Hot Seattle Cocktail Trends According to 12 of the City's Top Bartenders

By Jackie Varriano  |  April 18, 2016
Credit: Margo Helgen

Perhaps most famous in the drinks department for its mastery of all things coffee, Seattle has a way with spirits too. Not only do we have a plethora of straight-up cocktail bars shaking canisters until the wee morning hours, we also have more and more restaurants building a strong cocktail program. Bartenders aren’t just pouring beers and slapping straws in gin and tonics, they’re driving the drink trends. From a full-on gin and housemade tonic menu in Belltown and an icy-cold martini update in Wallingford to bitters-focused drinks in Capitol Hill, here is what the behind-the-bar pros are telling us to drink this spring and summer. 

  • Credit: Jesse Cyr

    Rob Roy

    Jesse Cyr, bar manager at Belltown’s clubby lounge Rob Roy says the cocktail trend to watch out for this spring is cocktails on draft. “When it's done correctly — and it's very challenging to do — it almost eliminates your wait time for getting a well-balanced cocktail in your hand. Also, draft cocktails haven't even started to explore all the opportunities out there that could be incorporated. It will be very exciting to see how they evolve over the next few years.”

    What to drink: The Bye Bye Blackbird
    A pisco-based cocktail that has blackberry syrup, mint, lime, Ramazzotti amaro and sparkling wine. “It's very effervescent and light, and a little fruity for the spring time. It's the kind of drink you want to sip outside in the sunshine,” he says.

    2332 2nd Ave.; 206-956-8423

  • Credit: Megan Rainwater

    Tavern Law

    According to Leroy Thomas, bar manager and lead bartender at Capitol Hill’s Tavern Law (and its speakeasy component Needle and Thread), bitter drinks are having a resurgence. “The number one thing we hear is 'not too sweet,' and now you can see more bars using amaro and people wanting to try tart things and being more open to bitter drinks.”

    What to drink: The Cosmo-Not
    Thomas is a big fan of puns — a trait that’s fully on display with this reimagining of a traditional Cosmopolitan. “It has most of the ingredients of a Cosmo, but I’ve rebuilt it and added some amaro. It’s very tart and bitter, and once people realize they’re not getting a Cosmo they’re really open to it.”

    1406 12th Ave.; 206-322-9734

  • Credit: Megan Rainwater

    Heartwood Provisions

    “I’m loving the fun direction cocktails are going right now,” says Bridget Maloney, bartender at Downtown’s classy cocktail lounge at Heartwood Provisions. “There are draft cocktails, cocktails in ice machines, bottled cocktails. While none of this is really new, I see a lot more places doing it and perfecting it. It’s a creative direction that is approachable and different. It also gets the drinks to the customers faster, which is a win-win for everyone!” 

    What to drink: The Matcha Mariachi
    This vibrant cocktail has a slight smokiness, a touch of earthiness and just a hit of lime to keep things bright. It features a matcha coconut milk/coconut cream mix, Nuestra Soledad mezcal, and Bittermens​ Xocolati Mole Bitters. “Plus the matcha powder creates an amusing green shade while providing some healthy antioxidants. Throw an edible flower on it for garnish and voila, Matcha Mariachi!,” says Maloney.

    1103 1st Ave.; 206-582-3505

  • Credit: RockCreek

    Rock Creek

    As people pile around the fire pit at Fremont’s Rock Creek, bar manager Jason Crume thinks they’ll be looking for "strong, assertive spirits coupled with familiar mixers. Something out of the comfort zone holding hands with the old reliable.”

    What to drink: The Oaxaca Fruit Punch
    The cocktail is a blend of Fidencio mezcal, Combier orange liqueur, Starvation Alley cranberry juice, and fresh grapefruit and lime juices. As Crume says, “strong drink, familiar juices.”

    4300 Fremont Ave. N; 206-557-7532

  • Credit: Omega Ouzeri

    Omega Ouzeri

    This Capitol Hill spot is the place to go if you can’t afford to get to Greece this year. Settle into the light, breezy dining room and talk with bartender Thorn Wilson about his predicted cocktail trend: “traditional drinks with an indigenous or ethnic twist.”

    What to drink: The Tsipouro Rhubarb Spritz
    Created by Wilson and chef Zoi Antonitsas, the drink takes a traditional spritz cocktail and subs the Italian ingredients of Prosecco and Aperol with the Greek spirit Tsipouro, poached rhubarb fruit and juice, and the slightly sweet sparkling rosé, Akakies from Kir-Yianni in northwestern Greece.  “Some might call it a grown-up’s sno-cone,” says Wilson.

    1529 14th Ave.; 206-257-4515

  • Credit: Westward


    For Andy McClellan, bar manager at Wallingford’s Mediterranean-inspired Westward, “There is almost nothing better than a perfectly stirred, tooth-achingly cold clear spirit cocktail to go with those dozen oysters you just ordered.” Because of this, his trend is more of a mainstay — the almighty martini.

    What to drink: The Depth Charge
    A mixture of Brazilian cachaça, vermouth blanc, a local cacao liqueur and orange bitters. According to McClellan, “the Depth Charge is light bodied but big on flavor and stirred perfectly cold.”

