174 Roy St, 206-283-0519
While I've enjoyed trying Seattle's new array of kale-infused tequilas, I will always be a beer and shot guy. That's why it delights me when an old favorite like the Streamline perseveres and flourishes amidst polished, soulless condo construction. I first visited the Streamline in its original home at 121 West Mercer Street, where it had been in operation since the 1950s. A red-and-yellow sign of that vintage, lightly streaked with rust, announced the motes of cheap beer and sweat and the crowds of good company to be found within. The place was unassuming, with vinyl seats and six decades of stories.
When I stopped by one night to find the Streamline's windows covered with newspaper, I was quickly relieved to hear it had just moved a few blocks east to 174 Roy Street. That night, the bar seemed lifeless in comparison to what I remembered, but when I returned to the Streamline recently for "Tallboy Tuesday," when tall cans of Rainier are $2 all night, I was happy to see the spirit of the bar had totally recovered from the move. Happy hour is every day from 4–7 p.m., with $3.50 well drinks and $4 drafts.
A lot of work went into the Streamline's preservation. Owners Mike Lewis and Mary McIntyre actually carried the original central bar island and wood paneling down the street to its new home. The tapestry of dogs playing poker I remembered from the old location was back, and pinball machines glowed in every corner. Above the pinball: a mural of the Kalakala blasting through space. During happy hour, a beer and shot are $6 and a basket of veggie sliders and fries from the downstairs kitchen are the same price. Cardboard-and-Sharpie signs halo the kitchen window, displaying a menu of classics—chicken strips, hot dogs, carnitas, and wings, among others—along with the words "Cash only, punks," and "Amazon go home."
The Streamline passed the one really meaningful test of a bar's worth: Within an hour, my girlfriend and I had met someone as weird as us. We approached each other without any real effort and talked for the rest of the night.
315 Seneca St, 206-623-5110
The Hotel Seattle could be another Sorrento if it were maintained a little better. The Hotel Seattle experience is foreshadowed by the description on the website: "Hotel Seattle has 85 smartly appointed guest rooms, some of which are newly renovated... Many of our rooms also contain mini refrigerators." "Some." "Many." But just as it's more exciting to find a priceless work of art in a grandparent's basement than in a museum, encountering such an unkempt piece of old, old Seattle is a unique thrill. When the Hotel Seattle was built, Seattle was the Wild West, and it still feels that way at the doorstep of the hotel's bar, Bernard's.
Stepping into Bernard's, you immediately feel free of a supervision you weren't even aware of prior to parting its heavy wooden doors. Is it the carpet? What bar is carpeted these days? It's a little gross but mostly liberating, hearkening back to Sir Mix-A-Lot's Seattle. "I have seen two middle-aged people furiously making out at 5 p.m. in a very well-lit booth," says friend and Bernard's aficionado Willie Fitzgerald. "Groping, lip-smacking, full-blown middle-school makeout. At least one of the bartenders has a stare so withering that once she fixed it on me, I don't think I was capable of sexual arousal for two days." Wild West.
Drinks are always delightfully cheap and strong, but at happy hour, 4:30–7 p.m. on weekdays, wells are $2.50, drafts are $4, and a rotating selection of happy hour snacks, like pretzels, onion rings, and garlic bread, are free. (The kitchen makes a tray of such snacks when happy hour begins, and when the tray is eaten, that's the end of that. First come, first served.) Oddly, Bernard's is closed on weekends except for Saturday brunch. When I called to confirm hours, the person on the phone said they open at "6 every weekday."
"PM?" I asked.
So there's that.
Everything is brass, dark wood, and leather, and the bartenders call you "hon" without a trace of irony. Presiding over the dining/drinking area is a medieval mural of mythological beasts and royalty in ornately patterned tunics. It's a place that feels best when you're dressed to the nines in tweed and silk, with a nice cigar in your coat pocket. You'll see one or two others dressed the same, as if after work at some office job 40 years ago, they decided never to go home again and have been wandering from bar to bar looking amazing ever since.
7034 15th Ave NW, 206-784-5701
"Better than you'd expect" is the slogan of the Waterwheel, a place that appears to have been constructed by pioneers and decorated by the set designer of Barbarella. It's built out of enormous hardwood beams, shower curtains, and Astroturf. On one occasion, many years ago, I stopped into the Waterwheel to find an antiquated vacuum cleaner hanging out of a hole in the bathroom ceiling.
"Better than you'd expect" was exactly what I thought when I had dinner there during 4–7 p.m. happy hour the other night. Wells are $3, drafts are $3, and cheap beers are $2—nothing to sneeze at, but what was really better than I expected was the food. It was better than a variety of places I've been that served only food. A $9 quesadilla was stuffed with noticeably fresh zucchini, corn, and peppers immersed in melted cheese, and served with a paper ramekin of equally fresh salsa. When I saw/smelled $2 elotes cooking in a cast-iron pan—tender corn slathered in crema, cotija cheese, and paprika—I had to add one to my order.
It just so happens there are two happy hours on Sunday, one standard 4–7 p.m. and one 10 p.m.–close. This is also a renowned karaoke spot, starting at 9 p.m. every night. The Waterwheel is dwarfed by the condo under construction next door, but its large Astroturf patio is hard to miss, dotted with games and clusters of neighborhood friends talking and drinking. "What day is it?" asked a guy reclining near a pool table. "Who cares?" his friend replied.