Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Drinks | cocktails & cider in Capitol Hill

During my time in Seattle, I had the pleasure of visiting two fantastic tavern-like bars in Capitol Hill -- Tavern Law and Capitol Cider. 

After dinner at The Walrus and the Carpenter (post to come soon!), {1} I headed to Tavern Law for drinks at its (shhh!) speakeasy upstairs called Needle & Thread, for which I made reservations two weeks in advance (the maximum reservation allowance) via phone. The cocktail bar's name, Tavern Law, is an ode to the Pioneer Inn and Tavern Law which was passed by Congress in 1832 that legalized drinking in public bars and saloons, until Prohibition came around nearly a century later. In 1919, the Volstead Act "almost destroyed the craft of the American bartender by outlawing the production and pleasure of alcoholic beverages," and "so the Speakeasy was born in hidden rooms and dark basements, booming until the repeal of Prohibition in 1933." The art of mixing drinks is "alive today thanks to the efforts of dedicated bar tenders, historians, and drinkers alike. Tavern Law aims to be a celebration of this history.

01F - Tavern Law
{2,4Tavern Law is a sophisticated looking bar, {3,5} stocked with a proper cabinet of spirits and bitters. {6,7} The bar counter is wide, offering a generous amount of seats with a vintage style refrigerator along the wall.

I arrived about a half hour early before my 9 PM reservation at Needle & Thread, so I enjoyed a pleasant pour of ginger beer at the bar while I waited. {1} Awesomely enough, the entrance to Needle & Thread is next to the bookcase wall, behind a steel, vault door.

01F - N&T
To be buzzed in, I had to pick up the receiver of old rotary telephone to wait for the hostess to pick up on the other line. Once the door is unlocked, {2} the entrance leads to a stairway that {3} goes to the second floor of the bar, the home to the speakeasy, Needle & Thread. In stark contrast to the darkened woods and dim lighting of Tavern Law, {4} Needle & Thread has white shelving and honey-colored woods -- a departure from the basement/backroom type feel that you typically find in modern speakeasy cocktail bars.

The thing about the "menu" at Needle & Thread is that, well, there is no menu. Everything is "made-to-order" by the bartender, dictated by a few of our personal guidelines (i.e., a chosen spirit and a little flavor profile to go along with it). The two set of guidelines I gave that evening were "something citrus-y with rum" and "gin and berries" -- and this is what we were served:

The "citrus and rum" had a touch of grapefruit liqueur, while the "berries and gin" had a splash of crème de cassis, grenadine, and Cointreau. Both beverages fit exactly what we wanted (great sips to end the night!), so we were quite happy with our Needle & Thread "speeakeasy" experience.

The next evening, before dinner reservations at Canlis (post to come!), {1,3,5} I made sure to get a pre-dinner libation at Capitol Cider, a cider-centric pub that had opened earlier this summer. Thanks to a feature in American Way, American Airlines' inflight magazine, I was lucky to add this to this trip's itinerary.

02J - CC
{4,7} Capitol Cider has about 33 rotating ciders on tap (!), half of which are solely devoted to American, English, and French craft ciders, as well as a generous offering of ciders by the glass/bottle. Along with this, the bar also offers 15 types of local craft beer on tap, a classic cocktail menu, an entirely gluten-free bill of fare, and a game room in its basement with a stage for music. Here are the two ciders I had at Capitol Cider:

{2} A sparkling black currant cider from Finnriver Farm & Cidery Black Currant  (12 ounces with 6.5% ABV) from Washington state: Beautifully done -- essentially a bold, heavier cider that essentially tasted like Ribena (the British uncarbonated black currant flavored soft drink) mixed with apple juice. Definitely a sipping drink.
{6} A straight hard cider from Anthem Hops (12 ounces with 6.5% ABV) from Oregon: Refreshing and light -- a great intro beverage to those exploring hard ciders for the first time.

Findings: The Capitol Hill neighborhood surely has some great bars worth checking out -- Capitol Cider and Tavern Law (and obviously, Needle & Thread) really impressed me. There's been a newly ignited curiosity to explore the world of hard ciders, very much thanks to Capitol Cider -- I had no idea there were cider-centric bars out there, let alone enough ciders to have a rotating tap list of 33 varieties! I also loved how Tavern Law and Needle & Thread really embraced the true spirit of the American speakeasy (i.e., unpublished menus, darkened bars, experienced bartenders, hidden passageways, etc.). Be sure to make reservations as early as two weeks out to ensure the optimal experience.

So if you find yourself in the Emerald City, these two bars are one of the special jewels hidden in this beautiful city.

Price point: $5-9 for each cider at Capitol Cider.

--August 21-22, 2013

Needle & Thread
Tavern Law
1406 12th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98122

Capitol Cider
818 East Pike Street
Seattle, WA 98122

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