The advent of the brand-new Starlite Lounge on First Avenue raises a question: Why so many downtown bars with names describing gloaming- or nocturnal-related illumination? Perhaps the phenomenon centers on the general human desire not to drink in the complete dark, yet aversion to doing so in brightness. (Only vegan cafes are named the Sunlight, and nothing is called the Fluorescentlight.) To develop a fuller understanding, I visited three 'Lights (well, a 'Light, a 'Lite, and a Lite) one night last week. A side-by-side-by-side comparison follows.
The Twilight Martini Lounge on Western is dimly lit in a vaguely crepuscular way. The young bartendress wears a nearly strapless top, emphasizing an impressive shelflike bosom. Ambiance-wise, one might be in the lobby of a modern loft building (indeed, the elevators of the Western Triangle Building are visible through a glass wall). House music plays. Patrons are of the young urban professional ilk (overheard: "I'm into the 'Hawks—I got that fuckin' deal sent to me") and are having an improbably good time. There is much laughter and tossing of hair. A sample snack: goat cheese fondue with roasted garlic and kalamata olives ($4.95). A notable décor element: spindly white fake palm trees. A rumor: The owners also run the Twilight Exit. (Little could be further from the truth.)
The Starlite Lounge occupies the former premises of the Butterworth Funeral Home, rumored to be haunted and/or a location of death for businesses. (The latter is conceivably true; in recent years, both Avenue One and Fire and Ice met their demise here.) A neo-'60s-lounge feel has been wantonly introduced; the interesting clash of sparkly starburst light fixtures with the ornate 1903 choir loft goes unnoticed by the clientele, which as a whole looks lifted from the set of The O.C. The bartender is handsome, super-suave, and voluble, the music sort of adult contemporary. An ambitious menu offers old-school favorites like clams casino ($10) and veal Oscar ($24). Inescapable décor item: an enormous painting of several Rat Pack members. Overheard: "The owner's in the back playing Texas hold'em."
The century-old Nite Lite holds a place of honor among Seattle's dive bars. Currently, many, many strings of Halloween lights provide a major source of illumination—lit-up plastic bones, pumpkins, etc., festooned about without restraint. Gales of laughter come from the back room, where a cribbage tourney is under way. The bartendress, all friendliness and frosted hair, is like an aunt from Spokane. Eye-wateringly strong drinks may be cushioned with menu items like a "quesadillia" ($6) or snacks from the vending machine in the corner. A dolled-up woman with a black eye gossips with coworkers about their employment at a nearby strip club (overheard: "That lap dance was rough"). Soundtrack: Elvis's "Suspicious Minds." Rumor: One floor beneath the bar is a giant abandoned swimming pool. (True.)
Twilight Martini Lounge, 2125 Western Ave, 443-1212; Starlite Lounge, 1921 First Ave, 448-7827; Nite Lite Lounge, 1926 Second Ave, 443-0899.