When I'm at a bar in the early evening, I generally have three things on my mind: gin, fried foods, and flirting with bartenders (also, I will accept nachos). But there are certain bars where more unusual and easterly delicacies grace the menu. Steaming bundles of dim sum with a thick, creamy Guinness? Briny sashimi washed down by pre-prohibition cocktails? No nachos anywhere? I am skeptical.
My first stop is happy-hour dim sum at Pioneer Square's Trinity Nightclub (111 Yesler Way, 447-4140, happy hour Tues—Fri 5—9 pm). Strike one: a bartender who "can't remember" where the dim sum comes from. It seems that "uh, some Chinese place down the street" makes the exotic morsels, then exotically freezes them and sells them to Trinity, where they are exotically steamed and fed to the hungry hordes of Pioneer Square.
As it happens, there is no one in Trinity when my pal and I arrive to feast on their reheated Chinese delights. We choose our seats carefully—a tall table near the door, for horde-watching purposes—forgoing a dim back room with sepulchral booths, and a larger two-tiered ballroom where dirty gyrations season the air at less civilized hours.
The bartender (friendlier and friendlier with each interaction) informs us that their menu is truncated for, again, unknown reasons. There will be no sushi rolls and there will be no edamame. We shrug and order one of everything else.
Sipping well gin and tonics ($4), we converse over beats that I think the kids call "house music." The decor, apparently inspired by the dim sum, is generically Asian in a Pier 1 kind of way: tapestries, calligraphy, loooong Confucian moustaches. After a few minutes, another employee enters, and we hear these words from our bartender friend: "I'm glad you're here. They ordered food and I don't know what I'm doing."
The dim sum is perfectly fine. Jumbo-prawn dumplings (three for $4.50) leave their sticky skins clinging to the plate—a casualty of the freezing and resteaming process, I suspect. Barbecue-pork hum baos (three for $4.50) are delicious, and pork and shrimp shui mai (three for $4.50) seem as firm and porky as every other shui mai I've ever had. The only disappointment is the pork and shrimp sticky rice in lotus wrap (two for $4), which are weird, complicated, and over-gravied.
My second happy-hour destination is much less alarming. Young, stylish, and never-ever-shut-up-about, Liberty (517 15th Ave E, 323-9898, happy hour daily 4—7 pm) is pleasantly empty on a Sunday afternoon. I avoid Liberty at most other times, as it's usually mobbed by well-to-do Capitol Hill lovelies. But with a little corner to myself, a pint of Manny's ($3), and an attentive bartender calling me "young lady," I am content. There are no happy-hour food specials at Liberty, but I order some sushi anyway.
Perched on an upholstered bench, leaning over a low rolling table, I discover sushi to be a less-than-ideal bar food. I find myself lifting a bowl to my chin and shoveling sweet, tangy albacore poki ($6.75) in a most undignified way. Each bite of sushi must travel many precarious miles from plate to mouth, leaving a spotty soy-sauce path across my skirt. But still, the spinach roll ($3.50) and Sonic Boom scallop roll ($4.50) are surprisingly good, for sushi that has never seen the inside of a sushi restaurant.
When I go to pay the check, the bartender says, "How much do you think it is? If you get it right, I'll reward you with... a light hug." I guess wrong, but am lightly hugged nonetheless. It's not nachos, but it'll do.