In Style at the Sorrento
The Sorrento Hotel opened in 1909, just in time for the well-heeled visitors to Seattle's Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. In the beginning, the restaurant and bar were on the seventh floor, with what must have been a majestic vista from First Hill; it was called The Top of the Town. In the '60s, the Top moved down to the ground floor and was renamed the Dunbar Room. In the '90s, the current owners renovated (with a mercifully light touch, retaining the mahogany paneling and general gorgeousness—she's a classic beauty, the Sorrento) and re-renamed the restaurant and bar the Hunt Club.
Classic she may be, but the Sorrento is also embracing change; witness the "He-She, He-He, She-She, Whatever Package," a champagne-and-room-and-breakfast deal meant for lovers of whatever gender. (From the website: "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou... oh who cares?! We have a package... regardless of who you are romancing.") Call it, optimistically, love new-American style, a prelude to the honeymoon suites of coming marriage equality. It starts at $319.
The deep-pocketed of whatever persuasion are also all set at the Hunt Club, where the current average entrée price is $28.375. (Another modernity: The new chef, Matthew Mina, won his post via the hotel's Top Chef–style competition.) If your wallet's not so flush, there's a super-cheap happy hour. It takes place in both the dark, wood-paneled Hunt Club Lounge and the cushy, ornate Fireside Room; it's from 4 to 6 p.m. every day, then starts again at 9 p.m.; and it's so inexpensive, they're practically paying you. For instance: A glass of wine is $4. Prior to our current economic crisis, a five-spot at the Sorrento would've bought you a kind nod, a taxi-cab-phoning, and gentle guidance back to the front entrance, with its circular driveway and burbling fountain and topiary shrubbery. Now a dozen small plates—crispy calamari with aioli; really-too-rich-but-tasty macaroni and cheese with crab; delicious lollipop lamb chops with herby, vinegary chimichurri sauce—are $5 and under, and everyone can sit pretty in the style to which they'd like to become accustomed (not to mention in the cool, calming air conditioning).
At happy hour, well drinks are also $4—with the money you're saving on your second drink, you can start with a carefully composed cocktail, such as a Corpse Reviver #1 (from 1930: brandy, calvados, sweet vermouth). Elsewhere, these are newly fashionable and called "craft" cocktails, but the recipes—some dating back to when President Taft stayed here—make sense here in an incontrovertible way. Nowadays, mint for juleps is grown on the penthouse deck, and the bartender infuses simple syrup with thyme from her own garden in South Seattle. Here's to the crown jewel of First Hill.