Seattle’s Best Bars and Clubs

Updated: November 18, 2016

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  • Purple Wine Bar and Cafe
    Downtown’s best bet for all-purpose dining. Serving well-executed American standards amidst modern elegance and a veritable skyscraper of wine. Make a reservation for your date night, business dinner, out of town guests, or quick pre-theater nosh. Drop in for lunch. The wine tower isn’t just for show: if it’s fermented grapes in a bottle, they probably have it – ask for a recommendation if you’re not up to grappling with the 100 page wine list. Plenty of nibbles and large plates – even a kid’s menu (complete with milk and soda flights) for your well-mannered offspring. At upwards of $15 per entrée and no happy hour (lunch is slightly cheaper), the main caveat is price, though the noise-sensitive may also find the din to reach distracting decibels. All in all, though, there’s no feed bag/watering hole more utilitarian in the heart of Seattle.
    WebsiteReviews1225 4th Avenue
  • Radiator Whiskey
    Good things come in brown packages. This place is heaven on earth for meat and barrel-aged booze enthusiasts. If you didn’t make a dinner reservation, pop in for happy hour (4-6 pm) at the bar. Their specialty is recruiting fans of alternative meat cuts (the smoked pig head is a scrumptiously singular experience – you’ve gotta order it several days in advance, and get free whiskey if you eat the eyeball), but vegetarians oughtn’t lament the lone grilled goat cheese & soup option – it will be the best you’ve ever tasted. The entire menu is designed to pair perfectly with their vast whiskey and bourbon selection; try a flight to discover your favorite. Even dessert gets the boozy treatment here – warm chocolate chip cookies or maple pecan pie with bourbon ice cream. Wear layers: even in winter, the small room gets stuffy. They have beer and wine too, but you’d be crazy to order it.
    WebsiteReviews94 Pike street
  • Club Contour
    Goths, Metal Heads, Bollywood enthusiasts, and Bargain-hunting barflies live for Contour’s epic $6 and under small plates. Cobble together a veritable feast from their diverse “bites” menu – the layout keeps dancers and diners separate. Happy Hour runs 3-8 pm. $4.50 wells ($8 doubles), $4 wine, $3-6 draughts. Located in historic Pioneer Square with five DJ nights per week: Drum and Bass Sundays, Glam, Punk, and Metal Tuesdays, NuDisco Wednesdays, Goth/Industrial Thursdays, and weekend multi-media 80s video and Bollywood parties. Late arrivals pay little to no cover, and the merriment frequently continues after hours (2-7 am) with non-alcoholic drink specials and plenty of Red Bull. Expect fierce competition for the patio seats in warm weather. Nearby Restaurants: Metropolitan Grill (high end occasion dining, 1 block east). Bookstore Bar and Café (solid, mid-priced New American, 2 blocks north). Kraken Congee (outstanding Korean comfort food, 3 blocks south).
    WebsiteReviews807 1st Avenue
  • The Diller Room
    A sophisticated cocktail bar disguised as a dive. Seattle boasts numerous speakeasy-style bars, but only The Diller Room has the history to back it up: the owners painstakingly preserved the vintage elegance of the former hotel lobby (a luxury dwelling for prospectors during the gold rush). Now a swanky lounge, it features intimate, high-backed booths. The bar area, once a Chinese Laundry front for a basement gin joint, is adorned with original wallpaper and neon sign, exposed brick, and a salvaged chandelier. Old Man Diller’s portrait watches over the handcrafted bar, while humble mixologists create your unforgettable prohibition-era riffs; their ace-in-the-hole is the Dillericious (muddled lemons, cucumber, blueberry infused vodka). Generous happy hour discounts from 2-7 pm daily.
    WebsiteReviews1224 1st Avenue
  • Shorty’s
    This Coney Island tribute bar is the Valhalla of Pinball and hot dogs. Even notorious curmudgeon, Anthony Bourdain, likes it. Relax in vinyl booths with an adult slushee, or chow on a topping-laden hot (or veggie) dog and a basket of squeezy cheese nachos – level up on both with a scoop of chili. Knock around in Pinball Cove on sixteen machines amidst black light sea creatures. Atari arcade favorites like Galaga, Centipede, and Ms. Pac-Man lurk up front. A change machine keeps you in quarters. The red and white striped awning keeps you dry on the sidewalk patio, where they maintain a relaxed smoking policy. Nearby Restaurants: Terrific pizza next door at Rocco’s, delectable Italian tapas at List, and excellent New American grub at Local 360, 1 block west.
    WebsiteReviews2222 2nd Avenue

