Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bitter in Seattle

Your host returned from a great Memorial Day Weekend in Seattle, one of the few times when the weather has actually been more agreeable than in San Francisco. This past weekend served as a great opportunity to visit several cocktail bars in the Emerald City, and try drinks based on the bitter liquors of Italy and France.

First up was the Zig Zag cafe, of Pike's Place Market. Reasonable prices, gin braised prawns and lamb burgers, and unique drinks. The decor is dark and artsy, with a nice patio on the Pike Place Hill Climb. In particular, the Trident Cocktail is tasty. Concocted by cocktail guru (and MSFT Director) Robert Hess, the Trident balances the bitter flavor of Italian Cynar (artichoke based liquor) with Aquavit, peach bitters and sherry. Apparently, Zig Zag goes through more Cynar in a year than all the bars combined in the State of Washington. Enjoy a cocktail or two here in a relaxed environment. Most cocktails under $9.

Next up was Vessel, decidedly more upscale and modern. Though located in an historic building next to the 5th Ave Theater in Downtown, the interior is very minimalist, with high ceilings and clean lines. The drinks are very good, though pricier at $12. They made an excellent rendition of the Widow's Kiss, a bitter cocktail from 1895, utilizing apple brandy and three types of bitters, including the French Chartreuse and Benedictine. The bartenders here wear vest and tie, reminiscent of several San Francisco spots. Though the cocktails are on the small side, they also tend to stir, rather than shake most drinks, which leads to a less diluted end product.

Finally, we head to Sun Liquor, located on Capitol Hill. Asian decor, friendly vibe, and reasonable prices ($7-$9 per cocktail). There is a seasonal cocktail list, but the knowledgeable bar staff should be able to mix most drinks up. Our bar tender made an excellent Toronto Cocktail, essentially rye whiskey, Fernet, and bitters. Again, the tendance here is to stir rather than shake most drinks.

Seattle Cocktail Bars:

Zig Zag Cafe
1501 Western Avenue
on the Pike Hillclimb
Seattle, WA 98101
(206) 625-1146

1312 5th Ave
Seattle, WA 98101
(206) 652-0521

Sun Liquor
607 Summit Ave E
(between Mercer St & Roy St)
Seattle, WA 98102
(206) 860-1130

Bitter Cocktails:

The Trident
1 ounce dry sherry
1 ounce Cynar
1 ounce aquavit
2 dashes peach bitters

Garnish: Lemon twist
Stir with ice in a mixing glass . Strain into a cocktail glass.

Widow's Kiss
2 ounce calvados or apple jack
1 ounce yellow Chartreuse
1 ounce Benedictine
1-2 dashes Angostura bitters

Garnish: Lemon twist
Shake with ice in cocktail shaker. Strain into a cocktail glass.

Toronto Cocktail
2 ounces rye whiskey (100 proof or greater is best)
1/4 ounce Fernet
1/4 ounce simple syrup or other sweetener
2 dashes Angostura Bitters (or other high quality aromatic bitters)

Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed orange peel, or orange twist. Use more or less sweetener to taste.


  1. Jason - I highly recommend the restaurant 'Tilth' for your next trip to SEA.

  2. Thanks, I will have to keep that in mind.