Belltown: Dive Bars and Speakeasies

Image credit:  Tiffany Von Arnim

Image credit: Tiffany Von Arnim

Part One of a Two Part Series
See Part Two

I live about 75 miles from Seattle, as the crow flies, or about a three-hour walk. I’m not kidding. I can leave my house, walk about 10 minutes up the street, get on a ferry, and walk off in downtown Seattle less than three hours later. (Though truth be told, everything is uphill from the waterfront in Seattle, so I tend to opt for a cab.)

My significant other and I make the trip two or three times a year, usually for a three-day weekend. We’ve been so many times, we’ve already seen all the sites, including attending both Seahawks and Mariners games, so now we just go to relax and unwind. And for us, that means exploring on foot, stopping frequently at local watering holes for liquid refreshment.

Day drinking, anyone?

Seattle does dive bars and cocktail culture extremely well, but I humbly offer a few simple tips to help you make the most of the experience:

  • Don’t be shy. Sit at the bar. Talk to the bartender. Talk to the stranger sitting next to you. This is the whole point.

  • Expect surly service and don’t be a dick about it. Be patient, respectful, and kind. Experience has taught me that 99% of the time, simply behaving like a decent human being can turn a surly server into a friend.

  • Add, “… and a glass of water,” to everything you order. And then actually sip on it once in a while. It’ll help your day last longer, prevent things from going too far sideways, and you’ll feel better for it in the morning.

  • Always tip generously. No matter what. I mean it.

Bonus Tip: It’s almost always happy hour somewhere in Seattle, so if you don’t have it already, download Cocktail Compass. This app will show you, in real time, which bars nearby are currently offering Happy Hour, what their specials are, and how long until they end. It also provides maps to help you find your way from one place to the next. If you’re a little too tumbly to walk, you can even use the app to call a cab.

To get you started, I’ve compiled two of my favorite walking pub-crawls, with a couple of touristy things thrown in to break things up.

Spread over two days and two neighborhoods, Day One is below — Day Two is here.

Day One: Belltown — Dive Bars & Speakeasies

Image courtesy of  Pixabay

Image courtesy of Pixabay

The 5 Point Cafe
415 Cedar St.
A day in Seattle absolutely must start with breakfast at The 5 Point Café . This is the dive bar against which all others will forever be measured, and most will fall short. Yes, it’s grungy but in the best way possible. It’s been open since 1929, so if you’re looking for shiny and new, you’re in the wrong place. (And reading the wrong article, for that matter.)

Order a big meal. Plug some money into the jukebox (but remember — no Billy Joel before noon). Have a Bloody Mary. Hell, have three. Staying all day is even a reasonable option, (I’ve done it more than once myself), but bear in mind, The 5 Point is open 24/7 — you can always come back later.

Bonus Tip: There are two sides to The 5 Point — 21+ on the left, minors permitted on the right. Choose left. Always, always choose left. Choosing right will only lead to disappointment.

Seattle Center
305 Harrison St.
From The 5 Point it’s an easy walk to Seattle Center, where you can take a ride to the top of the Space Needle. Built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the iconic Needle is synonymous with Seattle and everyone should visit it at least once.

Right next door, Chihuly Garden and Glass is home to a permanent exhibition of the work of celebrated glass sculptor Dale Chihuly. If you’re into art, Chihuly’s work is stunning. And with a Space Needle — Chihuly combo ticket, you can save yourself a few bucks.

2222 2nd Ave
Okay, touristy stuff out of the way, time to head down to 2nd Avenue for more libations. Walk back past The 5 Point and take any street heading toward the water — Wall St., Battery St., Bell St., doesn’t matter. The next stop is a hole-in-the-wall called Shorty’s that you’ll find on 2nd between Bell and Blanchard.

A Coney Island-themed dive, Shorty’s serves up hot dogs, pinball, friendly staff, and cheap booze. There are a few too many scary clowns adorning the walls for my taste but a couple of beers in and they grow on you.

Bonus Tip: Wander into the back and take a peek at The Trophy Room — a throwback lounge, rarely open, that looks like it’s straight out of 1960s Vegas.

The Lava Lounge
2226 2nd Ave.
Assuming it’s after 3:00 pm when you stumble out of Shorty’s, pop into The Lava Lounge right next door. Try a Boozy Slushie, if you dare — absolutely deadly — but avoid the tropical cocktails — sickly sweet. Lava lamps and a Tiki vibe make this dive worth popping into for at least one.

Bonus Tip: Rumor has it that Shorty’s and The Lava Lounge, along with everything else in that block, will be closing (soon-ish?) to make room for a new development. So get there before it’s too late.

Rob Roy
2332 2nd Ave.
If you’re in the mood to go a bit upscale, and if it’s after 4:00 pm, turn right when you come out of The Lava Lounge and go north on 2nd. About a block up you’ll find a cocktail lounge called Rob Roy. A bit more posh than you’re probably used to by this point in your day, Rob Roy serves fancy cocktails using ice hacked off a huge block with a machete.

Trust me; you’ll definitely want to sit at the bar for this one. You have to witness for yourself the skill with which the bartender wields that enormous blade. And if you’re a bit peckish but not ready for a full meal, Rob Roy’s daily Happy Hour includes Goldfish crackers and ‘souped-up cup-o-noodles’ for FREE.

Bathtub Gin & Co.
2332 2nd Ave (But ignore this and follow the directions instead.)
For another, even swankier option, head back up 2nd Avenue, then hang a right down Blanchard St. toward 1st Avenue. Look for an alley on your right — it can look a bit sketchy after dark but you’ll be fine. A few steps in you’ll find a nondescript door with a brass plaque informing you that you’ve found Bathtub Gin & Co.

This speakeasy-inspired lounge serves up yummy, albeit pricey, craft cocktails using an impressive selection of local and international spirits. The atmosphere is classy and clandestine, as any self-respecting speakeasy should be, but the staff is super friendly and will concoct something special just for you.

The Two Bells Tavern
2313 4th Ave.
If you’re still upright at this point, it might be a good idea to end the day with a laid-back dose of reality — and a damn fine burger. Go back to Blanchard and walk up the hill to 4th Avenue. Turn left on 4th and in about a block and a half, you’ll find The Two Bells Tavern. With vintage neon and local art on the walls, beat up bar stools, and a classic red and black tile floor, the Two Bells looks and feels like it hasn’t changed in decades.

The first time I walked into this place, about eight years ago, I could totally imagine Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta, in shiny Italian suits, drinking highballs at the bar. The reality is far more down to earth than that, thankfully, with friendly staff and regulars that always make us feel welcome. This is the perfect spot for a burger and a beer to cap of a great day.

Bonus Tip: There’s an awesome beer garden out back where you can actually enjoy your drink and smoke at the same time.

I really hope you’ll check these places out and let me know what you think. But I also hope you’ll go off-script and find new places of your own. If you do, come back and tell me about them so I can find them, too.

Be sure to check out Day Two: Old Seattle.