When I first hit Seattle 10 years ago, the city was all giddy over Niketown and the new Planet Hollywood franchise, which spelled prosperity for a city in the middle of an awkward economic puberty. As an outsider, it was all a little silly, getting so excited over what amounted to an outdoor mall. Now, New York City's Times Square looks like a mall. Same with San Francisco's Union Square. To be economically safe, downtown has become just like home. Whose home? Anybody's. The Planet Hollywood failed, but its successor, the new Tap House Grill, aims to be more than a tourist rest stop or just another mall-food option. The restaurant's subterranean main space is like planting yourself next to a giant copper fermenter in a dome-shaped room painted with shades of nut-brown ale. This locally owned megapub is a new sibling for the highly successful Eastside original, itself a block from Bellevue Square. With nearly half of its 160 taps dedicated to Northwest brew, Tap House does more than create a pub atmosphere soothing to those from Anytown, U.S.A. The restaurant forces Seattle visitors into our hoppy universe, if only for a pint or two. Being too familiar with local brew was my downfall when faced with the double wall of tap handles. Like a kid at the ice-cream counter, I couldn't commit to a single pint. I went for the Northwest sampler, and the selection did Washington proud: Elysian's Jasmine Pale, Snoqualmie Falls Wildcat IPA, Boundary Bay Dry-Hopped Amber, and Baron's Schwarzbier. The beers took me from ethereally refreshing to hearty and back. Because I love variety, I ordered another sampler, asking that my next round be something summery but not light. The bartender's picks surprised me, putting Tetley's light English ale and Unibroue's Blanche de Chambly in the mix. Maybe he was lucky, but he read me well. I come from a town where the most common beer discussion involves a debate about Bud Light vs. Miller Lite (stay classy, Chicago). I know that getting someone to leave their beverage comfort zone can be a big step. The bartenders at the Tap House are eager to talk beer, switching from high nerd to the more common tongue at the drop of a hat to accommodate different interest levels. They will help you navigate the beer list, offering tastes after diagnosing your likes and dislikes. I hope this sort of adaptability is part of the training, because it will be a part of Tap House's success. After only a week in business, my barkeep said they were selling fairly across the board, "not just a ton of Alaskan Amber." He was genuinely psyched about that fact, and it makes me happy to know someone will come in for a Heineken and get talked into a Roger's Pilsner or a Baron Uber Weisse instead. I'd like to see even more of our fine boutique breweries—like Silver City, Pacific Rim, and Big Time—among the rotating taps. But every journey begins with a first step, and that's what Tap House Grill gets so right. It will give New Jersey doctors who won't stray more than two blocks from the Convention Center a taste of our region. In the end, Seattleites alone won't determine the Tap House Grill's success, but we can know there's a business in Shoppingville, U.S.A., that cares that it's in the Northwest. email@example.com
Tap House Grill 1506 Sixth Ave., 816-3314, www.taphousegrill.com. DOWNTOWN. Open 11 a.m.–1 a.m. Sun.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–2 a.m. Fri.–Sat.