The stripes! So many stripes. The stripes escaped from the bathroom at Pony and ran down 12th and around the corner on Pike, where they stampeded into the brand-new Unicorn. They've mutated: Pony's restroom stripes are zigzaggy, black-and-white, and highly '80s—stripes for uppers, air hockey, and pop music. The stripes at the Unicorn are mind-altering ones, crawling up every wall in black-and-white, red-and-white, aqua-and-white, black-and-aqua. These are stripes for an LSD fever dream: fun, scary, and accompanied by accordion. In fact, the beautiful bartender with the black party frock and the flower in her hair occasionally plays the accordion, walking around the bar. On opening weekend, she sat on a chair out on the sidewalk, entertaining the crowd lined up down the block.
Why was there a huge line to see the Unicorn? It must be said that the idea—a circus-themed bar—sounded terrible. But the Unicorn, with its absurd name, stands (like porn-intensive Pony) as a rejection of favorite Seattle bar templates: re-created cowboy (no stripes, only plaid), anesthetized contemporary lounge (monochrome), old-timey faux speakeasy (genteel pinstripes at most). The Unicorn's salvaged carousel panels have to be seen, dizzyingly, to be believed; its menagerie of taxidermy runs to warthog and water buffalo, hung in dignified, distant rows. (The Satellite, the bar that used to be here, has been decimated, a dissolving memory of nondescript upholstery.) The stripes all across the front windows are a barker's invitation: Come see the freak show. It might give you a seizure, but who could say no?
Another explanation for the Unicorn's instant allure is Adam Heimstadt: A longtime hero behind the bar of the Twilight Exit, he is one of the founders, and he is amiable in the extreme. If you ask what beer is the very cheapest (as some toothpick-legged rockers do), he is happy to tell you. If you would like a bottle of his finest champagne, the same is true (this for a woman with an incredible corset and her debonair Addams Family cousin; they then find their natural setting on a divan in a stripey corner of the room). Heimstadt also designed the insane glossy-finished tabletop art: Yours might be a demonic Russian doll or a skull-impaling narwhal.
While the decor is entirely appetite-suppressant, the menu is only half a joke. The funny part: "Daily Popcorn" (maybe cinnamon-and-sugar, $3), elephant ears with "traditional garniture" ($4), unicorn-dogs (hand-dipped, injected with cream cheese, drizzled with sriracha, $5), unicorn balls (encased in way too much corn-dog batter, also clearly furthering the endangerment of the unicorn population: avoid, $6). Then there's beet salad ($8); flaky cod with a golden-crisp truffle-oil sear, finished in parchment paper with tasty peas-'n'-mashed-potatoes ($11); a bourguignon potpie with big chunks of winey beef ($12). The Unicorn is—another surprise—a part-French, part-fantasy beast.
The Unicorn, 1118 E Pike St, 325-6492