Where’s the best nightlife in Seattle?

Updated October 24, 2016

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The Belltown Neighborhood

Along 1st and 2nd Avenues in the heart of downtown Seattle lies the extensive pocket of bars, clubs, shops, and restaurants known as Belltown. The area has undergone some gentrification from its wilder, seedier days in the 1990s, but there is still plenty of fun to be had. Start at Blanchard and 2nd, and head north toward Bell Street to get a sense of the possibilities. Consider a drink at The Upstairs, situated above Pinxto, a dependably delicious tapas bar. A small menu is available (culled from the offerings at Pinxto), but the craft cocktails, comfy couches, and ‘20s-style décor are the real draws. Of the many dinner options, the more popular include the pizza-and-booze Mecca known as Rocco’s, which looks tiny from the outside but opens up into a grand, metal-and-brick-lined space, and the sleek Wakefield Bar, offering the city’s most underrated fried chicken. Queen City Grill, meanwhile, has held down the busy corner of Blanchard and 1st for decades, serving delicious seafood entrees and grand cocktails in a long, narrow room lined with well-worn oak booths.

Tired of boozing and eating? Check out a show at The Crocodile Café, one of Seattle’s classic music venues (once owned by REM’s Peter Buck), or try The Rendezvous, which contains both an underground performance space/bar called the Grotto, as well as the tiny, but satisfyingly comfortable Jewelbox Theater. More refined fare is at Tula’s Restaurant and Jazz Club, offering everything from Bebop to Bossa Nova every day of the week. Check out live theater at Theater Schmeater (known colloquially as The Schmee), which runs productions through a petite, but very functional space, or see what’s happening at the unpredictable 2312 Gallery, where you might find an art opening, a live performance, or nothing at all. And don’t forget to wander; these are just a few possibilities among many, and the neighborhood is in constant churn. See what grabs you.

The UpstairsReviews2209 2nd Avenue
PinxtoReviews2209 2nd Avenue
Rocco’sReviews2228 2nd Avenue
Wakefield BarReviews2318 2nd Avenue
Queen City GrillReviews2201 1st Avenue
The Crocodile CafeThe Crocodile Cafe2200 2nd Avenue
The RendezvousReviews2322 2nd Avenue
Tula’sReviews2214 2nd Avenue
Theater SchmeaterReviews2125 3rd Avenue
2312 GalleryReviews2312 2nd Avenue

Pike and 10th

Seattle is booming, and nowhere is the effect more pronounced than on Capitol Hill, located just east/uphill/across the freeway from downtown. People have been coming here to enjoy art, counterculture, and general debauchery for decades, but the infusion of new blood has revved up the scene that much more (and prompted gentrification concerns as well). The locus point for all this energy is unquestionably the corner of 10th and Pike. On most nights, and definitely on weekends, you will find droves of people hopping bars, heading into restaurants, or queuing for plays, movies, or live music. It’s also Seattle’s epicenter of gay culture, and so events like the Pride parade are especially lively.

For dinner, Quinn’s is right at the heart of things, serving up meaty, high-end gastropub fare; think Scotch Egg and Roasted Bone Marrow. Looking for something lighter? Try the succulent chunks of sashimi at Momiji or stroll a block over to Bar Melusine for bubbles and oysters. Check out the playlist at Neumos , arguably the epicenter of Seattle’s live music scene (there’s also a small club beneath Neumos called Barboza, which often books more adventurous acts). Up on 12th Ave, you’ll find the Northwest Film Forum, screening independent and foreign films that otherwise might only play in New York or LA. Care to see some live theater? The Annex features eclectic, unpredictable, and often exceptional work, mostly from local artists.

Whatever you do, be sure to go for a stroll. The people watching is exceptional, and you may stumble into all manner of interactions with passers-by and street vendors, or just standing in line for a hot dog (for the full Seattle experience, try a “Seattle dog,” which usually involves cream cheese. It’s better than it sounds).

Parking is notoriously difficult (and you might not want your car anyway), and there’s no real need to drive: the new light rail from Westlake Mall drops you within a few blocks of the area, or you can cab/Uber here quite cheaply from downtown.

