New bars don’t open insanely 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 bars 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. In other words: the Greatest Hits.
If you live in Seattle, you should drink at them all. If you’re visiting, go to as many as you can. Some of them 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 some are something in between. All of them are essential Seattle watering holes.
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 most impressive thing about Canon, though, are the cocktails, and they’re all super creative, down to the vessels themselves. Like the “Hart To Hart,” which has gin, pineapple rum, raspberry, falernum, sparkling rosé, and bitters, but is served in a glass necklace that you have to wear while you sip. There’s even a bright red “transfusion” drink for two which drips out of an IV bag into your rocks glass. 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, almost like Whiskey) 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. Located next to a laundromat, this bar makes South Park a neighborhood that you should go out of your way for rather than just a random stretch off 99. 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 reds and want to sit back with a glass of something orange, make this your new home. Especially if you bring in a cheeseburger from Loretta’s or a pepperoni pie from South Town across the street to pair with a sparkling red from the Hudson Valley.
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 a punch with passionfruit and rooibos vodka or some Malaysian chicken puffs.
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.
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. 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 $18 homemade grass-fed hot dog topped with salmon caviar - which is what any millionaire would eat as a snack in their submarine.
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, an incredible 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?
If you’re trying to show out-of-town friends that Downtown has more to offer than just Pike Place Market, Nordstrom, and that guy with the cockatiel that does tricks on the street, go to The Nest. The drinks are pretty pricey, and during the summertime, it’s hard to get in without a wait. However, if you stick it out, you’ll get to sip on delicious cocktails while having a glorious view of the waterfront. If you’re trying to ball out, reserve one of their luxurious sofas full of decorative pillows and chip in for a $150 group cocktail that’s served in metallic flamingo cups.
“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.
If someone told us we had to use math to order a beer, we’d probably frown. But No Anchor is a beer bar that makes math fun - their draft list is plotted on a coordinate plane they’ve designed around an X-Y axis with four categories (approachable, traditional, modern, and esoteric). This is the only scenario where using geometry results in finding something you know you’ll love, whether it’s a smoked pear weisse or an IPA brewed with spruce tips. The wood-covered setting is also outdated in a non-musty kind of way - like your friend’s parent’s attic where you made great memories and drank Midori straight from the bottle.
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 a type of pomegranate Campari and raspberries to a classic daiquiri with banana and cinnamon bitters. Unlike Canon, Needle & Thread is easy to get into - 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 always feels exciting. Sip on a cold amaro cocktail and take advantage of the free Lay’s potato chips that pair well with a French 75 and an order of freshly-sliced jamon.
There’s karaoke night, and then there’s karaoke night at Bush Garden. Every table and chair faces the stage, everyone in the entire room sings along to each performance, and the owner, Karen, will even occasionally pick up a tambourine to back you up for your rendition of “Shot Through The Heart.” While the drinks are pretty basic (you might find yourself with a Coors Light), you’re not there to sip on something fancy. Bush Garden is the most fun you’ll have at a bar in the entire city - you just have to play along.
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 amazing 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 ground brisket burger.
Drinking at The Sexton makes us feel like we’ve flown to some random farmland area for a wedding and this is the one cool bar in town that makes turbulence-filled flight worth it. Whether you sit at the cassette tape-covered bartop or pile everyone you know on their patio deck out back, it feels like a low-key neighborhood hang even though the drinks are serious. Cocktails range from black walnut Old Fashioneds to tart hibiscus margaritas, and it’s our first choice for a night out on Ballard Ave.