Anywhere but McRory's: A Pioneer Square Whiskey Crawl

Keith Allison, 2010.

FX McRory's isn't the best steakhouse in Downtown Seattle. Its food can't stand up to the Metropolitan Grill, although its prices certainly attempt to. The Brooklyn Grill provides a calmer, homier ambience that doesn't feel like you've wandered into a combination Applebee's/Hard Rock Cafe. The location, right up alongside Safeco Field, is technically helpful for a pre-or-post-game dinner -- although keep in mind that swarms of tourists, sports fans and squealing children all have the same idea.

That said, this edition of Whiskey Wednesday wasn't going to be about reviewing confused sports bar aesthetics or shrivelled pieces of fried fish -- but rather FX McRory's humongous wall of booze. Claiming the "world's largest bourbon selection" and just beginning its featuring of the National Bourbon Heritage Month, McRory's could exclusively serve $120 dogmeat patties topped with cigarette ash and enriched uranium and I'd still have to feature it.

The bar advertises itself as closing at an already grandfatherly 9 p.m., but the authority of McRory's took a final, decisive blow when I arrived at 7 to a locked door. According to a brief phone call, the restaurant/oyster house/steak chop/whiskey bar/wonder emporium often closes even earlier than 9 p.m. based on the day's business. This excuse would've been a lot easier to swallow if I hadn't followed a substantial group of befuddled and angry tourists practically pawing at the building's front door.

The thought came to chalk this up to bad luck and go with an alternate, but I was already surrounded by perfectly acceptable bars that Whiskey Wednesday would likely never devote a full feature to. Hence, this week is devoted to a few varying Pioneer Square boozehouses that have what it takes to stay open past 7.

The New Orleans (114 1st Avenue South) was the first stop, taking the sporty ostentatiousness of McRorty's and turning it into something that can at least be described as vibrant. A constantly flickering "cocktail" sign gives the jazz club a novel shot of authenticity -- but the prop just felt a little too epileptic without a perpetual cloud of cigarette smoke buffering the bright neon's edge.

Richard Beal's Mint Julep was a cheap and uplifting variation, but was a little too syrupy and its straw (yeah, I'm complaining about this) was too wide to prevent little mint presents from getting sucked up. All in all, The New Orleans is a fun bar for people who want to hear some inoffensive jazz music and drink an inoffensive drink, but nothing particularly mindblowing is going to come out of this joint's loudspeakers or cocktail shakers.

Temple Billiards (126 S. Jackson St.) was up next, a minimalistic, 21+ pool hall with a respectable list of single malt scotches. Plenty of pool tables, a juke box, a Donkey Kong cabinet, a couple of televisions and a lot of barstools are bordered by exposed brick and steel in what a friend of mine referred to as "the perfect place to catch a family member cheating on their spouse."

I had a Bowmore 7 year, admired its smoky stopping power over a quick game of Donkey Kong, and was on my way.

McCoy's Firehouse (173 S. Washington St.) finished the tour, a bar that's decorated near equally with used fire-fighter uniforms and whiskey ads. They offered a "Dew and a Brew" special that I'd seen before at Bellingham's Horseshoe Cafe, a favorite far-north haunt of mine.

The deja vu of Tullamore Dew coming cheaper with an accompanying pint of beer gave me pause -- why would a moderately classy Irish whisky more or less market themselves as the stronger half of a Boilermaker?

The weirdness of the idea quickly dissipated over McCoy's '90s grunge soundtrack, bringing back the excited high school freshman in me, reminding me of how hallowed the liquor had been, even in its sleaziest of forms. While I chased the shot of super sweet whiskey with a big gulp of Budweiser, ruminations of the drink's history as the liquor of cowboys and playwrights alike came to mind.

I talked and talked in the bar and grill before I realized how much time I'd spent at McCoy's without even noticing I'd settled into the place. McCoy's has this great size and configuration to it that inspires conversation without feeling self-conscious about the quiet. A lot of pillars and islands mean a good number of corners to disappear into with a group of friends. Although I never thought I'd say this of any bar in Pioneer Square, its pub grub and ambience make McCoy's a great bar to study in.

So if you want overpriced food and drink and some place that positively has to have baseball jerseys on the wall... That's really too bad, because McRory's has probably closed by the time you've finished this article. You shouldn't worry though, for there are plenty of cheaper, more soulful businesses just a brisk stroll away.

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