Last week, in honor of Repeal Day, USA Today put together a (rather over-specific) list of 10 great, classic AND American cocktail lounges, courtesy of booze writer and cocktail historian David Wondrich, author of Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl.
So what, in the opinion of Mr. Wondrich, qualifies a bar as both a "great" and "classic" American cocktail lounge? Well, to read his descriptions, apparently custom ice, fake mustaches and a building with a history as a speakeasy and/or bootlegging operation. Also, strong drinks heavy on the bitters seem to help. And of the 10 joints nationwide that Wondrich picked, Seattle's own Rob Roy was number 6.
"Although it resembles a 1950s rec room," the description read, "Wondrich says the Rob Roy knows its cocktails. 'It's really a lovely bar,' he says. The staff cuts ice in different-sized chunks to make specific drinks. The cocktail to order, of course, is a Rob Roy. 'It's Scotch whisky with sweet vermouth and bitters, stirred not shaken.' James Bond, he says, had it all wrong."
Wondrich had that stirred/shaken James Bond thing right, for sure. It always bothered me that what James was really ordering was a weak martini (the ice having chipped and melted faster during the shaking, watering down the liquor). But Rob Roy is not the only place in this city currently making bank on the resurrection of long-gone cocktails from back in the day.
I mean, just a couple months back GQ magazine (in a surprisingly well-researched investigation) named Zig Zag as America's Best Cocktail Bar, and then gave Seattle another little boost by calling Tavern Law the 25th Best--bookending their list of the top 25 with Jet City hooch.
Actually, it wasn't even Tavern Law that took it, exactly, but Needle & Thread--the "secret" speakeasy upstairs from the main floor and accessible only by telephone. But seriously, Tavern Law itself mixes a fine cocktail, off a list that reads like a drunken history lesson full of flips, punches and shrubs. It's just that, upstairs, the tenders at Needle & Thread are known for working completely off the reservation--crafting custom drinks that exist nowhere but in that one small room (and in the fond memories of guests).
And you know what? Spur (the going concern from which Tavern Law sprung) also slings some wicked juice. It may not be as central to the concept as it is at Tavern Law, but they're hardly serving Aristocrat gin and dog water over there. I mean, when's the last time you had a Ward 8 (which I make note of only because it was one of the first mixed drinks I ever tasted, made with rye whiskey, orange juice,lemon juice and grenadine) or even heard of "The Gilded Palace of Sin"?
Then there's Mistral Kitchen, where I got to watch one of the bartenders walking his experimental concoctions around the dining room and offering samples to the lunch crowd. Or what about Vessel? Or Liberty? Or Sambar, where a fella can drink all night without ever ingesting an ingredient he's ever heard of before?
Basically what I'm getting at here is that it's tough not to be drunk all the time in Seattle. With so many options, what's a boy with impulse control issues to do? And while it is awesome that Rob Roy got a little ink for the drinks it slings, The RR is hardly the only place in this fair city where one might get hammered in a totally creative, strange and historic way.