The Best Bars On Capitol Hill
photo credit: Nate Watters
Experiencing Capitol Hill nightlife is like fiddling with a faulty remote control car: you never know which way it’s going to go, but it’s a really eventful time regardless. Plan any big night out that involves bar-hopping, and chances are you’ll decide on Capitol Hill—and with good reason. There’s a quality mix of cocktail bars where you can host your knitting circle alongside places where you’ll feel the need to yell, “Down the hatch, people!” That’s why we love it. Here are our favorite places to drink on the Hill.
You might already know that Canon is home to Seattle’s best cocktails. Here, 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 in theatrical vessels (like ceramic bathtubs or IV bags) instead of candy that alters your chemical makeup. Order from the encyclopedic menu book, or trust the bartender to whip something up from the wall of liquor so massive that they need a ladder to get to the top-shelf stuff.
Dino's is technically a bar, but swinging in for a late-night round of Rainier tallboys and actively ignoring the pizza would be a huge error in judgment. We're talking mainly about the Mr. Pink. This pie is topped with sweet vodka sauce, patches of fresh mozzarella and ricotta, and basil, and it's definitively the greatest pizza within Seattle city limits. The crust is thick and crunchy, and the whole bottom is so charred that it’s almost black in some parts, which (to be clear) is exactly how you want it. For a very happy night, add on some negronis and a fistful of garlic knots.
La Dive’s location used to be a sandwich shop, but now it really feels more like…a club. This natural wine bar serves frozen Campari-spiked Beaujoulais slushies, fun bubbles, and fancy flavored soda if you’re in the market for something non-alcoholic. Despite the fact that Chambongs are on the menu, La Dive is a very relaxing space to hop over to a table with a few friends and snack on Eastern European small plates like sardine toasts and spicy potato pelmeni. While, you know, also casually gulping glass bongs full of grapey carbonation.
This dark, cavernous, mahogany-hued bar 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 movie. Only, instead of somersaulting across the bar to avoid your sworn enemy’s attacks, the only real obligation you have here is to order delicious tropical drinks (the passionfruity, apple brandy-packed Expat Punch is our favorite) and standout snacks. Specifically, the cheeseburger bao with a special sauce dip that should be sold in bottle form.
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 a dark antique parlor greeted by a cocktail wizard who will whip you up something delicious based on whatever you like since there’s no menu. The bartender will jot your preferences down and then produce 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 we’d like it to be known that the cheddar corn cracklins with serrano fondue is the best bar snack in Seattle.
Hopefully you like going to bars during the weekend, because Flight is only open Friday through Sunday. We imagine that’s not a problem. Booking a tasting at this aviation-themed wine bar is a great way to explore some new wines and eat some standout chocolate in one sitting. It’s relatively easy to secure a table of any size by emailing the bar in advance, though it’s not as easy to refrain from bringing boxes of bonbons home afterward. They serve charcuterie and a delicious gluten-free snack mix, but you can’t miss their phenomenal bark strips, a.k.a. dark chocolate sticks studded with olive oil, salt, and black pepper-toasted Rice Krispies. They pair fantastically with the port that’s served with them.
A night out on Capitol Hill usually has a full itinerary—there’s the pregame dinner, the dive bar where pint towers start to form, the inevitable karaoke place, and, of course, the hot dog stand finale. Next time, just go to Donna’s. This Italian cocktail bar by the folks from Rose Temple has the whole-night-out package. With tasty under-$15 bowls of pasta like curly mafaldine in a creamy bolognese, music loud enough to ripple your tomato-basil martini, and a gold disco ball spinning at the center, there’s enough fun and great food to make Donna’s the one (and only) destination for a rowdy evening.
By day, Gemini Room is a sleepy espresso bar that serves a decent breakfast sandwich. By night, however, it's a party that can really only be described as "groovy." There are 1970s vibes aplenty, with mod lounge furniture and great drinks ranging from Lambrusco-topped whiskey sours to ube cold brew cocktails. Just skip the mediocre snacks and be prepared to put your name on a waiting list.
Drinking at The Doctor’s Office is the closest thing to having a fresh cocktail poured by a hospitable friend at their place. Exhibit A: sometimes you’ll receive some Champagne as a welcome present. Exhibit B: we’ve also been handed a full liquor bottle with a glass of ice and told, “you know what a pour looks like.” The space feels exclusive, since it’s a small, dark room with a marble bar and a sofa, and though we’ve been able to walk right in before, you should definitely make a reservation. The menu is a bit complicated to decipher, but if you just let the staff know what you’re in the mood for, they’ll provide the perfect… prescription. If you don’t like going out, this is the place where you should go out. And while we won’t share any specific spoilers, we highly encourage you to visit the restroom at least once during your visit.