Capitol Hill

  • Canon
    Think of it as a whiskey pilgrimage. The place is lousy with the stuff; nearly two full walls are more or less entirely covered in whiskey bottles from floor to ceiling, 3500 labels in all. Canon claims it’s the largest spirit collection in the western hemisphere, and has made numerous national—and international—“best bars” lists for good reason. Try the Campfire in Georgia, grandly served on a domed platter. The smokiness of mescal is accented with actual smoke, infused into the drink and released when the lid is lifted. Or the D.C Crack, which pairs High West rye with an herb-based Hungarian plum liqueur. If possible, get a seat at the bar; you’ll be able to watch the mixologists in action, and sitting a little higher gives you a bird’s eye view of the gorgeous space, a mix of brick, chandeliers, and inviting corner tables. The food here is quite tasty as well – although there are better options nearby. So get a small plate to nosh on and spend your calories (and money…this level of craft doesn’t come cheap) on what brought you here in the first place.
    WebsiteReviews928 12th Avenue

  • Witness
    At Witness, food and drink are a religion. The only commandment is “Treat yo’self”. The church theme is ubiquitous, from reclaimed pew seats to menu diction. Service is unobtrusively friendly and genuinely enthusiastic. Gregg, the owner, preaches soul fulfillment through indulgent sustenance. That means chicken and waffles with bourbon syrup, poutine with bacon gravy, and beignets any time of day. Choose from their inspired, wholly original, house cocktails, or give in to a higher power with Divine Intervention, the bartender’s alcoholic jam session. Menu masterpieces, like the Elvis Sandwich (bacon, peanut butter, banana), and a seasonal fritter, along with select “libations”, are $6 at happy hour (4-6 pm daily). Bring a group so you can try everything. The devout can worship with their bellies on Saturday night and return the next morning for brunch, where the grapefruit-tinged Resurrection will deliver on its name.
    WebsiteReviews410 Broadway Avenue E.
  • Knee High Stocking Company
    All the thrill of a prohibition-era speakeasy without the indiscretion. Send them a text to reserve a table and receive the secret password, then look for the brass plaque and ring the bell. Through parted black curtains, enter a bygone era where the ambiance is classy and fun, the light is flatteringly low, and everyone maintains a respectful level of inebriation. Don’t be fooled by the fancy words (or “vibe” guidelines) on the menu, or the chandelier – there’s no pretention here. Among the prohibition favs: the Bees Knees, the Mint Julep, and the Absinthe Pacifique. Or try something new – the cocktail menu is mostly seasonal, and the bartenders live to create custom cocktails. The food theme is delectability – transcendent tots and tilapia tacos magically compliment every drink. The baked goat cheese is (literally) ablaze, and you’ll want to keep the salted caramel popcorn coming. Most drinks are priced $10-15, but they don’t skimp on the booze. Prepare to be constantly blown away by the presentation (but keep the flash off for your Instagram pics).
    WebsiteReviews1356 E. Olive Way
  • Rock Box
    If you still think karaoke is lame, you haven’t been to Rock Box. No more long waits to sing to indifferent strangers – rent a private room and cherry pick your audience, or rent the solo room if you want a little privacy. Use their tablet to wade through the vast, eclectic song selection (musical theater deep cuts, Japanese pop, crowd favorites), and queue up your pick without interrupting your friends’ jams. Advanced reservations recommended for weekend evenings. $7/person per hour or $4 at happy hour (times vary, see website). Dodge the rental fee by popping in for a quick tune at the bar. Small plates and charcuterie are available from 4pm on, and happy hour is everything if you plan to eat or drink. Nearby restaurants: Rancho Bravo (outstanding Mexican, kitty corner), Hot Mama’s Pizza (2 blocks down Pine).
    WebsiteReviews1603 Nagle Place
  • Unicorn/Narwhal
