Food & Drink

Bar Exam

The Gun Club, Cafe Presse, and Smith

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It's impossible to get a drink at one of Capitol Hill's three new bars, but not because of the crowd: The Gun Club (1408 12th Ave, 404-LOFT) isn't selling liquor, not yet. It's selling condos. The future bar is functioning as the Trace Lofts' sales center. The woodwork's custom, the refrigerators are vintage, and the roulette wheel is semi-functional (it's mounted on the wall at an angle; if you spin it too hard, the marble will fly off, possibly putting out someone's eye). It looks great (the proprietors also run Bauhaus, Top Pot, and Sun Liquor), but it's a deeply weird scene. Eventually it'll be a mid-size music venue, but for now most of the space is devoted to a fully furnished model condo, effortfully decorated in the style of Trace Lofts' target market. Behind the bar: Trace representatives, wearing Trace dog tags, assessing your propensity to buy Trace property in an elaborately casual manner. Asking questions about square footage and appliances soothes them; asking questions about bringing in your own martinis to drink produces nervous laughter.

A block away, Cafe Presse (1117 12th Ave, 709-7674) is open at last, fully functional and a thing of pure joy. Brought to you by the Le Pichet people, it's airy and spare and not trying too hard: It's got pretty wallpaper (but not too much of it), a marble bar with a television devoted to soccer matches, a big clock, a small newsstand, a skylight so clean it looks like it lacks glass altogether, a back room with windows framing the leaves of trees. A glass of French rosé sets you back $3.50; prices for very traditional, very delicious simple French snacks and entrées are likewise absurdly low. You can't afford not to eat here. It's open every day, serving food from 7:00 a.m. until 2:00 in the morning (yes!). Presse stands squarely in the too-good-to-be-true category; thinking about it too much can actually make you feel a little sick.

Up on 15th Avenue: yet more goodness at also-brand-new Smith (332 15th Ave E, 709-1900), the latest from Linda Derschang. Everybody loves Linda's (and Linda's King's Hardware in Ballard, too), and Smith's first night was packed full and concomitantly loud. Smith is less raucous old-West saloon, more dark hunt-club pub, with wainscoting and doors ("LIBRARY" in distressingly off-center letters) salvaged from the renovation of Garfield High School (go Bulldogs!). The taxidermied birds: creepy and wonderful (the goose over the bar is already everybody's favorite, but they're overlooking the spoonbill whose case is inset in the north wall). The drawing of the child on the menu: also creepy and wonderful. The chef is from Licorous, making the food situation extremely promising: deviled eggs, fried duck leg, devils on horseback (dates stuffed with blue cheese wrapped in bacon: already everybody's favorite). You can get a Rainier tallboy ($2) or a pint of St. Bernardus Abt 12 ($8). Everybody's happy.

bethany@thestranger.com

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