The rooftop Lamborghini's gone, and so is the cheesy Club Lagoon. In its place: Highline, the new bar-that-happens-to-serve-vegan-food, brought to you by the owners of Georgetown' slate Squid & Ink. There are many reasons to love Highline—here are a half dozen of them (along with one important caveat).
1. Highline knows what it is. First and foremost: "We're a bar," says bar manager Aaron Kempley. Not every vegan eatery serves secondhand smoke as an appetizer, but it's perfect for Highline, where smokers perpetually gather on the staircase. The unspoken moral code of the bar's core constituency of heavily tattooed-and-pierced vegan boozers and nicotine fiends: Do whatever the fuck you want to yourself, just leave animals out of it. This is a beautiful thing. So is the space, a humongous wide-open room with seating for dozens, a photo booth, and a free foosball table.
2. Killer location. Highline's balcony has been Broadway's best spot for people-watching since at least 1991, when it was attached to an artisan pizza joint. That this prime bit of voyeurs' real estate is now the domain of vegan freaks is a triumph (and perhaps takes the sting out of the fact that the old Squid & Ink space is now a barbecue joint). But all this talk of what's meat and what's not does Highline-the-bar a disservice. You know what's completely unaffected by the tenets of veganism? Booze—and on summer days, as afternoon turns into evening, there are few better places to sit and drink than the Highline patio (unless you get one of the tables directly above the smokers).
3. Some good food. The Highline menu is the product of a visionary vegan brain trust, made up of cooks with connections to some of Seattle's most revered vegan eateries. (One Squid & Ink/Highline proprietor/chef also helped establish the Wayward Cafe; bar manager Kempley got his start making ginger beer and infused boozes at Cafe Flora.) Highline's menu is packed with seitan, tempeh, and soy creations designed to replicate the greatest hits of pub grub. The Crazy Train sandwich ($8) features breaded soy chicken, lettuce, tomato, onion, and ranch dressing on grilled bread; the TLT ($8) features tempeh bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo on grilled bread. Both are garishly delicious. Part of this is the quality of the vegetables (vegans care about things like good tomatoes and onions), but nothing can account for the hot, sloppy, comfort-foodiness other than vegan voodoo. The illusion-building of vegan food—placing this flavor next to that texture to create the desired meaty/creamy/cheesy effect—is a delicate art. (Excessive soy is as repugnant as undercooked pork.) But, as Kempley says, "We've all been doing it for a long time, and we've figured a lot of stuff out." (One thing they haven't figured out: the Chicken Mushroom à la King [$12], a heaping plate of goopy noodles, bland soy chunks, and beige gravy, inexplicably served with a side of toast.)
4. Stealth politics. Subconscious conversion is part of Highline's master plan: Lure the masses in with fun and booze, then feed 'em food they'd never guess was vegan, in portions designed to obliterate the myth that vegan food can't fill you up. "Mostly we just wanted a bar where vegans could order everything on the menu," says Kempley. "But, yeah. Exposing people to vegan food is a big part of it."
5. Cake-aroke. "It's just what it sounds like," says Kempley of Highline's Tuesday-night event. "A karaoke night with vegan cake. We don't normally have desserts—we're a bar—but on Tuesday we have both vegan and gluten-free cake. Our karaoke selections lean towards metal—Megadeth, stuff like that."
6. Live music. Highline has a good-sized stage and intends to use it. Kempley effuses: "A lot of us here are in bands, so we know a lot of bands, and we've got some big bands that are going to come play here—big enough that we've gotta wait till closer to the date to advertise."
A Note About Grunginess: Highline is grungy and proud of it. Punk rock blasts continually, and depending on where you're sitting, it's either fun or punishing. The grunginess extends to the menu, both literally (lots of the menus have gunk on them) and figuratively (some menu items—the goopy à la King, the gritty seitan Philly Dip grinder—would be awesome if cooked on a VW engine at Burning Man, but don't quite cut it in the real world). The aroma of your food may be overwhelmed by the scent of nearby diners, many of whom are clad entirely in black denim and likely consider a bit of reek a badge of honor. A glance into the kitchen revealed a worker with five-foot-long dreadlocks and no hairnet. Like it or leave: This is Highline, and it's the best new bar that happens to serve vegan food in Seattle.