New bars spring up in Seattle like weeds in sidewalk cracks: anywhere, everywhere, and in droves. Recently, though, there's a new trend where people can find their favorite beverage in a place that speaks directly to the need for coziness, companionship, and intellectual fodder through the dark and damp Seattle winter: bars in bookstores.
For a place that consistently tops both "most literate city" and "best beer town" lists, the combination makes sense—it coddles the introvert nature of locals while allowing an opportunity to get out into the world. "The whole point is to build community," says Danielle Hulton, co-owner of Ada's Technical Books and Cafe, which recently added a cocktail bar and event space called the Lab. "Having food and drink helps."
In a similar spirit, Third Place Books has devoted the basement and part of the main floor of its new Seward Park location, which opened in May 2016, to Raconteur, an all-day bar and restaurant by the folks from Flying Squirrel Pizza Co. The concept is meant to appeal to a wide swath of customers. In the upstairs bookshop, there's a coffee bar and a restaurant serving fried-chicken sandwiches and halibut tacos. A staircase leads down to the bar, where you can wash down the house-made pretzels (served with beer-cheese fondue) or drive-in burger (served in a burger bag) with beers from one of their 20 beer taps (plus six wine taps), including local options like the custom-brewed Raconteur Rye by Counterbalance Brewing Company, Machine House Brewery's Golden Ale, and Georgetown Brewing Company's award-winning Bodhizafa IPA.
Third Place was already a player in the bookstore bar game with the Pub at Third Place, a cozy, wood-paneled craft-beer spot below their Ravenna shop. Robert Sindelar, managing partner of Third Place, explains that the business sort of stumbled into the concept while looking for a way to use the lower floor of the converted PCC grocery store. Ron Sher, a cofounder of the bookstore mini-chain, wanted a place to display the woodworking from a Whidbey Island shop he was involved with, and a pub seemed like an ideal showcase.
Though today you can sip rosé at Little Oddfellows inside Elliott Bay Book Company, grab a beer at Ada's, and drink cocktails at Raconteur, Sindelar says the concept wasn't so accepted when the Ravenna pub first opened more than a decade ago. "It was slow to start," Sindelar recalls. "Initially, people wanted out of it what other bars in the neighborhood offered: Where's the pool table? Where's the dartboard? How cheap is your beer?"
But standing strong with the idea of what a pub inside a bookstore would look like paid off: The space is packed most nights with book clubs, families, and beer lovers gathered at one of the long wood tables, drinking pints of Cloudburst IPA and noshing on harissa-glazed Marcona almonds from the Vios Cafe upstairs. So when Third Place set out to open the Seward Park space, they knew they wanted a pub there, too—but not the exact same one. They brought in a different restaurant operator and different food offerings, and made the bar a more integral part of the store. "People would walk into the pub and have no idea there was a bookstore, and vice versa," Sindelar recalled. There's no such confusion with Raconteur: When you enter the building, you see the coffee shop, the bookstore, and the downstairs bar right away.
With the genre already established, Hulton says her customers at Ada's liked the concept right away—in fact, part of the way the bar came about was because people asked for it. "They wanted more space for community," she says, "to find different ways to interact with Ada's that plug in for them."
The Lab is everything you'd imagine a bar in a store that stocks science and engineering books to be: a Marie Curie–inspired room that boasts a sleek chandelier made of test tubes and a nook wallpapered with old textbook pages. While the cafe at Ada's serves beer and wine, cocktails are available only in the Lab, which doesn't keep regular hours. Instead, it opens for events, such as "Fuckery and Cocktails," a January 19 workshop with authors Lori Eberly and Jon Sabol that includes two drinks and a copy of their book. There is also the educational Polymathic Happy Hour, where local barista and bartender Brandon Paul Weaver will provide three cocktails tied together by a discussion topic of his choosing: Weaver's first event will be on January 27. While the topic for that is not yet chosen, events stick to Ada's engineering roots, exploring questions like "How are bitters made?" and "What makes this particular coffee so interesting?"
To Hulton, the Lab simply provides a new venue to explore how things are made—be they machines or cocktails. She notes that while some customers come to Ada's just for the cafe, coworking space, bar, or the shop itself, most find the interconnected spaces beneficial. "We want to be a resource and build culture around science and tech in nonthreatening ways," she says. "It's easy while enjoying wine."
Caleb Thompson, who has managed the Pub at Third Place for more than a decade, echoes the idea: "That's the whole ideal of the third place—you need somewhere to go to talk to people and relate." He likens the bars of the current bookstore trend to the old-world cafe culture of Paris, Vienna, and Krakow. He adds that the Pub's out-of-the-way basement location fosters of a sense of reflection and the possibility of thought that comes with time spent there. While he often runs upstairs to grab a book pertinent to a conversation with a customer and has seen people have a few beers and then go upstairs to spend money on books, he says that drinking in a bookstore bar runs deeper than that.
"A lot of people, especially in the Northwest, are agnostic," Thompson ruminates. "They don't go to church, but they still need a fundamental connection to something bigger than themselves. I think in some ways, the pub offers that." The thoughtful, smart Thompson fits in here at the studious bar: He went to school for creative writing and holds an MFA in poetry. "I studied English, so obviously I work in a bar," he jokes. But, serious again, he shares his thoughts on why this bar differs from the rest of the neighborhood: "People who read more novels have greater empathy," he says. "Online, there's so much hate, so much disconnect from a simple sense of kindness—and I think any place that provides a literary culture or promotes one is so important in terms of reconnecting us to super-basic human values."
Which perhaps oversimplifies a far more complex problem, but, applied in a pub serving craft beer, zeros in directly on Northwest values. Thompson says the most common reaction he sees to people first discovering the combination is surprise: "You come in and it's like, there are so many of the things I love in one place! Why isn't this everywhere?" Then, as if in answer to that question, Thompson adds, "Seattle Public Libraries should really start putting in bars."