New bars don’t open too often in Seattle, but when they do, it’s a big deal. It might be some carnival-looking arcade spot serving tallboys or a place with cool geographic wallpaper featuring cocktails on tap. Those are fun to check out, but there’s something special about drinking at a classic that makes you happy to be in Seattle.
So we made this list of our all-time favorites—the places we find ourselves returning to over and again. They’re the standbys that make this city what it is. If you live here, you should be drinking at all of them. If you’re visiting, go to as many as you can. Some are unforgettable cocktail bars that make the stupid rain worth it all, some are dives where all you need to do is grunt to receive a can of Rainier, and bars in between. And all of them are essential to Seattle.
Nobody can argue that Canon makes the best cocktails in town. After booking an online reservation and putting down a $25-per-person deposit, you’re in for an experience that feels like a trip to Willy Wonka’s Factory—only there are no irritating children, and you’re sampling outstanding drinks instead of candy that alters your chemical makeup. The space is also impressive—it has one of the best Secret Patios in town and the shelves of liquor behind the bar are so massive that the bartenders need a ladder to get to the top-shelf stuff. The best thing about Canon, though, are the cocktails, and they’re all a spectacle, down to the vessels themselves. Like the “DK Ain't Got Sh*t On Me,” which has Japanese whiskey, rosé aperitif, banana, and chapparel served in a Donkey Kong game cartridge. Or the "Mrs. Eale's Receipt" with bourbon, dark rum, oloroso sherry, vanilla, and ceylon served in a cone topped with a bubble of ginger smoke resembling a scoop of ice cream that spontaneously pops, sending gingery smog everywhere. The theatrics are an essential part of what makes Canon an incredible bar. Just prepare to spend a significant amount of money.
If you see a bar with a fluorescent neon martini sign with cheesy font that looks like it was pulled from Microsoft Word’s clipart library, you’d probably laugh, take a photo to show your friends later, and go home. However, walking past Suite 410 with its ridiculous sign would be a huge mistake, because you’d be missing out on one of the greatest cocktail bars in the city. This place feels like a secret you want in on—inside, it’s dark with candles on every table and feels more like a big-city bar than one in Seattle. The drinks here are always stellar, whether you order a citrusy drink made with genever (a spirit that’s kind of like gin but tastes more malty) or a daiquiri with Plantation Pineapple rum. The bartenders go above and beyond to talk up interesting liquors, give you a taste, and even use it to make something off-menu for you.
Left Bank is the best place to drink natural wine in Seattle. The space feels like your super chill friend’s basement that’s filled with sofa cushions, dangling lightbulbs, a record player, and a ton of reasonably-priced wine bottles hanging on the wall for sale. Anything they pour is funky, interesting, and comes with a fun description from the friendly owner. If you’re sick of drinking the same Columbia Valley pinots and want to sit back with a glass of something unfiltered, orange, or both, make this your new home. Especially if you bring in a double cheeseburger from Loretta’s Northwesterner to pair with that piquette from the Finger Lakes.
If Left Bank is your mellow friend’s basement project, Bottlehouse is your most sophisticated acquaintance’s elegant garden party. It’s a wine bar in a retrofitted home in Madrona, complete with a porch and a backyard patio where you’ll find us permanently stationed in the summer. Everyone should be able to find something to drink here—from some Bolivian syrah to grenache blanc made in Walla Walla. The wine cocktails, like frozen riesling with rosemary or Rioja sangria, are also terrific—especially with food pairings courtesy of the resident cheesemonger.
Capitol Cider, a Pike Street staple, feels like a relaxed catch-up session just as much as it feels like a raucous party. While the upstairs is ideal for a sit-down dinner and drinks, the basement bar is really the place to be. Warm up by the fireplace, eat some fried cheese curds, play some board games or hand shuffleboard, and try some alcoholic apple juice. Even if you think you’re not a “cider person,” they always have great options that change by the season.
Peel back the curtains on this unmarked door on Pike to reveal a bar with psychedelic wallpaper, a disco ball, gold tchotchkes, and lots of tropical cocktails. You can’t help but feel like you should be carrying out some kind of secret agent mission, only you’re not trapped in a spy movie dream sequence—you’re drinking alcohol and eating cheeseburger bao at Foreign National. Bring somebody you’re trying to impress here and order some excellent drinks and snacks—like the expat punch with passionfruit and rooibos or a cheeseburger bao.
If your out-of-town guests insist on going to Pike Place Market, make sure you hit up JarrBar after. It’s pretty close to the market and is a fantastic spot to drink outstanding cocktails and momentarily escape the Downtown chaos. It also works if you’re looking to drink and have a light bite all by yourself—order a couple of Spanish gin and tonics and the salmon rillettes with crostini. For everything annoying about the market, JarrBar is the place to get away from it all.
New Luck Toy
There’s a bar in West Seattle that has skee-ball, karaoke, pinball, tiki drinks, and Chinese food. It might seem impossible for all of those things to work under one roof, but New Luck Toy pulls it off. If you’re just here to drink and sing karaoke in the private room up front, the alcoholic slushies are delicious—the flavors include frozen prickly pear margarita and Frangelico pina coladas. If you’re hungry, they have a whole menu of delicious Chinese food, like General Tso’s fried chicken, shrimp and pork fat dumplings, spare ribs with a sticky five-spice dip, and even Crunch Berries cereal milk soft serve for dessert.
