Kyle Houk

The Watering Hole: The Innkeeper , 2510 1st Ave., 728-2403, BELLTOWN

See Also: An Adios Motherfucker from Adams at the Rat and the


A Murray Stenson Protege Whips Up a Shark at The Innkeeper

Kyle Houk

The Watering Hole: The Innkeeper, 2510 1st Ave., 728-2403, BELLTOWN

See Also: An Adios Motherfucker from Adams at the Rat and the Raven Is a Drink to be Wary Of

Calm and Cool, the Belltown Pub Will Refresh You

The Atmosphere: Cozy and dimly lit, The Innkeeper is reminiscent of a nice, warm, low-ceilinged cave. It provides the fetal comforts of curling up inside the womb, a feeling I imagine is recreated in the deepest, darkest mines, lit by a torch on the wall with firelight flickering and shadows dancing all around, playing tricks on the mind. Once I climbed up and snuggled my bum down onto the last remaining stool, there was no vacancy left at The Innkeeper's bar. It was 4:30 p.m., and the gray light that filtered through the thick clouds above was quickly fading to black. Though I had taken the last seat at the bar, several tables remained available until around 5:30 p.m., when the Friday after-work crowd began to fill the room.

An impressive stockpile of liquor fills the shelves behind the bar, many varieties of which I had never seen before. Young professionals constituted the majority of the bar's patronage, and, at one point, a group of 10 or so lawyerly looking young men in black suits filed in, one after the other, and filled the standing-room-only space that remained.

An amiable fellow sat to my left. His sleeve tattoo, trendy glasses and flat cap made him blend into the half-hipster, half-yuppie crowd, but his story made him stand out through the haze of foggy remembrance. He regaled me with a tale of an odyssey, beginning with his youth in Upstate New York in a trailer park with his biker gang-member father. He recalled how, as an innocent child, he would sit with his father as they listened to Dark Side of the Moon and Paranoid by Black Sabbath, music that gave him nightmares. His father would ask him questions about abstract subjects like the meaning of life. Only later, as a young adult, would he realize his father was merely stoned. Following a few youthful indiscretions, and on the wanted end of the law, he joined a traveling circus and eventually found himself the driver of a fugitive U-Haul filled with out-of-work carnies headed for the orange juice factories of Florida's sunny panhandle. There, he and the carnies took refuge in a walled-off biker gang compound for a period of time. Upon entry, a gang member warned them that they'd be thrown to the alligators if it was discovered they were not who they said they were. Anyway, that's who I met at The Innkeeper.

The Barkeep: The tutelage of the great Seattle barkeep Murray Stenson is well-evidenced in the dignified, professional manner of Tom Roberson. At the Leschi location of Daniel's Broiler, Roberson was guided by Stenson, who in 2010 was named the best bartender in America by a group of his peers at New Orleans' Tales of the Cocktail festival, which, from what I gather, is a very prestigious honor. "He was one of my mentors," Roberson said.

Following a nine-year stint at Wild Ginger, Roberson has mixed drinks at The Innkeeper since it opened just over a year ago (the space previously housed Marco's Supperclub). After I perused the food menu and made a few selections, he brought out a delicious plate of heirloom tomatoes and mango with mint-curry pesto and queso fresco. Three or four long, ovular slices of grilled bread were stacked pyramid-style like kindling for a campfire. Each supported a few wedges of crunchy, tangy green tomato, some slices of mango, chunks of mild queso and generous dollops of pesto. Biting down through all the freshness made me long for the farmers markets of summertime.

The second dish was not as successful. House-brined white anchovies sat atop a salad of pickled fennel. A spicy mound of guacamole--or, as the menu calls it, tomato-avocado salsa--sat off to the side. The anchovies tasted much like saba, the slightly-cured mackerel sashimi which I love, except these were about four times as sour and potently fishy-tasting. That, along with the tangy fennel salad, proved almost overwhelmingly tart, and I am a huge fan of umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums), which are as sour as sour gets. The guacamole had a kick like a mule, with large chunks of raw jalapeno speckled throughout. It was a dish I found difficult to finish due to the intense flavors, even after a few rum punches and a beer.

The Drink: Roberson mixed me up a Shark, a drink passed down to him by Stenson. Ingredients included Kahlua, two ounces of brandy and Grand Marnier, shaken together with ice and strained. A dollop of whipped cream topped off the drink. It was a good, warming sweet drink for a cold, wintry evening, but my one complaint rests with the whipped cream. It was much too firm a dollop, for it did not melt away and blend into the rest of the booze. At drink's end, there it sat, in nearly the same shape as at drink's beginning--a firm, white mountain chilling at the bottom of my glass.

The Verdict: The Innkeeper has a deep menu of food and booze. I sampled several cocktails over the course of the evening, and each was delicious and thought-provoking. One had an egg white in it. The food is very good, and the staff and patrons alike are friendly and fun to talk to. Don't get carried away, though: This party of one left with a $90 bar tab.

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