The blues were playing at dinnertime one night last week at TASTE Restaurant in the new Seattle Art Museum, which seemed strange considering the hypercontemporary space and entirely un-Southern menu. The food, though, was depressing (bland crab salad in a pool of green oil, gnocchi akin to balls of paste, pork belly with layers of flabby skin/globby fat/dry meat); the service, actively maddening (unctuously, intrusively attentive except when actually needed, then notably absent).
While dinner was demoralizing, the bar—the focal point of the room with its orderly grid of wine bottles, chrome basket-weave seats, and Jeffry Mitchell elephant vessel—still suggested itself as a happy place. A few days later, happy hour ($5 snacks and drink specials, 3:00—6:00 p.m.) earned its name. People trudging past the floor-to-ceiling windows in the end-of-the-afternoon heat looked ready to burst into flames; inside, all was cool, sleek, and civilized. At the bar, people with great eyeglasses looked at page proofs for a glossy book; a man with a remarkably thorough tan sat wearing perfectly tailored clothes that clearly cost more than some automobiles. The barman exhibited an excellent sense of humor, mixed a fine cocktail, and knew when to leave people the hell alone. The music: not the blues.
The kitchen executes the simpler bar menu fairly well, and at happy hour, they're practically paying you to eat here. A country-style pâté is smoother in texture than most, made on-site with rabbit hindquarters and chicken livers; served with crackers, cornichons, mustard, and a little pile of pistachios, it's pretty and tasty. Organic mini-burgers avoid the mini-burger dryness syndrome. A not-so-mini pizza sprinkled with fresh sage is so rich with goat cheese, tomato-confit sauce, and a touch too much oil that the thin, crackly crust goes soggy in the middle. It's still good. A half-dozen more options also look promising, even at regular prices (oysters, $2.50 each; plate of three well-chosen local cheeses, $12). The bar menu's available from 3:00 p.m. to close.
The Hammering Man, the 48-foot-high sculpture on the corner outside SAM, is fabricated of steel, cost $450,000, and is coated in black automotive paint. The Hammering Man, the signature cocktail at the bar at SAM, is made of gin and lime and tonic and bitters; it costs $5 at happy hour, $8.50 otherwise, and it is pink. The sculpture celebrates the worker, while the drink celebrates, maybe, the guy at the bar with the incredible tan. The drink is pink because it is made with Peychaud's bitters (made in New Orleans, promising to cure whatever ails you). Hammering-Man-the-sculpture would doubtless want a shot and a beer back. Hammering-Man-the-drink is so icy, subtle, and refreshing, who cares?