The Nook is an impressive cocktail spot that’s disguised as a low-key neighborhood bar. Complete with a mismatched assortment of vintage living room sofas, a fireplace, and extremely friendly bartenders, you’ll find drinks like champagne spritzes, white negronis, and mules topped with torched marshmallows and rosemary. This place feels like what would happen if you stumbled upon an abandoned cabin in the forest, but instead of finding things like pinecones and a grizzly bear or two, there’s a master mixologist inside making anything you want.
Deep Dive is a fantastic bar that looks like The Little Mermaid’s underwater grotto and serves sophisticated cocktails with ingredients like beets and aquavit—as well as an entire section of the menu devoted to intricate non-alcoholic drinks involving zero-proof spirits like Seedlip, Pathfinder, and Wilderton. There are no windows, a bunch of old books, expensive-looking glass trinkets, and ship replicas on the shelves which makes drinking here feel like you’re on a voyage on some millionaire’s submarine. Deep Dive is perfect for any special occasion, as long as you order the $20 homemade grass-fed hot dog topped with salmon caviar—which is what any millionaire would eat as a snack in their submarine.
This tiny sake bar in Fremont serves excellent drinking snacks—we wouldn't expect less from the same team behind Kamonegi next door. Hannyatou features a diverse and wonderful lineup of rice wine flights, as well as extremely knowledgeable servers who can help you brush up on your sake smarts. We can’t say enough about the bar food, though, like tangy kasu-marinated sharp cheddar or homemade smoked pepperoni sticks with shrimp aioli. Stop in before or after dinner at Kamonegi, but don’t be surprised if you fill up on Muddy Buddies-style Chex cereal tossed in white chocolate, tahini, and matcha. And if they have it available, do not pass up (we repeat, do not pass up) a shot of spicy-sweet habanero umeshu.
French fries are the perfect thing to eat while drinking. So it makes sense that you can get the best french fries in town at one of the best bars in town, too. Bait Shop feels a little bit like a tiki bar and a little bit like a lakeside tackle shop—they have painkiller slushies, board games, a great burger, and they play movies on their massive projector. What’s better than a night out filled with some heated rounds of Uno, slushie brain freezes, and burning your tongue on triple-fried potatoes?
The Pacific Inn
“Beer. I need a beer. What’s the time? Beer.” is a line from the hit 2008 Off-Broadway musical Adding Machine. Sometimes, like Mr. Two from Adding Machine says, you just need a beer, and one of the best places to get one in Seattle is at Pacific Inn. The nautical-themed dive in Fremont has comfy booths, old-school diner stools at the counter, a bunch of old photos of Seattle, and a back deck that’s perfect for spreading out during the warmer months. While they always have a solid lineup of beers available (don’t worry, they serve Manny’s), Pacific Inn also makes an excellent margarita. If you’re hungry after all of those beers, you’re in luck—the panko-fried fish and chips here are the best in town.
Needle & Thread
If speakeasies were part of the Olympics, Needle & Thread would win a gold medal. To get in, you have to make a reservation online, enter through Tavern Law (their sister bar), and pick up a vintage phone in the back corner. After you do that, someone will unlock a door that leads to a rickety staircase, and finally, up to an antique parlor. There’s no menu, but trust the expert bartenders to make you something with the ingredients of your choice. We’ve had everything here from a spritz made from pomegranate, Campari, and raspberries to a classic daiquiri with banana and cinnamon bitters. Unlike Canon, Needle & Thread is easy to get into on a weekend—so it can be more than a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
If a 7-Eleven had seating, a whole bunch of beer on tap, and actually some personality, it would be just like Chuck’s Hop Shop. This convenience store doubles as a beer bar and makes for the perfect come-and-go hang: Chuck’s is dog-friendly, has a daily-rotating food truck parked outside, sells a bunch of crunchy snacks and gummy candies, and has around 50 different beers on tap in addition to an entire wall of refrigerated six-packs that you can also pop open and drink. Next time, host a board game night powered by beer flights here instead of at your apartment.
Barnacle is definitely a holding area for people anxiously waiting on a table at The Walrus And The Carpenter next door. But even if you aren’t strapping in for a night of slurping oysters, Barnacle is worth a visit on its own. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that pretty much everyone here is anticipating one of the best seafood meals of their lives, but sitting at this big wooden counter (or even better, the big table wedged in the corner) always feels exciting. They specialize in amaro, so sip on a spritz and take advantage of the small snack menu involving cured meats, ricotta toast, and tinned fish.
Between the sticky floors, out-of-order pinball machines, and unattainable high-score records (screw you, BJL), arcade bars can be kind of a mess. Except for Add-A-Ball - the only arcade bar that will never let you down. This is no Dave & Busters—there are no children or old deep-fryer-oil smell, they have games like Killer Queen (the world’s only 10-player arcade game), and the beers and ciders are reasonably-priced. Fremont’s full of bars, but we can guarantee you’ll have the best night in the neighborhood using up your pocket change here.
There are a lot of unsolved mysteries in life. What’s the fate of the universe? Why does time only travel forward? Was there room for Jack on that floating door in Titanic? Another mystery is the fact that Dead Line isn’t packed every night of the week. The outstanding drinks at this Pioneer Square bar range from a simple bourbon cooler with mint and lemongrass to their namesake cocktail that has mezcal, sauvignon blanc vermouth, basil simple syrup, pink peppercorn, and lime. Plus, you can book their adjoining champagne room for a special occasion and they serve a ridiculously good burger.