Light Sleeper is an attractive wine bar at Chophouse Row that works well for any last-minute occasion that warrants a glass of natural bubbles and fancy bites like cornichons, baguette and butter, or anchovies slick with lemon oil. Occasionally, there’s tasty pizza on special, too, with toppings like meatball and cacio e pepe. Especially major props to Light Sleeper’s lovely indoor-outdoor seating for people-watching during the warmer months.
Bait Shop feels a little bit like a tiki bar and a little bit like a lakeside tackle shop. They have nautical decor, painkiller slushies, board games, incredible triple-dipped french fries, and movies playing on a massive projector. The mood here is ideal if you’re in for a good, loud night but also feel like being seated the entire time. There are few things better than intense rounds of Uno, with slushie-induced brain freezes and burnt tongues from hot potatoes.
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Stay far away from Unicorn if you want a subdued evening discussing nonfiction literature. 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 come loaded with bubblegum vodka, Sprite, and other things containing high fructose corn syrup. If it’s someone’s birthday, order them some “Unicorn Tears″ and make them wear “the hat” (a.k.a. a bedazzled baseball helmet with a two-foot-long horn hot-glued to it). You can expect at least one ridiculous thing to happen at Unicorn whenever you go.
One of the best sushi spots in the city also happens to be one of our favorite 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 creatively-named cocktails. Try the “JG Wentworth” or the “Strawberry Manilow” and order a couple of spicy tuna rolls and salmon nigiri to snack on.
Nothing will make you 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 atmosphere of a cool beer bar with tons of taps. It’s great for a casual weeknight drink with mediocre nachos, or a pitstop during a bar-hopping spree. Either way, even if it doesn’t exactly pair with your triple IPA, get the giant chocolate chunk cookie.
The only thing prettier than Boat Bar’s white and seafoam green dining room during the day is the same scene lit by creamy yellow candles at night. Make this your spot for a date or small gathering where you’d like to hear each other speak, but still drink some elegant cocktails like boulevardiers, sazeracs, and tart gimlets. Food-wise, the place is great for anything from a few oysters to a full meal involving things like clam croquettes, steak tartare, or a burger covered in green goddess. But if anything else, come to Boat Bar because you can order steaks from Bateau next door, which is a legendary hack to take advantage of when you couldn’t snag a reservation there.
The Belmont has a lot of good things going on: It’s a bottle shop, a wine bar, and a meat and cheese tasting room where you can sample everything from triple cream brie to Iberico chorizo. It’s ideal for low-key meetups with your Jane Austen book club, but could also work for a wild night out with a bunch of friends (and if that still means book club, more power to you). Their frozen rosé tastes like a goblet of fresh watermelon sorbet, so you’ll want one of those during the spring and summer when it’s on the menu.
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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 everything from a shot-and-beer combo to a lovely local cider to boozy slushies made with Mountain Dew. There’s a big back patio, taxidermy, arcade machines, jukebox tunes that don’t stop, and a fun crowd at all times.
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 in this beautiful plant-filled space range from caramelized pineapple to passionfruit vanilla, but if you’re here for a proper cocktail, go for a frozen mule, a spirit-topped soft serve float, or a porch swing with gin and Aperol.
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Rhein Haus is located in a huge space that’s 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 may take longer than a sitcom episode, and that most of the people here are basically children, swing by and slurp liters of German lager served in glass boots. You can also eat things like schnitzel sliders, one of our favorite kale salads in town, and comically large pretzels with tasty beer cheese, all while paying 10 dollars an hour to play bocce extremely competitively until your friends hate each other.
The Best Restaurants On Capitol Hill
Bar Vacilando is a beautiful bar complete with giant ceiling fans, plants, and a hidden back patio that looks like the setting of an Anthropologie catalog photoshoot. It works to your advantage for any situation where you need a reliable, calm neighborhood spot: first date, last-minute group hang, or after-dinner drinks with your parents. The cocktails are also great—from mezcal mules to classic penecillins—especially with a paper bag full of herby fries and mojo aioli.
Captain Black’s is pretty plain on the inside, but that doesn’t matter, because you’re coming here when the weather’s warm for draught cocktails and fried pickles on the rooftop patio. In fact, “Captain Blacks later?” is the first thing to fly through cyberspace in our group text whenever fake summer hits on that random 65-degree day in January. It’s the perfect place to day drink on a Sunday afternoon, and to take phone photos of your Manny’s pint held up toward the cerulean sky while all of your friends groan.
We love this Filipino speakeasy for a surprise party. That’s mostly because it’s a great place to drink, but also because it’s fun to lead the oblivious guest of honor to a spooky, unmarked door. When you have a reservation here, you’re in for incredibly bright and citrusy cocktails alongside Filipino snacks like lumpia, grilled paneer with gingery mushrooms, and a tangy steak sandwich with Velveeta that’s so good it surpasses nachos and/or macaroni as the best thing involving melty processed cheese.