Ah, sushi and espresso: Together at last. Huh? Yeah, that's what I thought when someone told me about Liberty, the new joint up on the Hill's 15th Avenue. A match made in . . . well, only in Seattle, I think. Not coincidentally, on a recent trip to San Francisco, I found out that one of the new hot spots there is Nihon, a Japanese restaurant popular for its high-end whiskey lounge. I'm holding my breath for the inevitable sushi-and-martini bar. Liberty is close—well, kind of. Owner Andrew Friedman says the emphasis is not necessarily on sushi, nor on coffee—nor on traditional Japanese izakaya-style eating and drinking. At present, a person can't even get a matsu of sake or a bottle of Sapporo, although you can get a yuzu margarita. Liberty just wants to be a neighborhood bar. You've heard of those, right? Actually, you'll probably guess their aim after the pleasant server hands you a menu. There are two pages of cocktails (featuring fancy spirits and fresh juices) and just one for sushi, and the tagline on the front reads, "Drinks, comfy couches, espresso, sushi." Is that in order of importance? Don't tell sushi chef Jeffrey Snodgrass (late of the Queen Anne Chinoise, Wasabi Bistro, and Bonzai), who takes an inventive approach to the vegetarian rolls. There's the kimchee, featuring radish kimchee, seaweed, and ponzu mayo; the Rainbow Grocery roll (several rolls are named for Liberty's neighbors), with cucumber, avocado, red pepper, mango, cilantro, and wasabi aioli; and the spinach roll, which wraps up wilted spinach, avocado, reduced ponzu sauce, and sesame seeds. I ordered the latter and loved it—especially for $3.50—though I couldn't help thinking that even one of those silly sake-tinis would have been nice alongside it. Less impressive was a roll called "fishface," ominously priced at $6.66. Rolled up are hamachi, jalapeño, mango, cabbage, wasabi, aioli, but the proportions seem a little off. Snodgrass tells me he's riffing off fish tacos with this roll, but if my roll had any jalapeño in it, it was awfully mild, and the fish itself was pretty scant. Liberty's prices are uniformly low, but personally, I'd rather pay more and get more fish. Because the PA system plays indie rock at a quiet pitch, and because every fourth patron has their laptop set up next to their lemon drop, Liberty feels most like a coffee shop with a liquor license. Perhaps after their listening parties start rolling (you can check out the new Thievery Corporation at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 13), it'll feel more like a nightspot. In the meantime, the environment is friendly and very, very relaxed. I can think of far worse things to find in a neighborhood. Among other good things to find in neighborhoods, especially those that require passage over a long, tall bridge: Live music venues. West Seattle has a few, but none like the one owner Jessie Summa-Kusiak is planning for Skylark Cafe and Club, which will open in June where Madison's Cafe was on Delridge Avenue. Distinguishing the space from the mostly sports-bar/cover-band clubs in that neighborhood, Summa-Kusiak will program indie rock, power pop, electronica, punk, and Americana. "Americana" is the right word to describe the menu, too. Presided over by former Easy Street Records Cafe manager Matthew Wolfson, it features Philly cheese steaks, mac and cheese, and burgers. Summa-Kusiak, a part-owner of the Mirabeau Room and a veteran of the local music scene (she played guitar in Ripley), says she's aiming to make Skylark the OK Hotel of West Seattle. OK by me. Before I go, I need to tell you that I really am going. Two years ago, almost to the day, I wrote the first of these bi-weekly columns, and, as I'm leaving Seattle Weekly, this one is my last. I've enjoyed these conversations—about food trends, bogus wine schemes, ethical eating, arrivals and departures, and more—and I'll miss my part in them. I hope you'll continue without me. firstname.lastname@example.org
Liberty 517 15th Ave. E., 206-323-9898, www.libertybars.com. Skylark Cafe and Club 3803 Delridge Wy S.W., 206-898-5138, www.skylarkcafe.com.