Cap Hill nightlife is like playing 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.
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.
Chances are, you already know about the cocktail holy grail that is Canon. 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.
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 partake in 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 something like a girls’ night out (and if that still means book club, more power to you). Be sure to get the frozen rosé during the spring and summer.
If you still have your collection of the Chinese zodiac Beanie Babies (and even if you don’t), you’re going to have a good time at East Trading Company. The signature cocktails here are named after the zodiac calendar, like The Tiger (kind of like a smoky Old Fashioned), The Sheep (with pisco, absinthe, and paprika), and The Rooster (an Aperol spritz with lemon-berry sage syrup and butterfly pea flower tea). There’s also a back gift shop with Japanese snacks and a Galaga machine.
It’s true: drinking inside Optimism will make you look on the brighter side - flights on flights of homemade beer will do that to you. Don’t come here looking for a basil-beet-dragonfruit-infused sour ale - Optimism is about simple, classic stuff. Grab a long table with your crew next to the mountain range of steel beer-making tanks, have a bite from the daily-rotating food truck, and Saturday afternoon is officially excellent. If, after all that, you still see your glass as half-empty, it just means you need to chug the rest and order another one.
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.
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, eat comically large pretzels, and pay the eight dollars an hour to play bocce ball super competitively until you basically hate your friends. Prost.
Bar Vacilando is the kind of new, vibey cocktail 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 phone photos your Tito’s and lemonade held up toward the sky while everyone around you groans (and then does the same).
Tin Table is up the stairs in the Oddfellows Building (walk past Molly Moon’s, resist the smell of waffle cones, and head under the red awning) right across the hall from Century Ballroom, so it’s a perfect place to grab an old fashioned or a spritzer after taking a samba class with a new date (bold move, by the way). They have solid bar snacks like wings and fries (but if your bar snack of choice is risotto you can have that too), and exposed brick, which always makes a bar cooler. It’s been proven somehow.
Nothing makes us feel more alive than drinking while sitting on a pew inside a renovated mortuary. The Pine Box has the shell of a funeral home but the trendy atmosphere of a cool beer bar with tons of taps. 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).
Knee-High Stocking Company is the least-touristy of all of the Seattle “speakeasies,” so that automatically makes it one of the best. Perfect for a birthday surprise, because it’s fun to lead the guest of honor to the random unmarked door they’ve definitely seen before and just thought lead to a gross laundromat or sad mother-in-law apartment. Make an online reservation, ring the doorbell, and some incredible cocktails and paintings of things like cherubs and madames await.
A fantastic choice in the Northern part of Cap Hill, where classier bars are few and far between. The retractable ceiling converts the back room to a patio when the sun’s out, the menus are slipped inside kid’s book covers, they make good cocktails, and the Spanish tapas plates are pretty solid, too. If you’re undecided, put down your copy of “The Berenstein Bears and the Messy Room” and have the bartender improvise.