I've been finding myself in Lake City lately. As gentrification oozes into Loyal Heights, my sleepy, old-person neighborhood—which now has a restaurant serving $15 pho—I'm searching for blue-collar crust whenever I go barhopping. Once Crown Hill became lousy with condos, I fled to Greenwood, then Northgate.
Now I just head straight to scruffy old Lake City Way, with its pawnshops and strip joints. It's a comfort to know that, when the swank Bellevue stank emanating from Market Street grosses you out, there's always Lake City, Old Ballard's country cousin who still likes to huff cans of Dust-Off and blow shit up.
So it worried me to hear that Lake City has a cocktail bar. Yeah, Brother Barrel and other spots have cocktails, but how are you gonna tell me there's a twinkling little lounge a few doors from the crunchy old Back Door Pub, up the road from the Shanty? Sounds... suspicious.
Then I accidentally loved it.
Korochka Tavern does Russian bites—primarily dumplings and pickled things—along with American-style cocktails that nod toward Eastern Europe. Co-owners Kendall Murphy, who grew up here, and Moscow-born Lisa Malinovskaya are besties who opened Korochka in 2016.
"They don't really have cocktail culture in Moscow," Malinovskaya laughed.
"Yeah, Russians don't do mixers. This drink is just like champagne with vodka in it," added Murphy, as she poured a luminous red KGBeet, composed of beet-infused vodka, Cynar, and prosecco (and no mixer, ahem).
Malinovskaya recalls tapping birch trees and drinking the thin sap as a kid—and a recent special, the Birch Sapling, featured birch-flavored liqueur, vodka, lemon, and tonic. The delicate Trans-Siberian has gin, Aperol, citrus, and a trace of orange blossom water, the last of which floats above the others, evoking the subtropical Black Sea coast. Another cocktail special included the astringent juice of the sea buckthorn, a berry found in recipes throughout northwestern Russia and the Baltics. They also have kvass and Russian beers and vodkas.
The pelmeni are the menu's star attraction: garlicky pork dumplings with fresh dill and a blat of sour cream. The potato/onion vareniki are similar. Bottles of white vinegar and Georgian adjika-based "hot sauce" are around to pump up the flavors. Savory piroshki show up on weekends, stuffed variously with, say, spinach and cheese or chicken, bacon, and mushrooms. If you're doing some real drinking, the simple julienne potato—a baked tater, chopped up and slathered in cheese and rich stroganoff-esque mushroom gravy—is both heavenly and ideal for soaking up booze.
I'm personally infatuated with Korochka's pickled carrot salad, served in a painted wooden cup that looks like a matryoshka doll but isn't actually one. My boyfriend and I fight over every last scrap of carrot, and I'm serious about that. The pickle plate, with creamy Bulgarian feta, rye bread, and assorted fermented veggies, includes a mini carrot salad, if you don't want to commit right away.
Korochka is also very pretty, which I wanted to be mad about but can't. The gilded wallpaper, floral dishware, and dead bear on the wall are verging on twee... but the shop retains a cozy, unpretentious chill that's helped by the free Tetris machine and the geezers filtering in from the dives down the block. In comparison to other local pelmeni/piroshki shops with wanky Soviet gimmicks, Korochka has a quiet legit-ness that's more in line with an actual Russian tavern—and the general Lake City Way vibe.
Case in point: When asked what "Korochka" means, Malinovskaya said: "It was my mom's nickname for me as a kid, for being insensitive. It means 'heel of the bread.'"
Tough. No bullshit. Sounds pretty Lake City to me.