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Bars where Pete has had a drink

Saturday, January 05, 2013

#1881 #S1056 - Vessel, Seattle - 9/2/2011

Update: This version of Vessel closed Sep 27, 2013

Like the previous location, Vessel starts with an encumbrance to my affections, as I do not prefer cold, modernist decor in bars -- I wince a bit when I see lots of light, big windows, prominent shiny metals and bright colors. But of course the reason for going to Vessel is the cocktails, and while the decor and service may vary, the cocktails at the place are a continual joy.

For people outside the areas of Seattle and/or the craft cocktail movement, Vessel was a seminal bar for craft cocktails in the area. While you could find great cocktails in a small number of other locations before 2006, Vessel was a place that *preached* great cocktails. You didn't have to be in some tiny coterie of cocktail devotees (that included a tiny minority of bartenders), nor to luck into the rare meeting with a mixologist knowledgeable and patient enough to invest time exploring how your uneducated tastes might best navigate finely made drinks. At Vessel, you *were* going to get a great cocktail, regardless of all other circumstances. And if you wanted vodka, you were out of luck.

Indeed, probably the greatest value that Jamie Boudreau, Jim Romdall, et. al. provided with Vessel was not the individual, carefully crafted cocktails themselves, but rather in spreading the fact that there *are* great cocktails -- a fact that had somehow eluded 99.9% of bar goers heretofore. The rotating bartenders would explore your tastes, create a drink with a manifest precision and care, and they did so not in some secretive back alley hangout, but virtually pressed against the windows of a downtown space next to the 5th Avenue Theater where they snagged your attention like a Macy's Christmas window display.

In December 2010, this original vessel lost its lease and closed shop. The much anticipated new location is in a space of significance to long-time Seattleites, as it housed the original El Gaucho Steakhouse from 1953 to 1985. Owner Jim Romdall had more freedom to design in this space, and one of the ways he took advantage of this was to make multiple decisions that increased the connection between customers and the centers of attention behind the bar. (When one couldn't find a space at the tiny number of seats at the old bar, you sometimes found yourself in an upstairs room that felt a bit like the kids' table at Thanksgiving dinner.) The owners manage a rotating lineup of 25 crackerjack bartenders.

Although I may generally despair of big, bright windows in bars, it is rather nifty that people on the street can see through these into "The Lab," where bartenders experiment with various ingredients and techniques, and pursue the contemporary holy grail of perfect ice. Inside a "Clinebell" machine churns out 300-lb blocks of crystal clear frozen water that is then reduced with chainsaws, band saws, and chipping tools into the ideal spheres or other shapes to balance coldness and dilution. Due to the success of the movement that they helped precipitate, the current Vessel is not quite as essential and unique as the original, but it remains a fantastic place to explore and experience the art of the cocktail.

624 Olive Way Seattle, WA 98101 - (206) 623-3325
Est. Aug 28, 2012 (October 2006 in previous location) - Building constructed: year
Previous bars in this location: El Gaucho
Web site: - facebook
Best Reviews: seattlemet - seriouseats - seattleweekly - - yelp - thestranger

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