For a city known far and wide as a drinking town, Seattle lacks an iconic cocktail, a drink synonymous with a sense of place. With respect to the generations of world-class bartenders who have called Seattle home, we have no equivalent to the Singapore Sling, invented by Ngiam Tong Boon at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore; no Sazerac, invented by Antoine Peychaud in New Orleans; no Caipirinha, built to combat a wave of Spanish flu in Sao Paulo. And so forth. Why no one has done a moody-ass grey-blue version of a lemon drop and called it The Rain Drop is beyond me, but what Seattle boasts in craft beer and fancy coffee bonafides it sorely lacks in the designation of an iconic municipal cocktail drink.
Please then allow me to argue forcefully, here in the paper of record, that such a drink has already been created. It’s on the menu right now at Phocific Standard Time, a new cocktail bar perched in a sort of ersatz treehouse mezzanine about the ground floor of Pho Bac’s South Lake Union location, a few short blocks from Jeff Bezos’ big expensive balls.
It's called Khoa Was Here. It's a pho-fat washed shot of Jameson Irish Whiskey, served alongside a little tea pot of deeply herbal, unctuous, savory pho broth. It's extraordinary, a drink that transcends the trappings of menu placement into something more like iconography. In its duality of sips—the creamy bite of the washed whisky, the smoothing succor of the pho, back and forth in harmony—it's capable of evoking something profoundly PNW, a narrative of diasporas comingling, of suburban kids growing up haunting big city soup shops, of what it means to be from this place, wherever your parents happened to have come from before you. It's as Proustian and resonant a cocktail as anything I've ever had, and drinking it could be a municipal requirement. It's the city of Seattle in cocktail form.
Let's back up briefly. Phocific Standard Time, referred to less formally as PST, is the collaborative work of sisters Yenvy and Quynh Pham—who grew up in their family's multi-location Pho Bac chain of soup shops—and bartender Katie Frazier, formerly of The Gerald in Ballard. "We started working on the concept pre-COVID," Quynh Pham tells me. "And at first we thought it might be a cool space for a coffee bar. The concept of doing cocktails didn't come until we met Katie."
Frazier proved adept at melding deeply felt experiences and influences from the Pham sisters' childhood into what is today an at times challenging, endlessly playful modern cocktail menu, with drinks that draw on a deep well of Vietnamese flavors and experiences. Many are modeled off of traditional Viet soft drinks, incorporating flavors like pandan, artichoke, and sweetened coffee with condensed milk. "Every single cocktail on this menu is based on something we grew up with," says Quynh Pham. "These are ideas I was able to take and run with," adds Frazier, which is how you land on a cocktail that incorporates, say, rice wine and pickled leeks, or salted egg yolk and sherry.
Guests at PST enter first through the soup shop, then up a flight of stairs into a space that feels like a secret—in a good way, not in the cringe #speakeasy way. There are around ten drinks on offer at any given time, a comfortable cluster of two-tops and bar seating, and a tight selection of satisfying snacks, including a sweet, creamy, savory crab dip served with Vietnamese "Sky Flakes" saltine crackers, as well as pho from downstairs offered in an oversized Cup-O-Noodles bucket. The bar feels dark, date-y, with flickering candles and the ebb and flow of conversation. There will be Viet pop on the stereo. You will lose track of time.
Drinks here are frequently good, occasionally startlingly so: the Dua Dùa, which riffs on a popular basil seed soft drink, lands with a super-light touch of coconut milk, redolent of lime and aloe throughout, so beautifully integrated that you nearly forget it's been spiked with absinthe; the Cà Phê Trúng, a Vietnamese iced coffee riff that veers into custard-like territory thanks to a Chartreuse whipped egg yolk, anchored by the seemingly odd-ball choice of Icelandic Brennivin (somehow it works). With the crab dip you want a Saigon lager. With the Cup-O-Noodles pho bowl you want privacy. Each time I visit I end up ordering more than first intended.
But back to Khoa Was Here. Like so much of what makes life worth living, the greatness of this drink comes with a throughline of sadness. The drink is named for Quynh and Yenvy's brother, Khoa, who died in 2020. He was just 35, but already beloved locally as a community leader, someone born with a deeply ingrained sense of hospitality and family. I never met Khoa Pham but I ate at his family's restaurants, chasing away college hangovers one bowl at a time; his legacy lives on through the official designation of April 21 as Khoa Pham Day in the city of Seattle, and via this drink at PST, a cocktail bar he would have loved. The drink itself is based on something he loved serving his friends—Jameson whiskey with a sidecar of pho broth. "He used to do this with his friends right there in the restaurants," says Frazier, recounting the legend. "And when he died, people kept doing it in his memory. So we knew it had to be on the menu here."
It was the very first thing I ordered the moment I sat down inside PST, and I cannot imagine visiting this bar without having it again and again, every time. You'll order it, and then the people next to you will order another one, and pretty soon everyone is sitting there with little metal teapots of pho broth and shots of Jameson, gussied up with a pho fat wash, taking a sip of one, and then the other, the flavors intermingling together like light and dark, life and death, joy and melancholy. It's as stunning and stirring a drink as ever invented in the city of Seattle, a mélange of memories and lived experiences. Today happens to be April 21—Khoa Pham Day—and so you might consider ordering one after you finish reading these words, and toasting to life, the city, or whatever else you feel in your heart tonight. Make mine a double.