Joe’s marinade, and the juniper coleslaw could be more junipery. The sliders were fantastic. They’re served on tiny Macrina potato buns, slathered in tangy Tillamook cheddar, and lightly sweetened with bacon jam.
Despite the novel approach to drinks, I can see how watching their preparation a few times would get old. But that’s OK, because they’re good enough to stand on their own. So after you’ve witnessed the trickery, come back, take a seat on a grand chair in the dining room (or outside in the sun), and simply enjoy.