According to a neon sign in the window, Von's Grand City Cafe & Martini-Manhattan Memorial has the best martini in town. Everybody knows neon doesn't lie, but mere blocks away, Oliver's in the Mayflower Park Hotel holds the title for "Seattle's Best Classic Martini," won (suspiciously) at the annual martini-olympiad held on its own premises. Tini Bigs exhibits more modesty, calling itself "Seattle's Second Best Cocktail Bar" and leaving the whole first-best thing up to you (though now that Jamie Boudreau is mixing drinks there, it's a lot closer to best than before).
Indisputably, Von's house martini costs $3.50 all day, every day. This is also specified in neon; the printed menu adds, "For the Discerning Martini Imbiber (no returns)." (Also on the menu: a shout-out to porkglomerate Hormel, whose product is sometimes showcased in the Radiant Roaster™ Fruitwood Smoker™ Horizontal Spit Roaster™ with the 18 Hour Flavor Cycle™, which is that cabinet facing the sidewalk with the orange light bulbs.) Von's martini is made with McCormick gin, the low, low retail value of which explains both the three-fifty and the satisfaction unguaranteed. (The website ginandtacos .com calls McCormick "awful, awful gin... Christ-punchingly bad.") A sample martini is bracing (in the manner of gasoline fumes) and very close to cold enough.
Von's other drink specials are determined by the Wagering Wheel™, a game show–style device that is spun approximately on the half-hour. While you may ask to be the spinner, no one does. The spinning takes place with so little ceremony, it seems to happen by itself, a stealthy, unseen hand changing the bargain from a $2.50 unspecified rum and Coke to a $3.75 Grey Goose melontini. The wheel does not take much advantage of Seattle's Largest Spirit Collection™, totaling 674 on a sign outside (in chalk to allow for updating). To sit at the bar is to marvel at the bottles, illuminated brilliantly, like 674 beacons of varying promise. The selection ranges from difficult-to-find-and-pronounce Scotches (Bruichladdich) to distressing novelty vodkas (p.i.n.k., Pearl, Pinnacle, and Hendrix Electric—Von's has 132 vodkas, the mere existence of which indicates that the end is nigh).
Von's has the feel of a higher-end chain—somewhere between a brewpub and a steak house—of the miscellaneous-stuff-stuck-to-the-ceiling variety. Affiliated restaurants: Sharp's Roaster in SeaTac and Grand Roaster in Wenatchee. Stuff: a Barnes & Noble sign, skis, the door of a cop cruiser, a small totem pole. A digital sign counts down the remaining time until Christmas by 1/10ths of a second. The lighting, aside from the behind-the-bar brightness, flatters redly; the businessmen and tourists and miscellaneous persons caught in this eddy of the retail core appear happy to be here. In an economy gone wrong, who's to say what best is?
Von's, 619 Pine St, 621-8667.