Okay. A few friends have flinched at this one, but stick with me.
The Jilted Siren is possibly Capitol Hill’s newest cocktail bar, having opened in early April in the old Kedai Makan slot at Bellevue and Howell. It’s exciting to have this beautiful space in the bottom of the historic Burlingame Building once again in play, after sitting fallow for months! It’s a perfect landing for owner Amy Graham, who returned to her hometown after years spent in Eastern Montana, Southern California, and the Virgin Islands, and was dreaming of a Hill-top bar from afar.
“I moved back to Seattle specifically to open a bar,” she says, “and it was always gonna be on Capitol Hill. I lived here when I’d just had my baby girl—who works here with me now!—and my family actually stopped talking to me because I’d had her. But when I moved here, the Hill took care of us like a family. So I always wanted to give back to this community for helping us back then.”
Graham and her team have transformed the space—formerly buzzy and busy with chalkboard menus and patio globe lights—into sort of a dreamy underwater PJ Harvey video. Brass lanterns and dark wood accent the dining room, while deep blue, gold-flecked ocean tones and under-the-sea murals cover the walls. Purple velvet curtains flank the shuttered leaded-glass windows, suggesting grand balconies on a ship, with sunlight occasionally streaming through the gaps in the velvet. There’s a big cast-iron lamp shaped like a mermaid on the bar top, and soft blacklights behind the liquor bottles add some marine bioluminescence. Moody, low-lit, femme. Some real time was sunk into this design.
“I spent about five years researching the concept of what I wanted to do, business-wise,” Graham tells me, “but the nautical idea came to me more recently, actually! I’m a huge literature nerd, and I was rereading The Odyssey, and the siren theme really stuck out to me.” She refers to the sirens in the book—Odysseus’s antagonists, isolated in the sea, symbolizing feminine power, temptation, and risk—whom she metaphorically sees as her daughters and herself.
“I just thought that was perfect! So from there, I knew the bar would have an ocean theme. When we talked about names and themes, we ended up with the Jilted Siren because we want to give a safe space to people who have been marginalized. This is a safe bay for the jilted, basically.”
I like the luxurious little harbor they’ve built here. Tres bijoux, aforementioned, and the menu’s got some small plates with a tropical bent and plenty of veggie and vegan options. I liked the shrimpy, sweet-potato-based Polynesian fritters as well as the Moroccan frites, dusted with ras el hanout and a drizzle of cardamom cream sauce. There’s a diverse variety of cocktails, all creative and enjoyable. But the Dark Sea was the easy standout for me.
Evidently tying into 8th-century Greek poet Homer’s thing of never describing the sea as being an actual color throughout The Odyssey and just calling it “wine-dark” (well, oînops póntos, translated as “wine-faced”), the Dark Sea is a weird-ass stroke of genius. It’s made from a low-ABV red wine, Fernet-Branca, Coca-Cola, ginger juice, and lime, served in a frosty mug over ice cubes with a big flamboyant bouquet of chocolate mint on top—and the effect is so many things at once! Spicy, astringent, rich, fruity, mentholated. Sharp, warm, and bitter. Prickly. Herbal. A little salty, with flavors of citrus, oak, and caramel. This thing’s a stormy fuckin’ ride. I love it.
The obvious comparison is to the kalimotxo, a mix of red wine and Coca-Cola that’s drunk in Spain, and it also reminds one of the fernandito from Argentina, where fernet is commonly taken with Coke. But it’s also Caribbean-tropical with the lime and the ginger. There’s shades of a mojito here, with some Moscow Mule edges and the ghost of an Altoid. Every sip is a little different, perhaps like a churning, drunken, wine-faced sea.
My favorite sips are the gingery ones. And in fact, the Dark Sea seemed more fernet-forward the first time I ordered it, but the second round was super ginger-juiced, which I was way into. Really delicious with the tannins in the wine, and the ginger has the power to tame the itself-powerful fernet. “It’s actually ginger that we juice in-house!” Graham says. “Everything we do here is made in-house, even our tonic.”
The low-alcohol wine, Graham adds, is from Waterbrook Winery in Walla Walla and that providing low-ABV and non-alcoholic drinks is a core tenet at the Jilted Siren. “We have different tiers of cocktails here. For example, the Jilted Siren, our signature drink? Very high-alcohol. And then we have the lower ABV list for people who are, for example, maybe trying to transition down to not drinking.” Or, perhaps, if someone wants to hang out but doesn’t feel like getting wine-faced. They’ve got a few totally non-alcoholic drinks too, with a plan to greatly expand their NA drinks menu as they ramp up.
Oh, by the way, because I’m a destructive contrarian, I muddled the beautiful bunch of mint into my Dark Sea the second time around—heartbreaking though it was to ruin it—and it paid off big time, releasing a spicy storm cloud of ginger-mint juices sizzling above the glass. You can feel this cocktail on your face skin and inside of your pores.
Seattle’s not short on nautical-themed bars or anything, but I might like this sultry little cocktail lounge best among them. And I especially like the idea that, in the way that the Jilted Siren is a place for everyone, the Dark Sea is made of everything. There’s something in this cocktail and at this bar for everyone—all of the fishes in the deep wine sea.
View this post on Instagram