Question: What does rooftop honey, yohimbe, and Cynar have in common?
The answer: You can imbibe them all within a stone’s throw of each other in the little Seattle neighborhood of Ballard.
For those that aren’t familiar, Ballard is a cozy pocket of Seattle northwest of downtown. Ballard begrudgingly became an official part of Seattle back in 1907 after water problems forced residents to do so. And to this day, that independent spirit survives. You’ll no doubt see reminders of this on numerous bumper stickers that read “Free Ballard” all over the neighborhood and beyond.
It is no longer the sleepy, yet feisty, Scandinavian fishing village it once was. Ballard is the place to be these days. With one of America’s top 10 farmer’s markets, music dive bar institutions, iconic restaurants, it’s Seattle at its purest – urban, hip, a bit grungy, friendly yet reserved. Walking up and down Ballard Avenue you can hardly go wrong finding a drink of any kind. Seattle is home to many talented mixologists and GQ magazine recently name a Seattle bar the best cocktail bar in the US. But if Ballard had not been annexed years ago, it could give Seattle a serious run for its money in the mixology arena. Despite the struggle and oppression, this now neighborhood of Seattle has an inordinate number of gourmet cocktail places. I stopped by three of them.
Bastille is a new(er) French restaurant that is both grand and ornate, but still down-to-earth. There’s both a restaurant bar and a back bar that serve amazing cocktails (not to mention food). (Happy hour offers up some great deals, FYI.) On this visit I ordered a “Bees Knees”. One of the ingredients listed was “rooftop honey”. I ask the bartender and he says it’s honey from their rooftop garden. The restaurant grows several ingredients to use in their food and drinks. The honey adds a soft, earthy sweetness and is a natural compliment to lemon. It’s the warm and soothing comfort of tea but without the tea.
Thaiku: Yohimbe-infused libations
The drink menu has a warning next to its yohimbe cocktail list:limit one per customer. I asked the bartender why, and he says, “Some people just can’t handle it…they freak out.” Yohimbe is analkaloid with stimulant and aphrodisiac effects and it’s used in a trio of drinks here at Thaiku. I ordered the Yohito. It was lively and refreshing, a Thai version of a mojito. As for the stimulant and aphrodisiac effects, well, I don’t remember what time I went to bed if that says anything.
Yohimbe and ginseng spiked rum
Hazlewood: The Cheers of gourmet cocktails
Just around the corner is tiny Hazlewood. A small bar, a small entry area, and a small loft. But as Yoda taught us, size matters not. Hazlewood has some of the most inventive cocktails in all of Seattle. It’s a cozy, friendly and intimate bar run by a talented bartender named Keith. When someone asked if he owns the bar, Keith responded, “Yes, I’m part of the problem.” The menu is long and full of obscure pre-prohibition and gourmet cocktails invented here. On my visit I ordered a Harvey Dent that included artichoke liqueur called Cynar, an Italian bitter apéritif. It was smooth yet exciting. There was a hint of sweetness but not nearly enough to raise my pinky. My visit to Hazlewood was the best of the night, both in drink and company, and I wondered if GQ even stopped here in their search for the best cocktail bar in the U.S.
Creme de Noisette
As a resident here, it’s against my Pacific Northwest socialization to suggest that outsiders visit my neighborhood. But if you are visiting Seattle, you might as well get out of downtown to a real Seattle neighborhood, and that neighborhood might as well be Ballard. Kippis!