    2501 N. Northlake Way; 206-552-8215

  • Credit: Tia White

    Pennyroyal Bar

    Things have gotten quite serious in the cocktail game at Belltown’s Pennyroyal as bartender Chad Phillips has begun making Spanish-style tonic from scratch. He was introduced to the Spanish-style gin and tonic a few years ago in an “eye-opening experience” and decided to take something that’s an essential element of so many cocktails and give it the attention he believed it deserved. “We are seeing more bartenders using this approach in being incredibly conscientious about why they are using a specific vermouth for a Negroni or a Manhattan, etc. With so many wonderful local gins in Seattle, I wanted to showcase the quality of our gins and the versatility of gin and tonics in general.”

    What to drink: Something from the Spanish Tonic + Gin menu
    It’s a collection of five different drinks, pairing different gins with the housemade tonic and different herbs, fruit and citrus in order to pull the best flavor from each local gin. Try the Batch 206 Counter Gin with cucumber and lavender, the Bullfinch 83 with green cardamom and fennel, the Sun Liquor Gun Club with cranberry and clove and more. According to Phillips, the drinks have the power to “transport you to a cafe seat on Las Ramblas in the hot sun.”

    2000 2nd Ave.; 206-826-1700

  • Credit: Megan Rainwater


    Boasting the largest label collection on the West Coast, Canon is the place to go to quiz bartenders for the latest trends in all things booze. According to bartender Dustin Haarstad, his biggest thing is just using what’s around him. “Call it a trend or call it seasonal, use what's around you. The use of botanical-forward gin is a must for me. Don't fear natural ingredients...embrace them.”

    What to drink: In the Orchard
    As for how that translates into a cocktail, ask Haarstad for an In the Orchard, a rocks cocktail that combines Sipsmith gin with lemon juice, pear eau de vie, honey and housemade tonic.

    928 12th Ave.;

  • Credit: Megan Rainwater


    Rum fans unite at this Caribbean-inspired Capitol Hill spot where bartender Ryan Lobe is in love with what he calls "the return of fun." “We just went through the ‘cocktail nerd’ phase and that shifted into ‘hospitality.’ Now with those under our belts, we are starting to see a lot of bartenders just having fun, not taking themselves too seriously, and playing with ingredients that they previously stuck their nose up at. I love it because the bar should be fun! If someone wants a blue drink, why not make it the best one they ever had?”

    What to drink: Fire Walk With Me
    In the vein of fun, Lobe is loving Rumba's Fire Walk With Me cocktail, a blend of rums from Jamaica and Guyana, kissed by some cherry brandy, fortified with cold brew, and softened with homemade coconut cream. “The cocktail is garnished with fire and marshmallows to roast and enjoy while drinking your cocktail, and it's only available Wednesdays for Tiki Night.”

    1112 Pike St.; 206-583-7177

  • Credit: Paola Thomas


    The trend that Nik Virrey is seeing while behind the bar at Capitol Hill’s sleek Japanese eatery Naka is cocktails paired with food. “It’s rad in theory and even cooler when properly executed. Allowing to place the cocktail in the forefront and having talented chefs pair accordingly is delicious and mainly just fun for everyone.” Luckily, Naka is focused around tasting menus, which allows Virrey to quiz chef and owner Shota Nakajima on what’s coming out of the kitchen and pair accordingly.

    What to drink: The Gospel
    Virrey is all about fun, which features heavily into this cocktail, a combination of mezcal with Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, ginger syrup, lemon, Scrappy’s Firewater Tincture, egg white and activated charcoal solution. “It’s been on the menu since day one and is like my baby.”

    1449 E Pine St.; 206-294-5230

  • Credit: Nelle Clark


    Chazz Madrigal, bar manager at the cozy, rustic Smith in Capitol Hill, says he’s been seeing a lot of lower-proof cocktails lately, a trend he thinks will last the summer. These cocktails, he says, “use non-traditional cocktail ingredients, flavors like celery and cucumber in housemade cordials and bitters. What I appreciate about this trend is that it expands the boundaries of what people traditionally see as a cocktail — it doesn’t have to be strong and boozy, nor does it have to be saccharine and tropical-flavored. I love that these cocktails can be enjoyed over a longer period of time, which means celebrating the social component of drinking.”

    What to drink: Ain’t Misbehavin’
    A frothy combo of vodka, Dolin blanc, strawberry, lemon, mint and bubbles. Madrigal says the cocktail “encapsulates exactly what I was talking about: a beautiful, elegant drink that is lower proof. It tastes like a springtime picnic with enough sophistication that I’m not embarrassed to drink it."

    332 15th Ave. E.; 206-709-1900

  • Credit: Daniel Lyon

    Good Bar

    Joshua Batway, bar manager at the bustling Good Bar in Pioneer Square, likes the trend of bartenders taking more of a chef’s approach to cocktails. “Creating a drink that combines base spirits with fresh or prepared in-house ingredients yields results with no limits on creative possibilities.”

    What to drink: The Super Leaf
    Incredibly refreshing, this drink combines grappa with Cocchi Americano, limoncello, fresh basil and sparkling wine. “This cocktail is perfect for spring; it’s crisp, herbaceous, fresh and a touch savory.”

    240 2nd Ave. S.; 206-624-2337