I don't know if there are two words in the English language that could make me less enthusiastic about a bar than "dueling pianos." Thankfully, we were spared that this evening, and the cover bands as well, and left to have a peaceful cocktail in this paradigmatic Irish pub setting.
John's Grill is a classic old (105 years) steakhouse and, as the signage, menus, glasses, and decor are continually reminding you, was a haunt of Dashiell Hammett and a setting for "The Maltese Falcon." Indeed, a copy of prop from the Bogart movie was obtained by the owner, stolen from the restaurant, and then replaced by a copy of the copy (of the copy). You know what you're getting at John's -- essentially what you would get in any good, old-fashioned, formal steakhouse -- and the staff are friendly and efficient. I also has a pleasant time chatting with Carla, whom I met at the bar, and it did indeed rather seem like Sam Spade could have slipped onto an adjacent barstool at any time.
I saw many references to what a dive the Tempest is, but it's the sort of dive that has fairly deftly executed artwork -- not the sort of old stuff that could have come from Goodwill -- and the old regulars appear to bike messengers. It also serves food that seems pretty un-dive-like; e.g. they serve corndogs, but they're jalapeno corndogs with aioli. I dropped by in the middle of a sunny afternoon, which may have made in seem all the less divey, and it seems like the new owners may have modernized a bit since acquiring it in 2010.
In any case, it's still a cool bar and somewhat hidden in a somewhat divey part of town.
A pleasant little dive just above the Tenderloin decorated with a jangle of miscellaneous items that seem to represent every theme except Summer. This includes a fireplace, where apparently you can sit and smoke for some reason.
Von Trapp's is a capacious, Bavarian wonderland of a bar -- 11,000 square feet on two floors in a former candy factory and, most recently, a furniture store. It has two large, lodge-like fireplaces, five bocce courts ("boules" if you prefer not to use the more common Italian name in a German-themed bar) and a sizable collection of German and Belgian beers which it serves in various containers including 2-liter boots.
Owners Deming Maclise and James Weimann had already recently created ornate, Seattle bars in period themes of France (Bastille), Mexico (Poquito's), and Scotland (Macleod's), before pouring a million and a half dollars and 11 months of remodeling into this, their most ambitious effort yet. The staff at Von Trapp's seem unusually friendly and patient in working with you on what to eat and drink. It was instantly popular, just like their other places in Ballard and Capitol Hill (they subsequently opened "Stoneburner" in Ballard as well). Despite the size, you will find a line on most evenings and on Friday and Saturday evenings they will serve 2,000 people.
Even if you are not a fan of brats and Belgian beer, the decor and atmosphere make it well worth a visit.
Von's 1,000 Spirits on the Harbor Steps is new, and everything about it is very different from its previous incarnation as Von's Roasthouse on Pine. But through various moves, and starting under the name Rippes, this has been a continuously operating restaurant for 109 years.
After opening as Rippes in 1904, the restaurant moved to 4th Avenue in 1923. In 1940 it was sold and renamed Von's, and moved to 619 Pine in 1987. They now take over a space at the top of the Harbor Steps leading from 1st Avenue down to the Elliot Bay waterfront, previously occupied by Wolfgang Puck's and Ipanema. The new version is led by Merrisa Firnstahl-Claridge, daughter of long-time owner Tim Firnstahl, and great granddaughter of Germanus Firnstahl who founded Sunny Jim Peanut Butter.
While the previous location was known for affordable after-work martinis, the new location lies in a more touristy area just up from Pike Place Market and provides a sort of circus of food and drinks. They claim to have the largest selection of spirits in Seattle (over 1,000, as the name implies), including Louis XIII cognoc for $608 per shot as well as a number they brew themselves in oak casks above the bar. They call the bar "Alchemy" and play up the mad scientist theme, with chemistry lab style filters and flasks and referring to their mixologist as both "alchemist" and "bar scientist." From there they serve circus drinks like a "French Open" (cotton candy melted at your table with Lillet, lemeon lime soda, and "boozey berry gelee") and the "Big Apple Gelee (their in-house, ultra-filtered "Sanctified Vodka", apple pucker, lemon lime soda, and boozey berry gelee). The bartender at my first visit was not well versed in craft cocktails, but was friendly and game for suggestions.
The food too takes some exotic spins on standard pub fare. They don't serve "burgers" and "pizzas," they serve "hamburgs" and "frics." I had their "Classic" hamburg and it is one of the better burgers in the city, using prime-grade marbled beef, chopped daily in-house, with housemade sourdough brioche bun, shaved iceberg lettuce, red onions, tomatoes, packer dills, candied bacon, aged Columbia Valley cheddar, and "Jim's Drive-In sauce."
Clearly this is the establishment of someone who very much wants to be adventurous, and is not interested in sticking to any theme or period. They have a vinyl station which supplies all house music from vinyl, and an iPad bar across from the cocktail bar, where patrons can browse as they drink. I'm not quite sure what to make of it it, but it is plainly not quite like any other place in town.
Update: The Port Side Pub has been replaced by the Brass Kraken.
Sheila's Port Side Pub / Tavern / Restaurant and Bar is a casual bar over the shore of Liberty Bay on the Kitsap peninsula. It is in the city of Poulsbo, an old cod fishing community that has been known as "Little Norway" for 130 years, and it now plays the theme up considerably to attract tourism. The small town is considerably more dainty than when old Ole Stubb and more Norwegian fishermen followed in the 1880s -- despite a fair number of bars and restaurants, the Port Side is the only place to stay open past midnight on weekends.
The interior of the the Port Side is woody and comfortable, peppered with art and shelves of books, and a few hints of its British-born owner. The most striking feature is a large painting by a local artist, depicting several of the staff and regulars at the bar. It will remain forever unfinished, as the artist herself, painted in the lower right, has passed away.
The Golden Grill is on a bit of a hill which provides it a great view of Sinclair Inlet and a confusing entrance for first-timers (you must go up the hill and around the back). To get to the lounge you walk through the long narrow dining room, with a formal sort of appearance, where they serve pretty good classic American-Chinese food. In the lounge itself is a lively karaoke scene with a broad range of characters. One of the highlights of the evening was an arm wrestling match between an old German lady and a 25-year-old kid who looked 13.
The "Family Inn at Manchester," AKA the "Manchester Inn," is bifurcated into a roadside cafe and cozy lounge with a stone fireplace, collections of shot glasses, and other bric a brac on the walls. There was a medium-sized crowd and a performer playing guitar when we arrived, and at the bar we met Vicki and her friend (whose name I have lost). Vicki once found a book describing the best dive bars in Montana, and she and a friend decided to visit every one of them; so you can see how we had an interesting conversation comparing notes.
The Family Inn and Manchester Pub next door make a nice, complementary set of casual drinking options.
The unincorporated community of Manchester, Washington sits on the east edge of the Kitsap peninsula, across a Puget Sound bay from West Seattle. The community was established as Brooklyn in the 1860s and changed to Manchester in 1902. It is the home of about 5,000 people, and of the Manchester Family Inn and the Manchester Pub beside it. The pub is said to be "bike-friendly" and "biker-owned," but it's a genteel, middle-aged crowd in a nautically themed and non-divey setting.
The pub was established in the current space in 1981. When I asked about its history before that, the bartender directed me to another customer at the bar, whose name I forget, but whom she described as "the town know-it-all." The town know-it-all was friendly and couldn't tell us all the historical details, but told us that the pub used to be next door in a hotel built in 1903.
It's a pretty basic, mid-sized pub, with pull tabs, standard liquor and beer options, and a stage and dance area with rock bands on weekend nights.