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5 best signature Seattle cocktails
Drinking the 5 cocktails that paint the picture of Seattle
Seattle, the Emerald city, famed for its long rainy days and exquisite coastline, has a reputation for dotcom startups, grunge, and impressively independent watering holes. The city of Seattle itself is undergoing a massive renaissance that has seen the grungy days of Kurt Cobain replaced with a sleeker and more business casual scene. With that has come the shift between whiskey sours and more and more innovative high end cocktails. While the scene is shifting as rapidly as the tide changes in the Puget Sound, we tried to get a feel for the five cocktails that give a distinct impression of this glorious city.
“The Last Word” @ Zig Zag Café
This cocktail came into being in Detroit in the ‘20s and then fell into obscurity until (in a scene from Indiana Jones) Master Mixologist Murray Stenson discovered the recipe in a neglected and forgotten bartending manual Bottoms Up and insinuated it into his arsenal in the early 2000s. The Last Word is, in its purest form, four parts lime juice, gin, green Chartreuse, and maraschino liqueur. What ensues is a trip into Wonderland as the four parts work to balance one another with sour, strong, bitter, and sweet flavors respectively. Served chilled and in a martini glass, this iconic cocktail has risen to the peak of popularity in the Emerald City and now serves as a flagship of Seattle cocktail taste. While Murray Stenson is no longer at Zig Zag, he has left his mark on this innovative bar.
“Sharpie Mustache” @ Rob Roy
Rob Roy is an eclectic 70s-esque bar that is one part Mad Men and one part Tiki bar. Situated in well-trod Belltown is the crux between Seattle’s ultra-urban downtown and upper crust Queen Anne districts. The Sharpie Mustache (0.75 oz Rittenhouse Rye, 0.75 oz Beefeater London Dry Gin, 0.75 oz Meletti Amaro, 0.75 oz Bonal Gentiane Quina, 2 dashes Tiki Bitters, Expressed Orange peel) is the brain child of mixologist Chris Elford. It is warm, balanced, and smooth, reminiscent of sipping a cocktail in the lounge of the Explorer’s Club in 1880. While not born in Seattle, this cocktail is a bold reminder of the working class sophistication that makes the Rainy City so delicious.
“El Nacional” @ Barrio Mexican Kitchen & Bar
With a low bow to the latin influence in Seattle, El Nacional is probably the best mescal drink I’ve had in the city. While the hidden Needle & Thread bar that lurks behind a bank vault door in Tavern Law has given me some exceptional mescal cocktails in my day, the consistency and craftsmanship of the El Nacional is noteworthy. One measure mescal, one measure Campari, half measure Ramazzotti Amaro, half measure dry vermouth, a healthy kiss of chocolate bitters, and a dash of Laphroaig smoky scotch, it will linger like a lovers perfume on your collar. Smoky, bitter, and rich, it essentially tastes like sitting around a campfire on a cattle drive with the soft whisper of Eastern Washington blowing over the Cascades. It conjures the deep fiery spirit of Seattle that often goes unseen by visitors.
“Civic Treasure” @ Barnacle Bar
It’s difficult to lock down exact cocktails or edibles with this ever rotating menu. However, ask the barkeep, David Little, for “the sensation of being on the deck of a sea-going schooner in the Caribbean” (no joke, I’ve done it) and he’ll perchance deliver this whimsical reimagining of the classic Negroni. While the Barnacle Bar has a sumptuous feeling of being in a small Italian bar, it also honors its West Coast roots and the rhubarb in this drink is the perfect example of that blend. With rhubarb amaro, rhubarb bitters, gin, and of course, Campari this is an aromatic and sophisticated cocktail that honors the coastal history of Seattle while diving headfirst into our rich agricultural treasure chests.
Viewfinder Tip: Be sure to call ahead for Knee High Stocking Co. It fills up fast.
“Lion’s Tail” @ Knee High Stocking Co.
I adore the Knee High Stocking Co. Billed as “hiding in plain sight” this prohibition era stylized speakeasy is a testament to the Seattle cocktail culture as well as an homage to the funky attitude this city is known for. With a secret entrance and 1920s décor, you’ll find a wide roster of classic and inventive cocktails to delight any aficionado. My personal favorite however is the Lion’s Tail. Imagine, if you can, two measures bourbon (probably local like Woodinville), half measure lime juice, half measure allspice liqueur, one pull of simple syrup, and a couple dashes of bitter. The result is a rich and merry drink that tastes like a Downton Abbey Christmas special. I think this cocktail represents the city of Seattle in that it is another modern twist on a 1930s classic and represents the bold and warm spirit of our city.
Did we miss one? Let us know, we’re thirsty!
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Chris and Tawny have had articles and videos published on USA TODAY TRAVEL, BBC Travel, Matador Network, as well as appeared as guest stars on TLC Asia's Fun Taiwan television series. When not on the road, you can find Chris and Tawny nestled in their home in Tacoma, Washington fueling up on coffee and cat cuddles while planning their future adventures. You can follow their travels on their blog, Instagram, and YouTube