With a throwback vibe to days when Seattle had more of a rock culture to go with well-made-but-unfussy cocktails and delicious comfort food, the Black Cat Bar (2132 1st Avenue) is a welcome addition to the family of friendly Belltown spots opening over the last few years.
The bar’s sociable-and-rocking aesthetic comes from Dustin Haarstad, past at Canon, Naka, and more snazzy cocktail spots (he’s the person behind Black Cat, along with Unicorn founder Paul Blake). The drinks here tend towards being fun and tasty, with the "Let’s Get Weird" perhaps the most fun. Coming out of Dustin’s Chartreuse obsession and love of Squirt – well, it’s just Green Chartreuse and Squirt! -- it’s wonderfully weird, while also being light, herbally, and refreshing. If cocktailing, the "Red Fang" is another superb choice, featuring vodka, housemade grenadine, fresh lime, Peychaud’s bitters, and bubbly. Sparkly and super approachable with a great tang from the grenadine and citrus.
The drink menus are framed within old album covers (mine was The Clash’s Sandinista), and on them you’ll also find an impressive “beer-and-a-shot” menu. It travels the punk-and-metal road the bar favors, with pairings like the "Ode to Lemmy" (shout out to the legendary Motorhead singer, RIP) which is a PBR and a shot of Jack, as well as the "Where Eagles Dare" (named for the Iron Maiden song), duo-ing a Stiegl Radler – a can’t-stop-sipping summertime grapefruit beer – and Luna Azul tequila. If you’re looking for just beer, the rotating draft list is heavy on locals like Holy Mountain. As Dustin said, at Black Cat you’ll discover “simple great drinks and nerdy beer on tap.”
The edibles from chef Andrew Cross (also ex-Canon) matches the drinks, boasting comfort food made really well, and with a few twists that stand out like a well-played guitar solo. If you’re stopping after work for a drink and a snack, head for the Animal Fries. Hand-cut, flavorful, and on the thinner side, they’re topped with a thick lush Mornay sauce zingy with mustard accents. If hungry for more of a meal, there are tempting options for both veggies and carnivores. The Buttermilk Fried Chicken sandwich has been a top choice for the latter, served with Kimchi slaw, nuoc cham cukes, and gochujang aioli. But next time I’m there, I’ll be heading straight for the vegan tacos with roasted cauliflower and buffalo sauce.
But you’d be forgiven if, when you walk in, you ignore the menus altogether. Because it’s impossible not to be entranced by the amazing fantasy mural – a sabretooth with four eyes and a Sheena-esque woman in the midst of zombies – on the back wall, created by local tattoo artists @jermicidalta2 and @ashleyntattoo (see photo above). The mural looks right off an album cover, and is bandmates with other art, like chalkboard drawings of Lemmy and Iron Maiden’s frightening mascot Eddie and concert posters for Mastadon and the Stooges. The bar is planning art shows, too, as well as punk rock bingo and more events, all taking place around the big wooden booths and wooden-topped bar.
There are a few pinball machines if you’re looking for a little extra excitement – they also serve as a nod towards Haarstad's father, who once was a well-known pinball machine fixer. Really, the Black Cat Bar is full of Haarstad connections and his welcoming personality, which you’ll notice right when walking in, as he’s behind the bar talking to customer and telling stories. It makes patrons feel at home in the bar, whether their musical tastes run to punk, metal, or something else entirely. Dogs are even welcome!
A.J. Rathbun writes about bars, spirits and cocktails for Seattle magazine and seattlemag.com, and is the author of 11 books, incluing the IACP award-winning Good Spirits. See more at ajrathbun.com.