    Two bars for the price of one, both of which invoke a “peyote carnival fever dream”. Come with an iron stomach and be ready to party. Upstairs, Unicorn is all about the décor, best described as “a carousel barfed and became furniture”. For dinner, order one of 7 corn dogs (with ingredients like Sriracha cream cheese and poutine), and pair it with a supernaturally themed cocktail like the Southern Sasquatch. Have a deep fried Nutella sandwich or funnel cake for dessert. Venture downstairs to Narwhal for pinball, and order a round of strawberry flavored Sparkle Pony shots to keep that buzz going – this place is tough to handle sober. Happy hour specials (2-6:30 pm) include the house lager and well booze ($4), as well as Unicorn (fried pork) and Narwhal (fried mashed potato) Balls. Truffle butter popcorn ($2.50) if you’re classy. Come back in the morning for a breakfast corndog and an extra spicy Unicorn Bloody Mary. Any time is Unicorn Time.
    WebsiteUnicorn ReviewsNarwhal Reviews1118 E. Pike Street
  • HoneyHole
    The fresh squeezed juice cocktails and magnificent sandwiches are legend at HoneyHole, where Bacchanalian multi-taskers get drunk and nurse their hangover simultaneously. Lose yourself in a hot or cold pile of delicious toppings housed inside structurally sound bread (GF available). Share a beefy double feature with a friend in the Dude (flank, tomato relish) and the Gooch (tri-tip, au jus). The Corleone, made with Oregon-raised cured pastrami, is an offer you shouldn’t refuse. Vegetarians will agonize over five hot sandwiches, featuring Field Roast and house-made faux meats. Two happy hours daily (5-7 pm, 11 pm-1 am) involve $4 wells and pints. Cocktails like the Basilito, Vanilla Drop, or the New Old Fashioned are more than worth the paltry full price ($5.50-7). A couple of big tables for groups fill up quickly. Come early and often.
    WebsiteReviews703 E. Pike Street
  • Sun Liquor Lounge
    Sun Liquor stood at the forefront of the craft cocktail renaissance, and their boozy marvels cannot be oversold. They use their own liquors and bitters, fresh juice, and floral garnishes to create drinkable artwork. Their three-cocktail tasting menu assists those agonizing over the selection. Service can be sluggish, but you can’t rush brilliance, and part of the experience is watching them make your drink. (They love an excuse to bring out the blowtorch.) The loyal clientele come for soft light and a subliminal soundtrack conducive to savoring beverages while catching up with friends or wooing a date. Happy hour is 5-7 pm daily. Burgers and sandwiches served in baskets til late on weekends, and seasonal waffles at brunch til 3 pm. Nearby restaurants: Single Shot (revelatory farm-to-table, next door). Café Barjot (fun New American tasting menu, around the corner.)
    WebsiteReviews607 Summit Avenue E.
  • Pony
    It doesn’t get much gayer than Pony. As the sign says, “If you aren’t a queer or an admirer, don’t enter”. If you fit the bill, make fast friends in the tiny, phallus-adorned interior, or catch some air on the patio in any weather, thanks to the retractable awning and fire pit. The sunsets aren’t bad either. Whatever it takes to get your bootie shaking, there’s a DJ for that 5-6 nights a week. First Wednesdays are girl groups and soul, last Wednesdays are goth and syth-pop. Sundays, get down to the “best and worst” classic disco. Come in for glam psychedelic on third Thursdays, or make your own music at Tuesday karaoke. Wednesdays mean all day happy hour. Come as you are; leave spent and happy. Nearby restaurants: Skillet Diner (glazed pork wings, 2 blocks east), Café Presse (superior charcuterie, one block west), Unicorn (an array of corn dogs, 2 blocks north).
    WebsiteReviews1221 E. Madison Street
  • Linda’s Tavern
    If Linda Derschang didn’t originate the cowboy hipster tavern, she certainly perfected it. Well worn and effortlessly cool, Linda’s remains frozen in 1994 – it’s famous for being a Sub Pop clubhouse and the last bar Kurt Cobain visited. At Linda’s, great music is integral to the bar experience – the CD jukebox remains stocked with CDs from local indie, punk, and hip hop artists, past and present; successful and obscure. Big game taxidermy and arcane cowboy murals preside over the pool games. Prices are untouched by inflation, especially at happy hour (7-9 pm nightly): $3 wells, $7.50 local microbrew pitchers and a $3 trio of sliders. Burgers, nachos, and weekend brunch till 3 pm for under $10. Arrive early to sit on the patio and order the Bullrider (chicken fried steak), which usually sells out. Eggs Benedict, Huevos Rancheros and the basic breakfast (eggs, toast, perfectly crispy hashbrowns) for $4.95 also hit the spot. Smiling servers are in short supply, but it’s all part of your authentic Seattle bar experience.
    WebsiteReviews707 E. Pine Street

