I’m not going to lie--I tend to love the majority of bars. Sure, there are those generic spots that everyone should avoid, but outside of those sad places, most bars, lounges, dives and dancehalls are pretty fun, provided you’re in the right mood for the right bar (so, probably no need to visit a high-end cocktail spot if you wanna have a beer and watch the game, and vice versa). But within all the various bars, there’s something extra special about a small bar. I think it’s the cozy nature, which makes everything all homey, combined with the air of uniqueness you feel when in a smaller bar: of course you matter more, because there aren’t many of you. With all that said, here are some top small bars in Seattle. You won’t want to visit these with a big posse, but they’re perfect for a few. And if you have a favorite small bar I missed, put it in the comments.
A long-time favorite in downtown Ballard, if it didn’t have the upstairs seating for around 10, Hazelwood (2311 NW Market Street) would definitely be the smallest spot on the list. The way it’s arranged is perfect, though, with the bar directly in front of the door--you walk in, and you’re in line for a drink--and the upstairs for overflow. The cocktail list is solid, as well, and the bartenders manage to make you feel you’re at a wonderfully tatteredly elegant home while keeping drinks in folk’s hands. Order up a Horse’s Neck (rye and ginger beer, $8) and stay until closing.
E. Smith Mercantile
A new addition to Seattle’s small (but worthy) list of small bars, E. Smith Mercantile (208 1st Ave South) adds a great combination to Pioneer Square. It has a well-curated assortment of specialty food, clothes, candy and more in the shop up front and a friendly horseshoe bar with a couple of side seats in the back. The liqueur and spirit selection matches the shop selection too--it’s also well curated--and the bar staff is amiable and ready to pour. Try a Cure-All ($10) with horehound-infused bourbon, Cherry Herring, and orange alongside some Candied Pecans ($2.50) and pretend it’s 1914.
Perhaps the biggest bar on the list, Essex (1421 NW 70th Street) in upper Ballard still only seats maybe 30 if everyone cuddles extra close. Which you might want to do, because the bar overflows in affable charm and you often, when there, find yourself chatting with folks you don’t know at the bar or at tables under the whale-print wallpaper. You can’t go wrong with most of the drinks on the menu, but I like the Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth, and soda, $10) off the tap tons, as well as just trying all the housemade ingredients--and I can’t get enough of the Sriracha Brussels sprouts (which I think run $6).
With sparse seating amidst lovely and a touch rustic wood tones, the Dray, which is also in Ballard (708 NW 65th St Seattle), has a bit of a miraculous-bar-in-the-middle-of-the-open-west feel. This is underlined by the amazing beer selection that has bottles from around the world (highlighted by tasty USA craft beers like Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA) and a rotating set of taps with delicious beers like the Anacortes Cab-Sauv Aged Sour. The sociable staff is also always ready to do a little gentle beer-education as needed, too. But when you settle in, don’t try so many beers you can’t have one of the dandy flatbread pizzas ($6 to $8).
This Georgetown ex-café (6105 13th Ave. Street) loses its small bar status if you walk through the connecting door to large sister restaurant Brass Tacks. But if you stay in Ground Control only, you won’t be there with more than 20-ish others. Sip on a Georgetown cocktail ($10) that mingles Old Overholt rye, Punt e Mes vermouth, Fernet Branca, maraschino liqueur and an orange twist, under the airplane ephemera and art. You’ll spend some time talking to the likeable staff and regulars, too--and since you’re there, have a goo-ily great grilled cheese ($6 to $8, depending on toppings).