10 Mercer St. in QUEEN ANNE 206-691-3723 dinner 4:30 p.m.-midnight,
bar open till 2 a.m.
WHEN YOU'RE LOOKING for a place to have a good conversation over drinks without a lot of hubbub, attitude, and distraction, you usually have to seek out the old- fashioned, half-forgotten, from-another-era bars—the places where 1950s businessmen nursed their cocktails and frustrations in a stolid peace, free of techno, big-screen TV, and karaoke. But not always. Sometimes you luck out with a sleek, modern establishment like Ten Mercer (less than two years old) that offers a sweetly designed setting, mature service, and fine drinks, then trusts its patrons to make their own good time without further entertainment.
A tall, skinny, two-level space carved out of a former parking garage, Ten Mercer combines a stark industrial frame—80-year-old wooden beams criss-crossing overhead, giant steel bolts—with warm textures and colors closer to the skin. A beautiful column, like a grain silo with mirrors, rises up 25 feet behind the bar and holds all the liquor (you have to order an expensive cognac if you want to see the bartender climb to the top). The place is made for conversation: There are no TVs or other video screens; a well-selected jazz soundtrack is at just the right level; and the long, high bar curves into a "J" at the end, putting several seats of bar patrons face-to-face—close enough to chat if they wish, distant enough to stay private.
"It's really easy to focus on who you're with," explains general manager Brian Curry. (He's also a partner in the more, shall we say, boisterous Floyd's Place around the corner.)
Upstairs is intimate and a little formal, with booths for dinner. Downstairs is meant to have a "drop-in" feel, says Curry, and it certainly succeeds; just about everyone arriving seems to be greeted by name.
Drinks? Well, yes. The Metaxa Sidecar ($7) is a house specialty and can be recommended highly. And the food is excellent, though not cheap. The dessert sampler for two (strawberry shortcake, vanilla bean custard, and chocolate roulade, $13) is one fine way to fuel your discussion of the show at Intiman or Smackdown! at Key Arena.
When you've had enough of the bars where everyone's trying to impress each other, come here—you can rest assured no one's going to be impressed by anything. Sink into the deep, cushy orange-upholstered booths and let the middle-aged, seen-it-all waitresses serve you up some scotch and a baked potato. The TVs are on, but not loud; soft-rock hits of the '80s are vaguely entering your consciousness; and the dusky room is cast in a woozy, smoke-laden, orangey glow that is just the balm for your tired eyes. Snuggled together in a booth at the Broiler, you and your best friend are in a refuge from time, shooting through space with Boeing retirees and 21-year-olds savoring their first legal drink. There's nothing to do but order another round and get to know each other better. (Note: Avoid during major televised sports events.) 8230 35th Ave. N.E., 206-523-1115. 11:30 a.m.- 1 a.m. Tues.-Sat.; 11:30 a.m.-midnight Sun.-Mon. WEDGWOOD
Ah, the sweet comfort of the hotel bar—bland, anonymous, unthreatening, a welcome hideaway even for those who are just dislocated in spirit. Right across the street from the Cinerama in a neighborhood bursting with loud, brassy restaurants, this lounge in the Warwick Hotel is an oasis of calm for visiting regional sales representatives, pharmaceutical middle managers, and those who like to be around them. Quiet and nearly empty, the lounge is an excellent place to indulge in the sort of cocktail you would not be caught dead drinking elsewhere: The Creamsicle (Cointreau, Galliano, cream, and O.J., $7.25), for example, is lovely, as is the chocolate martini ($7.25). Nibble on the spicy, nutty party mix at each table; keep to yourselves or strike up a conversation with a conventioneer. Warwick Hotel, 4th and Lenora, 206-777-1990. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. daily. DOWNTOWN
THE FISHERMANS RESTAURANT
Walk past the tchotchke shop, through the nearly deserted arcade with air hockey and full-size carousel, and directly up the stairs inside the Fishermans Restaurant—the kind of place no local has ever gone or even heard of—and you'll come upon one of the most serene spots in town for enjoying a drink and watching the sun set behind the Olympics. An all-nautical affair—with oak beams, hanging lanterns, brass railings, and a yellow slicker-clad angler in a rowboat suspended from the ceiling—the lounge offers a big bank of windows running the length of the room, perfect for looking out over Elliott Bay and enjoying a Hot Nutty Fisherman (Frangelico, Bailey's, coffee, $6.50). A fine place to meet when you're having an affair, because you can hear each other at a whisper and, frankly, no one's going to catch you here. Pier 57, 206-623-3500. 11 a.m.- 10 p.m. daily. DOWNTOWN