Other Neighborhoods

  • Lo-Fi Performance Gallery
    THE place for unpretentious, ceaseless dancing to niche retro genres. Meat Market shoppers look elsewhere. The big draw is Emerald City Soul Club, spinning 60s and 70s soul rarities on second Saturdays. Nostalgic 90s pop on third Saturdays. Obscure funk on first Fridays. Intimate live music fills in the week. Two dance floors and two bars provide enough room to boogie with abandon. It gets packed on weekends, but folks are happy to give each other space, and are tolerant of collisions. Sit a spell in the cozy lounge, play some Street Fighter, or admire the trippy murals inside and out. Instigate or participate in a dance-off, and commemorate your night in the photo booth. The cover is a reasonable $7-10. No food and expensive drinks, so prefunk is recommended. Park on Eastlake or in the lot behind the building. Nearby restaurants: Feierabend (scrumptious German pretzels and sausages, 2 blocks west). Lunchbox Laboratory (decadent burgers and shakes, 4 blocks away). Osteria Rigoletto (decent Italian, 3 blocks west).
    WebsiteReviews429 Eastlake Avenue E. (South Lake Union)
  • Hula Hula
    Known for flaming bowls of booze, nightly karaoke, and more tiki per square inch than the Big Island, Hula Hula is perfect for beginning or ending your pub-crawl. If you want to sing, arrive right at 9, especially on weekends. Regulars bring their A-game, utilizing the pro sound and lighting. New arrivals get priority if they sign in via computer (paper slips tend to disappear). Drinks in various unnatural colors are designed for maximum intoxication. Drunkenness (or Hawaiian heritage) is prerequisite for enjoying food like Spam mac & cheese, musubi, and Kahlua pork. Genre deviations like pizza and the hummus plate also available. Or make a meal out the myriad fruit garnishing oversized tropical standards (Pina Coladas, Blue Hawaiians, Mai Tais, Navy Grog). Gargantuan Zombies and Flaming Volcanos come with 18-inch straws, a sharing requirement, and a two-drink limit. $4 off tiki drinks and $5 snacks during happy hour (4-6 pm, daily). Stick to weekdays if crowds turn you off, or rent the whole joint for $75/hour (up to 300 guests). Nearby restaurants: Plaza Garibaldi (solid Mexican, 1 block north on 1st Ave). Boat Street Kitchen (scrumptious French-inspired fine dining), and Waterfront Deli (terrific chicken katsu curry), 2 blocks west off Denny.
    WebsiteReviews106 1st Avenue N. (Lower Queen Anne)
  • Monkey Loft
    Experience the best facets of an underground rave at an incorporated club in the SODO neighborhood. You simply can’t find a scene like this in city center. Friendly staff, hospitable patrons, cheap covers, and a breathtaking rooftop deck set Monkey Loft a cut above the rest. It’s worth the 12-minute drive from downtown to experience progressive, up-and-coming, and sometimes surprise headliners of EDM. They spin Drum and Bass on first Fridays, but otherwise shun routine. Hit up their Facebook to hear about upcoming parties. Energy drinks (or what have you) are a must, because Monkey Loft literally parties till sunrise – then they serve bloodies and mimosas and keep the tables turning. Saturday parties frequently go till 10 am. Despite the youthful schedule, the crowd skews older (mid-late thirties), but they embrace all night owls over 21. The occasional unsavory element is ostracized or ousted before they can harsh everyone’s mellow. Plentiful free street parking. Nearby Restaurants: By’s (solid burgers across the tracks). Sodo Deli (juicy meatloaf sandwich, 2 blocks south). Blue Water Taco Grill (breakfast taco after party); Maison Tavern (excellent sliders and flat breads), just south on the same block.
    WebsiteReviews2915 1st Avenue S. (SODO)
  • Re-Bar
