The Best Themed Restaurants in Seattle

Kendall Jones explores the new wave of upscale restaurants with an escapist twist
Themed restaurants in seattle Von Trapp's seattle magazine
Bocce ball is on the menu at Von Trapp's on Capitol Hill

It is ironic how we spend our days surrounded by a buzzing sea of humanity but live in relative isolation. Even when forced out among fellow humans, we commute with headphones on and eyes fixed to a handheld stream of text message conversations and social media interactions. We forge new friendships 140 characters at a time; we live vicariously through someone else’s vacation photos on Facebook.
But for the past two years, and especially in recent months, a growing number of Seattle restaurants and bars have opened with the apparent goal of encouraging us to break out of our digital shells and enjoy the real world. These places offer a playful environment to help us unwind and open up, using more than libations to create a sense of release. Some get us interacting with one another through games and activities (think: King’s Hardware in Ballard), others create a sense of transportation to distant lands (remember trend pioneer Buca di Beppo?). The most successful of these establishments, though, pair the experience with great food and drink.
The popular Capitol Hill bar and all-ages eatery Poquitos (pictured left, 1000 E Pike St.; 206.453.4216; is convincingly designed in the spirit of Spanish colonial Mexico. Snapping some Instagram shots while you’re here might make your friends think you’ve slipped away on vacation. The décor is so authentic that it actually makes the margaritas taste better. The owners of Poquitos, James Weimann and Deming Maclise, are obnoxiously well traveled and revel in bringing their experiences back to the Jet City, returning from their adventures with more than the flavors of distant lands, but also with shipping containers full of carefully scavenged design elements, such as the antique light fixtures and authentic Mexican tile.
In addition to Poquitos, Weimann and Maclise operate four other travel-inspired restaurants in Seattle—Bastille Café & Bar, Macleod’s Scottish Pub and Stoneburner in Ballard, as well as Von Trapp’s on Capitol Hill (more on that, in a second). A key to their success: These trendsetting entrepreneurs think of themselves as designers and not just restaurateurs.
“One of the things we try to do is give people an escape during their dining experience,” Maclise says. “When I go out, I want to feel like I’m transported to another place, and we try to bring back the essence and soul of each country and/or type of cuisine we are trying to share with our customers.”
Like the décor, the food and drink at Poquitos are faithful representations of Mexico. The wildly popular Purist margarita ($7.50) is deliciously simple, mixing tequila and agave with freshly squeezed limes, but the specialties here are cocktails created using infused tequilas. The Jala-Pina margarita ($8.50) uses jalapeño-infused tequila and fresh pineapple juice to balance the heat with the sweet. Cerveza? Call for the Hombre lager ($5), a Mexican-style beer produced by Seattle’s Elysian Brewing Company exclusively for Poquitos.
For happy hour, throngs of thirsty hillsters crowd the large, heated, seasonally enclosed patio; the ceviche tostada ($5) and the mini sopes ($5) are favorites. Go big and order the mole fries ($5), Poquitos’ version of poutine, with house-cut fries smothered in mole, crema and Cotija, then topped with toasted sesame seeds and cilantro.