Cap Hill nightlife is like playing with your preschool-era garbage remote control car which eventually was recalled by the toy company: you never know which way it’s going to go, but it’s a really good time regardless. Plan any night out that involves having some kind of alcohol, and chances are you’ll decide on Capitol Hill - and with good reason. There’s never been such a quality mix of cocktail bars where you can host your Jane Austen book club alongside places where you’ll feel the need to yell, “Down the hatch, people!” Here are our favorite places to drink on the hill, for anywhere you should find yourself on that spectrum of needs.
Foreign National is the perfect place to let your imagination run wild, since it feels like an alternate dimension in which you’re the protagonist in a secret agent parody movie. Only, instead of army crawling behind the bar to avoid your sworn enemy seeing you, the only real obligation you have here is to order delicious tropical drinks and a cheeseburger bao to snack on.
To get into Needle & Thread, 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 chatting with the person on the other end of the line, a door will unlock. Walk up the rickety stairs into an antique parlor with an expert bartender who will whip you up something delicious based on whatever you like - there’s no menu. The bartender will jot all your preferences down on a piece of paper and then make you something outstanding, whether it's a daiquiri with banana and cinnamon bitters or a Campari spritz with pomegranate and raspberries. You can also get food from Tavern Law downstairs, and the cheddar corn cracklins with serrano fondue is the best bar snack in the city.
Rose Temple is one of those fun bars that truly has a drink for everyone. There’s a kamikaze shooter involving edible glitter and a gummy shark, a Campari and radler boilermaker, alcoholic slushies, a lemon sorbet cava float, and, of course, cans of Rainier. What makes this place feel even more fun is the jungle-meets-Clue-mansion decor - only instead of figuring out “whodunit” in the parlor with the candlestick, you’re sitting around downing pink champagne jello shots. Pile your friends in a booth among the bookcases and chandeliers and order some brisket fried rice or a couple of delicious mapo tofu sandwiches with your drinks. This is a great place to spend a Friday night.
Bait shop is part nautical spot, part tropical tiki bar, and you can add pineapple or bacon to anything on the menu. It’s great for making a pit stop during your crawl, or for grabbing a huge round booth and lingering the whole night while passing around baskets of fish and chips. As for drinks, the daily-rotating frozen cocktail makes repeat visits exciting, and the painkiller (rum, pineapple, coconut, orange, nutmeg, and cinnamon) makes just about anything exciting.
Stay far away from Unicorn if you wanted a chill night discussing politics. This place is a mystical carnival-themed sensory overload where you’ll eat corn dogs, play arcade games, and knock back cocktails that have names like “Americorn” and are loaded with bubblegum vodka, high fructose corn syrup, and other things your dentist will have to deal with later. If it’s someone’s birthday, order them a unicorn jizz and make them wear “the hat” (AKA a bedazzled baseball helmet with a two-foot-long horn hot-glued to it). You can expect at least one ridiculous thing to happen whenever you go.
You might already know that Canon is Seattle’s cocktail holy grail. But if you haven’t made it there by now, your resistance to flaming-hot jealousy must be top notch. Canon is like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for anyone who cares about fancy craft cocktails. Or pretends to. Or just generally enjoys alcohol. Order from the menu/mixology history book, or trust the bartender to whip something up from the wall of liquor that’s so massive it needs its own dewey decimal system. You can make an online reservation on two conditions: that you have four people or less, and that you put down a $25 deposit for the group.
One of the best sushi spots in the city also happens to be one of the best bars on the hill. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a spot at one of Liberty’s sofas where you can sip your way through the massive menu of terrific and hilariously-named cocktails. Try the “JG Wentworth” or the “Strawberry Manilow” and order a couple of spicy tuna rolls and salmon nigiri to snack on.
Maybe your friend’s work schedule changed and now they have a Saturday off for the first time in three years. Celebrate at Redhook, a versatile brewery devoted to experimental beers like malty Mexican lagers and guava milkshake IPAs. The space feels modern, exciting, and there’s even a back room with hand shuffleboard that pretty much nobody uses. It’s all yours.
The only thing prettier than Bar Melusine’s white and seafoam green dining room by day is the same scene at nighttime - if the interior here isn’t appealing to whoever you’re with, they might be a robot. It’s pretty tame in here, so make it your spot for a date or small gathering where you want to hear each other talk, but still drink some complicated cocktails like the one with bell pepper and St. Germaine.
The Belmont is a lot of good things: It’s a bottle shop, a wine bar, and a meat and cheese tasting room along with other small plates like meatballs and deviled eggs. It’s ideal for low-key things like book club, but could also work for a night out with a bunch of friends (and if that still means book club, more power to you). Be sure to get the frozen rosé during the spring and summer.
Linda’s isn’t exactly a dive bar, but it’s also not where you bring your country club friends who wear plaid golf pants. It’s the perfect spot for a shot-and-beer combo, or you can sip a great local cider or a margarita. There’s a big back patio, taxidermy, arcade machines, and a fun crowd at all times. The jukebox tunes don’t stop, and the snacks are good too (despite the inevitably long wait for food). We don’t have any idea who Linda is, but she rocks.
Rachel’s Ginger Beer is the only bar in the neighborhood where the non-alcoholic options are just as delicious as the boozy ones. The ginger beer flavors here range from caramelized pineapple to passionfruit vanilla, but if you’re here for something alcoholic, go for a frozen mule, a spiked soft serve float, or a make-your-own-mule on the rocks with any ginger beer flavor. Don’t forget to grab a spicy fried chicken sandwich from the Ma’Ono takeout window.
Go ahead and picture the most stereotypical representation of a biergarten you can dream up. This is Rein Haus, and it’s actually great. This place is huge and packed to the brim with long wooden tables, bratwurst, and college students. If you can get past the fact that the line to the bathroom will be excruciating and that most of the people here are basically children, bring the gang and pound liters of interesting beers in glass boots. You can also eat comically large pretzels, and pay eight dollars an hour to play bocce ball super competitively until you hate your friends. Prost.
Bar Vacilando is the kind of bar that must be a total secret, because it’s typically pretty empty. But this works to your advantage for any situation where you’d prefer to be able to hear your conversation and not wait 20 minutes for a gimlet. The cocktails are also good (get the Honey Badger) and priced suspiciously reasonably, and there’s a hidden back patio that looks like the outdoor lounge of a desert resort.
Captain Black’s isn’t much on the inside, but you’re definitely coming here when the weather’s warm for rotating draught cocktails and killer fried chicken on the rooftop patio. It’s the perfect place to day drink away your Sunday afternoon, and to take photos your vodka and lemonade held up toward the sky while everyone around you groans (and then does the same).
Nothing makes us feel more alive than drinking inside a renovated mortuary. The Pine Box has the shell of a funeral home but also has the trendy atmosphere of a cool beer bar with tons of taps. It’s great for a casual weeknight drink/brick oven pizza or a pitstop during a bar-hopping spree. Either way, even if it doesn’t exactly pair with your triple IPA, get the big ass chocolate chunk cookie.
If you think cider houses are dumb, then you clearly haven’t been to Capitol Cider. It feels like being 16 and hanging out with your friends in your basement playing board games, but without any mildew smells, and with alcohol you obtained legally. If you’re lucky enough to get a table, break out the Cards Against Humanity and grab a pint of something semi-dry if you’re into the classics, or a funky apple mead if you’re feeling like a medieval court jester (or just adventurous).