Quinn’sReviews1001 E. Pike Street
MomijiReviews1522 12th Avenue
Bar MelusineReviews1060 E. Union Street
NeumosReviews925 E. Pike Street
BarbozaReviews925 E. Pike Street
Northwest Film ForumReviews1515 12th Avenue
Annex TheatreReviews1100 E. Pike Street

Ballard Avenue

Looking to get out of the city core? The booming neighborhood of Ballard is a great choice. The main strip, Ballard Avenue, is home to dozens of bars and live venues, some of the city’s best restaurants, and an array of old school Seattleites and young hipster newcomers, all mingling along dimly-lit, tree-lined sidewalks. Ballard Ave itself runs through a mishmash of narrow avenues, with a public square toward the northernmost portion where it meets up with Market Street. Walking its length can take 15 minutes or all night, depending on how often you stop to drink, eat, listen to a band, or make new friends.
Your best plan is to start at the south end from 17th Ave NW, and work your way up. On the first block, you’ll be able to enjoy the work of one of the city’s best and most well-known restauranteurs, Renee Erickson. Erickson just this year (2016) won a coveted James Beard award, and The Walrus and the Carpenter offers compelling testimonial. Situated at the back of a beautifully reclaimed and updated brick building, the place offers fresh shellfish year-round (oysters are a must-have), in a bright, welcoming setting. It’s quite popular, so put your name down and find a nearby watering hole to wait out a seat. Some good choices include a glass of cheap, tasty wine (and maybe a slice to tide you over) at Ballard Pizza Company , or a beer at the divey but delightful Bad Albert’s; you may even score a stool at Barnacle, a sliver of a bar positioned right behind Walrus and Carpenter.
Keep moving up Ballard Ave and you’ll find options galore; a scotch at Macleod’s? A Guinness at The Lock & Keel? Live music at The Sunset or Tractor Tavern? Be sure to poke your head into at least a half-dozen places and discover what works for your mood. If you still have energy once you wind up at the corner of Ballard Ave and Market St, continue around the corner to Hazlewood , a gothic-tinged hole in the wall known for its eponymous featured cocktail.

(How to get there: You have a few public transport options – the 40 bus will take you from downtown to Leary Ave NW, a block up from Ballard Ave, but it’s a rather slow bus. The D line is known as the “Rapid Ride,” and while that might be a little generous, it will get you to Ballard faster, if not quite as close to Ballard Ave as the 40. Get off at the corner of Market Street and 15th Ave NW, walk up the street to 17th, turn right, and follow it all the way to the main drag. Don’t want to mess with it? A cab/Uber is about $15 from downtown.)

The Walrus and the CarpenterReviews4743 Ballard Avenue NW
Ballard Pizza CompanyReviews5107 Ballard Avenue NW
Bad Albert’sReviews5100 Ballard Avenue NW
BarnacleReviews4743 Ballard Avenue NW
MacLeod’sReviews5200 Ballard Avenue NW
The Lock and Keel TavernReviews5144 Ballard Avenue NW
The SunsetReviews5433 Ballard Avenue NW
Tractor TavernReviews5213 Ballard Avenue NW
HazlewoodReviews2311 NW Market Street

Pike Place Market

Bustling and chaotic during the day, Pike Place Market is much easier to navigate at night, and full of surprising, enjoyable options. Hungry? Your many choices include top-notch French cuisine and wine at Café Campagne; tequila and shredded rabbit tacos at El Borracho; and bourbons from the barrel at Radiator Whiskey, where you—or several of you—can dine on a smoked pig’s head (though it must be ordered in advance). Entertainment? The Can Can Kitchen & Cabaret has burlesque shows and a gorgeous, cavern-like cocktail bar available 5 nights a week (Wednesday through Sunday); Unexpected Productions features comedy and improv; while The Showbox offers a rotation of electronic artists and live music in one of the city’s most attractive venues. You can even take the Market Ghost Tour (launching from Ghost Alley Espresso, and learn about the sometimes dark history of a public market that’s been in operation for well over a century. While you explore, enjoy views of Puget Sound and Alki Point from the top of Virginia Street, or take in the colors of Seattle’s Great Wheel from Victor Steinbrueck Park at the Market’s north end.

One note: The area around between 1st and 3rd on Pine, while mostly safe, has its fair share of colorful characters. Exercise good judgement accordingly while heading to the Market proper.

Café CampagneReviews1600 Post Alley
El BorrachoReviews1521 1st Avenue
Radiator WhiskeyReviews94 Pike Street, upstairs
The Can Can Kitchen & CabaretReviews94 Pike Street, downstairs
Unexpected ProductionsReviews1428 Post Alley
The ShowboxReviews1426 1st Avenue
Market Ghost TourReviews1499 Post Alley
Ghost Alley EspressoReviews1499 Post Alley

Lower Queen Anne

In the shadow of the Space Needle and just north of downtown at the base of Queen Anne hill lies an abundance of options for a night out on the town, all within a few blocks. Plant yourself along Queen Anne Ave and Mercer Street (easily accessible by the D line Rapid Ride bus or short cab/uber ride from downtown) and start exploring. Consider leading off with Toulouse Petit, featuring high-end, but affordable, creole food and an extensive happy hour menu, along with a lively bar scene. Or try some pizza; Pagliacci, a local favorite (there are a number of locations around town) is right up the street, as is The Masonry, offering wood-fired pizzas and open-air seating.