    In club terms, Re-Bar is a dinosaur: it’s ancient, but fierce. Twenty-five years later, it’s a little worse-for-wear, but the dilapidation only adds character to a place that was larger-than-life out of the gate. The history is palpable. It’s where Nirvana celebrated the release of “Nevermind”. It’s where drag genius Dina Martina continues to perform her Christmas show. Dan Savage met his husband in the bathroom. Future superstars are currently busting their chops on that stage. It’s the least self-conscious, most welcoming club/theater scene in the city. All walks of life converge to party their faces off. Club nights have morphed over the years. Current offerings include house music on Sundays, 80’s New Wave third Saturdays, and Elemental West Coast Bass on fourth Fridays. KEXP hosts an indie night first Fridays. Sing along with your favorite movie musicals at Cineoke. Occasional fringe theatre runs include hilarious reenactments of classic films from Brown Derby. Whatever your identity or preferred pronoun, there’s an event to suit you. You won’t get a craft cocktail here, but the cash-only bar stocks all the basics to keep you socially lubricated. Nearby restaurants: Saley’s Classic (gooey crepes, 5 blocks south west. A slew of goodies just up the hill including La Cocina Oaxaquena (superior Mexican), Ristorante Machiavelli (indulgent Italian), Taylor Shelfish Farms (upscale seafood), and Li’l Woody’s burgers.
    WebsiteReviews1114 Howell Street (Denny Triangle)
  • Georgetown Liquor Company
    It’s not hard to overlook the generically-monikered Georgetown Liquor Company, but this vegetarian dive bar in bohemian Georgetown is a diamond in the rough. There’s liquor, of course, served up in a derelict punk haunt. Get the Clockwork Orange Martini or the Cucu-racha-kazi (cucumber and UV Sriracha vodkas and muddled lime). Their downplayed menu items astound even staunch carnivores. The protein alternative, Field Roast, lends itself to their remarkable sandwiches. The Picard (French dip with Field Roast), and the Darth Rueben are rightfully popular choices. The Chicken Caesar is a meal in its own right. Real cheese is prevalent along with numerous vegan options. Weekend brunch adds biscuits and gravy, chicken fried steak, and vegan “Eggs” Benedict, plus a build-your-own-Bloody Mary Bar. All meals and cocktails hover around $10. Plenty of low-priced draughts. Weekdays, happy hour offers $3 wells, $8 fancy cocktails, and $1 off draughts 4-7 pm. Thursday trivia for cash and prizes. Occasional live music. Free use of old school Nintendo systems is the icing on the cake.
    WebsiteReviews5501 Airport Way S. (SODO)

2 questions and comments

  1. Marijuana Stores in Downtown Seattle

    I will be visiting Seattle this fall, and staying downtown. I have my heart set on visiting a smoke shop. Any recommendations? Especially one that sells good brownies.


    1. Seattle AnneSeattle Anne Post author

      Hi Jenn,

      Seattle has zoning restrictions in place that prevent marijuana-based businesses from setting up shop in certain areas, and downtown is one of them. One of the best shops in the city is not too far away, however: Dockside Cannabis is located just south of downtown in the SoDo neighborhood. They’ve got an amazing selection of product (including edibles), a cool “cannabis museum” that teaches about the history of marijuana consumption, and friendly and knowledgeable budtenders who will help you find exactly what you’re looking for. It’s a cheap and easy cab/Uber ride from downtown, and there are a few bus lines that’ll take you there as well.

      To read more about the ins and outs of the Seattle Cannabis scene, check out my 25 Best Things to Do in Seattle page: Green Tourism is #22.

      Sample safely, and have a great trip!

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