CHINESE RESTAURANT BARS have a special quality, one that sparkles with the beauty of a warped '60s vision of Asia, one that encompasses cheesy neo-Mandarin decor, greasy snacks, strong and cheap drinks, and good, if random, jukeboxes. It's like Big Trouble in Little China meets an airport bar. I find this quality so special that I have dubbed it Chinoise: This is an adjective based on the word Chinoiserie, which is a real word even though no one I've talked to has heard of it. Seattle—lucky, lucky city—is home to some of the finest Chinoise bars in the entire world, and this is your whirlwind tour of just a few—lucky, lucky you.
Happy hour at Bush Garden (614 Maynard S., 682-6830) is a thing of utter loveliness. Nice Chinoise touches are deployed (the area to the left of the entryway will fill you with awe), and the use of cushy vinyl is liberal. One vodka tonic and I feel queasy with goodness. Some woman is talking in detail about an infection ("blah blah blah OOZING blah blah PUS") as my party eats tasty shrimp wrapped in bacon (can we wrap the world in bacon?). Jojo the bartendress wears a gold cross, has pouffy bangs, and is the nicest woman in the world. A reticent young man constructs an origami pyramid at the end of the bar. "He had a terrible hangover the other day and tried to blame me, his faithful bartender," Jojo says. "He had four screwdrivers—he's OK as long as he keeps switching drinks." Jojo retrieves some of his best work from the case out front; then I'm playing with a perfect paper llama.
Next stop: Hana Teriyaki (1914 Eighth, 340-1591), a weird little low-lying building tucked away by the Greyhound station. You might think anything near the Greyhound station has got to be good, but I am shut down because the deliberately obtuse bartender refuses to comprehend my driver's license extension sticker. My license is valid till 2004! It says so in huge font on the back! Yet I get no love! Dang.
So I'm parched upon reaching the oasis of the Rickshaw (322 N. 105th, 789-0120). It has an exterior sign depicting little men pulling rickshaws in silhouette. Beauty. Inside, karaoke is proceeding calmly; it's still early. We smash into a tiny but cushy vinyl (see?) booth and order up some Rainiers and Bushmill's. A portly older gentleman joins a woman singing "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"; he's wearing a Mr. Rogers cardigan and doing a little dance that is quite provocative. He then favors us with a rendition of "America the Beautiful"—a sexpot and a patriot! The interior Chinoise decor elements are currently somewhat obscured by massive Halloweenization—a ghost attached to a ceiling fan looks like a pair of tighty whiteys circling madly. A fellow with an odd accent offers up this incisive analysis: "The Rickshaw has to get fucking two thumbs up for fucking arse end of nowhere and pure sport." So true.
The Mandarin Room at the Moon Temple Restaurant (2108 N. 45th, 633-4280) is crowded at 9:43. I squeeze by a big tough with long hair into a seat; "Excuse me," I say, "A thousand pardons," he replies. The gold figure of the Emperor of Chinoise watches over us from the west wall, paying particular attention to the man in the wife-beater and mullet at the end of the bar. An Eddie Bauer-type couple at the adjoining table are enjoying some spicy tofu, and when I ask them how it is, they insist that I try a piece. It's pretty damn good. "This is the best place in the world to see the freakiest people in the universe," the woman reports. They're thinking, they say, about creating a series of trading cards featuring the regulars here because they are so weird.
Find myself at Jimmy Wu's Jade Pagoda (606 Broadway E., 322-5900). The bar at the Jade on Friday is going off! Chock full of hipsters with some nice aging queens at the bar as well. Stagger to the ladies': Here's that stall in the bathroom eternally occupied by an apparently out-of-order toilet and a nasty, horrible mop and bucket. Why am I compelled to open its door and look at it every time? Back where the action is, the bartender has a lovely Chinoise silk shirt on, and nice glittery black Chinoise dingbats are stuck on squares of red-flecked golden foil on the walls. "Can I have one of those?" a new arrival says, gesturing at my beer. "A half-empty bottle of High Life? Sure, but I'll have to suck on it for a while," says the cocktail waiter. What a card! We think this is very funny. Ha ha ha! It IS funny! It's kind of quiet in here at midnight—other than us, that is. I am quite soused. I goad the new arrival into describing the Jade in one sentence: "Alcoholics Anonymous meets Hong Kong Phooey." Aha—Chinoise.