For entertainment, you can take in a movie at SIFF Cinema Uptown, catch a play at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, or indulge in some karaoke, offered nightly at the delightfully divey Ozzie’s. For a more relaxed vibe, try the elegantly shady Tin Lizzie Lounge at the historic MarQueen Hotel, or walk toward the hill a few blocks to The Sitting Room, a low-lit wine bistro that seems transported from a Parisian alleyway. Need to walk off some of those calories? Make your way straight up the hill to Kerry Park. It’s a bit of a commitment (six very steep blocks), but once there, you’ll be treated to a quintessential Seattle view straight out of “Frasier,” with the Needle front and center.

Toulouse PetitReviews601 Queen Anne Avenue
PagliacciReviews550 Queen Anne Avenue N.
The MasonryReviews20 Roy Street
SIFF Cinema UptownReviews551 Queen Anne Avenue N.
Seattle Repertory TheatreReviews155 Mercer Street
Ozzie’s Reviews105 W. Mercer Street
The Tin Lizzie LoungeReviews600 Queen Anne Avenue
The Sitting RoomReviews108 W. Roy Street
Kerry ParkReviews211 W. Highland Drive

Pioneer Square

Like Pike Place Market, another area that radically changes character from day to night is picturesque Pioneer Square. From 9 to 5, it’s a popular spot for tech startups and sandwich shops, full of worker bees and tourists. But after dark, a mix of old grime and new glitz offers a window into the sharp divisions that characterize modern day Seattle. Seek out a craft cocktail at one of the recent additions to the (very walkable) neighborhood: Damn The Weather is a fine place to start, upscale and sleek, set in a handsome sliver of a room. You can also try E. Smith Mercantile (208 1st Ave S), an eclectic shop of local, handmade goods, with a hidden, very small—and very excellent—bar in the back. If you get to the Square early enough, there may be some art galleries still open; though some artists have been forced to flee the area due to rising rents, this is still ground zero for exhibits in the city. One of the best is Stonington Gallery, featuring distinctive Northwest-derived pieces (art lovers should try coming to the Square on the first Thursday of the month for the Art Walk, where dozens of galleries, lofts, and normally private residences open their doors to the public).

After cocktails and art-appreciation, consider checking out the bill at Comedy Underground, the city’s best comedy club. Many all-time greats have performed here and the booking agents are discerning, so your chance of getting a good laugh (or ten) is high.

Finally, duck into some of the grittier spots. Ever since Henry Yesler picked this location for his lumber mill in 1852, Pioneer Square has been a home for dives, dumps, hazy parlors and shady backrooms, and some ghosts of that disreputability remain. Try the Central Saloon and the J&M Café, both historic saloons with stiff drinks, sticky floors, and loads of character. Or just wander the vicinity and see what you stumble onto. Just be aware: while the area has been cleaned up over the decades (and particularly in recent years), there’s still a high concentration of lost souls, so if you’re feeling adventurous, keep your guard up and consider going out in a group (or just make some new friends).

Damn the WeatherReviews116 1st Avenue S.
E. Smith MercantileReviews208 1st Avenue S.
Stonington GalleryReviews125 S. Jackson Street
Bar SajorReviews323 Occidental Avenue S.
Al BoccalinoReviews1 Yesler Way
Comedy UndergroundReviews109 S. Washington Street
Central SaloonReviews207 1st Avenue S.
J&M CaféReviews201 1st Avenue S.

Twisted Theaters

Going out to a movie might not seem that exciting, but Seattle is very much a movie town, and a few centrally-located theaters are destinations in their own right, offering drinks and/or extended food menus directly from your seat. The elegant, brick-walled Central Cinema is known for offbeat revivals and showings of films that are meant to be participatory (some are shown in what they call “hecklevision”), while featuring pizza, cocktails, and other snackables. Big Picture (21+), is perfect for a date night; stairs descend into a room with plush couches in corner spaces, on which you can comfortably lounge before taking in a flick (with a martini in hand, of course). And serious cinephiles must get over to the Cinerama, a state-of-the-art, single-house theater featuring first-run blockbusters and all the cinematic technology owner Paul Allen’s money could buy, along with local beers and wine. Other options for mixing movies and adult beverages include the SIFF Cinema Uptown Theater in Lower Queen Anne and Northwest Film Forum on Capitol Hill, both of which cater to lovers of independent and foreign film.

Central CinemaReviews1411 21st Avenue (Central District)
Big PictureReviews2505 1st Avenue (Downtown)
CineramaReviews2100 4th Avenue (Belltown)
SIFF Cinema UptownReviews551 Queen Anne Avenue N. (Lower Queen Anne)
Northwest Film ForumReviews1515 12th Avenue (Capitol Hill)