Vermillion opened quietly last summer on 11th and Pike, and while it would love it if you came in to look at the art and visit the bar, it's not going to be pushy about it. The sandwich-board sign out front has a small, laminated addendum stuck to each side: "Yes, we have beer," "Yes, we have wine." The gallery's in the front—right now, paintings by Ryan Molenkamp that depict the San Juan Islands as stapled-down modular abstractions are selling like hotcakes. In the back, there's the world's pleasantest surprise of a bar—a room that feels both cavernous and comfortable, with no natural light but perfect lighting.
Things happen at Vermillion: meetings of video-game designers mentoring video-game designers-to-be; movie nights featuring experimental films by Jon Behrens or the cartoons of Josie and the Pussycats; art openings that are also food drives; and last week, a mysterious gathering of intent people with notebooks, of whose conversation, frustratingly, only the nouns cannot be heard. People play 45s on the jukebox—Bill Withers, Percy Sledge, the Gap Band, Bobby Womack—and animated games of Yahtzee. Also available: Life; Candy Land; a slightly damaged varnished-wood chess/checkers tabletop unit with a brass Microsoft logo; and AMERICA! IN•A•BOX, A GAME ABOUT OUR GREAT NATION, a blatant rip-off of Monopoly with tokens including a baseball mitt, a hot dog, and an accusatory Uncle Sam. (Once you own a piece of America, you may install on it pieces of apple pie or distressingly cloud-shaped American dreams.) A few vintage beer signs make glowing promises: "This is 'blue ribbon' livin'!" "MORE LIFE... naturally."
The enormous multipaned windows in the back at Vermillion have been given translucent scrims in place of glass, which are backlit to magical, nearly holy effect. Exposed brick walls with peeling paint look natural instead of like a precious uncovered treasure. A giant grid of a wine rack is a stroke of genius that you might not even notice. A pennant celebrates the existence of "BACON," and a couple of top shelves are devoted to a gallery of broken glasses, each one looking like a time capsule from a moment of excessive fun. The bar-top is made out of bowling alley, from dear departed Leilani Lanes.
Vermillion possesses the massive virtue of being wonderful while not trying too hard—it's the product of a mind (Diana Adams's) and its friends instead of a concept. Vermillion gets it: The wine list understands that you might want a nice glass of Italian barbera ($11) or a totally serviceable house red from Tefft Cellars ($4). Snack options, scrawled on a chalkboard in different colored chalk, are all simple, delicious, and a screaming bargain—local cheeses at $3 per, actually good pork barbecue for $4, different fresh salads with nuts and cheese for $5. Vermillion's your new favorite place.