Photo by Jose Trujillo

Pioneer Square’s Swanky New Cocktail Bar Impresses

But it’s tough for the drinks and food to live up to the decor.

Outfitted in art nouveau and art deco splendor, and with a slightly Havana feel to boot, The Sovereign (119 First Ave. S., 257-4655) is nonetheless easy to miss. But once you descend into the underground Pioneer Square spot, its charms reveal themselves. Terrazzo-tiled floors, ornate tin ceilings, period wallpaper, vintage light fixtures, leather club chairs, and bright green palm leaves all contribute to the cool, retro vibe, one distinctive from any other spot in the city.

However, I was surprised—and frankly a bit disappointed—by the brevity of the craft-cocktail list, expecting a more expansive menu on par with places like Rob Roy. Instead, there are just nine libations, though in fairness, they are certainly well-conceived and interesting. A Black on Gold unites house hot-smoked bourbon and crystallized ginger, which packs a punch, with the lighter elements of apricot and lemon. The Dickety Three, in contrast, is an easy, breezy drink that manages to soften the roughness of vodka with bubbles while bringing a subtle sourness via a pear/thyme shrub and a bite from bitters. It’s like a more complex but still easy-on-the-palate version of, perhaps, a French 75. Their house seasonal punch, served in a fancy cut-crystal glass (you can imagine a matching crystal punch bowl sitting on a table at a party in the ’50s) was not as festive as I’d hoped; it’s a citrusy gin concoction with a bit of allspice—not enough to give it a punch-worthy designation to my mind.

The Sovereign does serve food, but it’s mainly a bread-and-spread affair, with either slices of baguette and various accompaniments (“Table Bread”) or open-faced style sandwiches (“Baguettes”). They do serve deviled eggs, though, and the ones with peppers and pancetta perched on top are the way to go. For just a taste, there’s two pieces for $4, but I’d go for six of them for $10. They’re that good. It’s like bacon and eggs with a briny blast of pickled peppers.

From the Table Bread section of the menu, we tried the Faux Gras, a mixture of walnut, lentil, and mushroom that doesn’t really taste anything like foie gras but that does have a pleasant, definitively Thanksgiving-stuffing flavor to it. As mild-mannered as that is, so is the smoked-sardine butter, with the smoked spices aggressively briny. Order it only if you truly love sardines.

Among the Baguettes, the Merguez sausage is decent, though I couldn’t detect the presence of the leek confit and the meat itself is rather lackluster. Perhaps they should cut back on the piperade, a beguiling concoction of pickled peppers, onion, and tomatoes that, while furiously delicious, can easily override less-assertive ingredients. I did, however, love the Onion baguette, slathered with Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar, house crème fraiche, and tarragon. Tarragon can be such a finicky herb to work with–its soapy, anise-y notes often difficult to blend—but against the tangy cheese and the luxurious crème fraiche, it becomes a lovely antidote. Under Marmites (a reference to the yeasty British spread), we went with the Artichoke, a creamy concoction of chopped artichoke hearts with house peppers and mornay (a béchamel sauce with Gruyère). Served warm, it too gets dipped or spread on bread, and does a good job of balancing the brightness of artichoke with the decadence of mornay.

I get that the kitchen is going for easy, prepped offerings with little cooking on the spot required, and there’s plenty here to enjoy. However, I wish it wasn’t such a bread-dependent menu. By night’s end, I felt I’d consumed my carb load for the week, and everything kind of blurred together in my mind. I would have enjoyed some more stand-alone snacks to be popped into the mouth, no spreading involved (like the deviled eggs).

At the Sovereign, more than the drinks or the food, it’s the decor I’ll come back for—and I’m not sure it’s enough of a pull to get me down to Pioneer Square on a weekend night more than occasionally. But with more inventive cocktails and a slightly less narrow menu, I’d happily consider “regular” status. 

More in Eat Drink Toke

A Different Kind of Dumpling

At Jiaozi!, unexpected flavors await.

I Do(obie)

How to marry the love of your life with your love of cannabis.

Legislature Lifts Outdated Restrictions on Food Trucks

How a Vashon Island food truck owner/operator helped end old brick-and-mortar limitations.

Photo by Nicole Sprinkle 
                                Persian beet salad at The Shambles.
Raising the Bar

The Shambles wants you to feel good, and eat and drink well—without acting like it matters too much.

Talkin’ ‘Bout Terpenes!

The aromatic organic hydrocarbons give cannabis strains their smells, flavors, and so much more.

The Opla Vietnam tops the menu. 
                                Photo by Nicole Sprinkle
Café Opla’s Eggcellent Vietnamese-Inspired Brunch

The tiny Alaskan Way spot serves up individual skillets of eggs with tasty bells and whistles.

Mary Jane and Aunt Flo

For people who suffer from cramps, cannabis could be a vital source of relief.

Hash Gets Hacked

A change in tracking companies has left Washington’s cannabis industry exposed.

Photo by Suzi Pratt for Salt and Straw
10 Things to Know Before You Go to Salt and Straw

The beloved Portland-based ice cream shop finally opens its Seattle outposts.

Photo by Conner Knotis 
                                Jerk Shack’s jerk chicken.
Bring on the Jerk

Finally, the Caribbean stakes a spot in Seattle thanks to Jerk Shack.

Dennis Peron. Illustration by James the Stanton
The Cannabis Community Mourns Activist Dennis Peron

The grandfather of medicinal marijuana was 72.

Touch Down in Kerala, India via Kirkland

It’s 30 minutes east of Seattle, but Kathakali boasts some of the best Indian food in the area.