Rooftop bars are like Vegas pools: expect to pay out.
The new Thompson hotel, which opened in June on First Avenue and Stewart Street, makes no bones about its target audience on its website: "Where innovators, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists thrive... on the cusp of Seattle's downtown evolution."
Known for its private-club-style hotels from New York to London featuring amenities like a cigar terrace with a retractable roof, lobbies with fireplaces and fur throws, and Vogue-perfect infinity rooftop pools, Thompson seems to custom-design their places for the style-conscious executive wanting to partake in an elegant martini or two before adjourning upstairs to do coke off every surface of that luxury marble bath.
Now the high-end hotelier is after Seattle tech money. But unlike the fashion, finance, and film worlds that Thompson usually caters to, the tech industry prides itself on shying away from flash. How to get them to spend their REI allowance?
Give them an awesome view from the highest hotel bar in the city, the Thompson hopes. Both the rooftop bar 12 floors up, the Nest, and the lobby restaurant, Scout, are the work of Josh Henderson and the Huxley Wallace Collective, who are also behind Westward/Little Gull and a slew of new restaurants, including Bar Noroeste and Great State Burger.
The Nest makes special overtures for those willing to spend: The fire pits at the back can be reserved, private-party tents arranged, and specially created snack menus laid out, sometimes with rolling oyster carts where the shellfish is shucked tableside.
This bottle-service mindfuck shouldn't work on you but does, until you start noticing—past your communal bar table with hard metal bar stools, past the fire pit/cozy living room scenario—an actual hedge separating yet another group of couches. Wait, could there be a level beyond the level beyond the level? ANOTHER VIP LEVEL?
They appear to be average schmucks like you... but are they really? Maybe they're more of our humble start-up millionaires in toe shoes. You crane your head further. Diddy... Diddy, are you there? Kanye? Russell? Ciara?
"That's the apartment next door," your waitress tells you.
The Nest's indoor lounge is inviting, with its floor-to-ceiling windows and handsome leather couches, but it's the deck that you're there for—with its magnificent bird's-eye view of Pike Place Market, the Great Wheel, and the ferry boats shuttling over the still, vibrant-blue waters toward the Olympics. On sunny days, be prepared to wait: Walk-ins are welcome, but they can't always immediately be seated, and they can sit by the fire pits only if they're not reserved. Downstairs in the hotel lobby, a hostess takes party size and calls up to see if there's room.
That's because the only closer view of the water from on high is that $13 Ferris wheel, which is what you may have to remind yourself when opening the menu of $15 specialty cocktails, $11–$18 glasses of wine, and $8 drafts (bar snacks like popcorn, olives, and charcuterie, $3–$18).
When your drink arrives—the summery Hummingbird, with Hendrick's and a cinnamony bitter called Becherovka, or the Junglebird, a tall tropical refresher with rum, Campari, and pineapple juice—admittedly it will be beautiful to look at and well-balanced, with none of the drowned-in-lemon-juice issues that befall other drinks. So well-balanced, in fact, that to read the menu is to sometimes be surprised at the ingredients. ("Damn, this has lavender?")
Still, that bill cuts deep—close to $60 for two drinks, one tasty-but-$14 jar of salmon rillettes, and the automatic 20 percent tip that Henderson has implemented at all of his establishments. A bummer, because the Nest could be great for tourists or visiting relatives looking for a gorgeous, post-sightseeing view, or pre-dinner couples wanting to watch the sun set—but at prices like this, how long can anyone afford to linger?
And when the cost is so high, when does a rooftop bar stop becoming worth it—to the consumer, and to the owner? Lord only knows what the cost-benefit analysis is of opening a rooftop bar in a city where there's only an average 58 clear days a year, but it's probably not great.
Scout, located downstairs, has its own special spaces for those willing to drop more cash: The bar at the front doubles as a chef's counter, offering 14-course culinary tours of the Pacific Northwest; at the back, a wooden structure that looks like a hippie Thunderdome offers private dining for up to 20.
It is supposed to be a deconstructed cabin.
While the regular dinner menu doesn't take any wild turns, the comforting dishes with local, seasonal ingredients—sautéed wild mushrooms with foie gras ($14) or a beautifully grilled trout surrounded by clams and artichokes ($25)—are what you would want if you were a traveler arriving on a rainy day.
The cozy decor is upscale diner meets the Pendleton catalog—booth seats clad in flannel so soft that sliding into one feels like wrapping yourself in a blanket, and huge white lamps hanging over thick natural wood tables. You can feel the work that went into this, almost picture the decorator stepping in—"No, are you crazy? This is the Pacific Northwest. More wood. A fuck-ton more wood. Where the hell's the macramé?"
Voilà, a series of macramé plant hangers greet you at the entrance, and if you head on up to use the bathroom on the second floor, you hope that this is the first and last time hotel conference rooms are called things like "Blackberry" and "Grasshopper."
After a certain amount of time in this glossy Seattle, you start to crave a kinder-priced place to drink and eat seafood with a view, maybe a Pacific Northwest experience that feels a little less curated. Those do exist in Seattle, like Ivar's or Chinook's, or Elliott's during its oyster happy hour. Or, if you don't mind driving out a bit further, there's also Tacoma—where many of the awesome classic establishments can still afford to stay open.
Family-owned and operated since 1912, Northern Fish in Tacoma is more of a retail and wholesale seafood operation, but their location out on Ruston Way features a beloved deli with outside deck seating where the staff knows the regulars by name, whether they're ordering some smoked salmon to go or hunkering down for fish and chips ($7.95–$13.95). The $4.25 cup of clam chowder here is just as good as the $10 one at Scout, and the excellent habanero-spiked smoked-salmon dip and crab-and-artichoke dip ($2.25–$2.50 for a quarter pound) is the perfect thing to take out and enjoy on the pier.
Just a little further down is Harbor Lights restaurant, which has sat suspended over Commencement Bay for more than 50 years. When the Anthony's chain bought the old Tacoma institution in 2000, they had the good sense not to get rid of the old cocktail lounge's burgundy leather bar chairs and collection of vintage liquor bottles.
The no-bullshit waitresses lean over you to make sure you get your happy-hour orders in just under the wire, and you want to tip them generously for doing so when your $5.50 happy-hour martini arrives filled to the brim (Harbor Lights is famous for its stiff pour). The generous happy-hour food menu includes a Dungeness-crab dip and Penn Cove mussels for $8.
This is also about the time when you realize that, at four courses for a mere $21.95, the early-bird special is not for old people—it's for people who are that much wiser than you. Get at that seafood fettuccine, friend, then relax on the deck with a $6.50 mai tai—because being on the "cusp of an evolution" can get tiring.