Just before nine on Saturday night, See Sound Lounge is nearly empty but not at all quiet, as house music pounds expectantly. A flock of balloons huddle in the middle of the ceiling, near the disco ball. Soon they'll be picked off one by one and bound by their ribbons to the wrists of female Belltown clubgoers, to be carried off in the night to fates unknown. A few attempt escape down a hallway that dead-ends at the bathrooms (notable for confusing motion-activated soap dispensers). The VIP balloons—two giant silver Mylar numeral 3s—are tethered to the DJ stand and behind the bar. It's See Sound Lounge's third birthday.
See Sound's all-white surfaces appear as pristine as they must have on day one, and the dark upholstery of the couches—of the low-lying variety that enforce either edge-perching or near-total repose—is flawless. Footage of life under the sea is projected above the bar: a bulbous red creature blinking, a black-and-white-spotted octopus fleeing as fast as its eight legs can carry it, stingrays soaring as seen from below.
A bartender—handsome, wearing a cap backward—confesses he's a little tired, then rallies with enthusiasm about See Sound's improbably elaborate small-plates menu. He declares the chef, from an unspecified background involving Las Vegas, to be "actually overqualified," recommends the chicken sate, and issues an invitation to check out Deep, the VIP room. Available to anyone willing and able to cover a $1,500 drink minimum, Deep has its own bar, more couches (here crimson-colored), large tanks full of tropical fish, and walls embossed with wave patterns underlit in red. The effect: ultramodern, hedonistic submarine immersed in blood.
Back in the main room, a few more people have trickled in. Champagne (actually Cristalino cava) is the drink of choice, possibly in birthday celebration, more likely because it's $3 a glass at happy hour. The bartender fills flutes etched with the bar's name as full as humanly possible. Also $3 at happy hour, 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. every day: house wine, microbrews. Full price: specialty cocktails with names like Metrosexual, Razbubbles, and Pama-la Anderson. Snacks are always $5, served until 1:00 a.m., and, as promised, surpass expectations, presented elegantly on a white platter. Perfectly cooked shrimp with lime, ginger, plenty of fresh cilantro, and a dab of wasabi aioli sit atop rounds of cucumber; coconut-curry chicken sate is tender, juicy; beef skewers, while chewy, have a deep ginger flavor. Two ramekins of sauce that appear to have been superheated—peanut with the oil separating, a burnt-tasting soy-based one—are luckily unnecessary. Fresh, citrusy-sweet slaw is tasty but challenging, given the tiny three-tined seafood forks provided.
Shortly before 10:00 p.m., a crush of humanity materializes. The sea-life video switches to patterns of pulsating squares, the screen of the cash register briefly reads "Searching for brain," and only shouts of "WHOOOOO!" penetrate the din.
See Sound Lounge, 115 Blanchard St, 374-3733.