First Call: Via Tribunali's Hidden Gems

Don't forget to drink with your pizza.

The Watering Hole: Via Tribunali, 317 Galer St., 264-7768, QUEEN ANNE The Atmosphere: Via Tribunali is rustic in the way that a movie star's countryside home is rustic. The Italian pizzeria masquerades as modest with dark wood tables and chairs, soft candlelight, and a brick pizza oven in the back corner. But the wine bottles displayed along the wall, well-dressed staff, and glittering bottles behind the bar betray a posher vibe. Opposite the captivating glow of the pizza oven, the bar tucked in the back corner is easy to overlook. While the winner of Seattle's best thin-crust pizza may be a familiar wine and pizza destination, the less-renowned cocktails deserve their share of the spotlight too. The Barkeep: The small space behind the bar is the perfect size for Brandon to deftly reach any alcohol he fancies; muddle grapefruits, lemons, and mint (among other edibles); grab a glass from overhead; shake and strain—all without taking more than a step in any direction. Brandon has been inventing custom cocktails for Tribunali for three years, and loves experimenting with unique alcohols and combinations. While he prefers to drink wine or bourbon, he customizes each drink he makes. "Drinks are like personalities," he explains. "They vary depending on the weather, the season, or the mood of the day." The Drinks: "Summery, light, and refreshing" delivers a pale-pink blend of gin, lemon juice, St-Germain, bitters, and freshly muddled grapefruit. It's floral, fruity, and refreshing—an alcoholic Fresca, but prettier. Responding to a request for something "unique and creative," Brandon pours a small amount of amber-colored liquid in a glass and asks for the verdict. Cynar, an Italian aperitif made from artichokes and herbs, is similar to a sweeter Fernet. Given the OK, Brandon combines the licorice-flavored alcohol with with lemon, soda, and St-Germain for a slightly heavier citrus concoction, ideal for sipping slowly. Creative juices flowing, Brandon mixes one last drink of his own accord: Galliano, vodka, and Kahlúa with a splash of soda and Coke and a dollop of vanilla ice cream create a deviously delicious "root beer" float. The Verdict: Via Tribunali has great pizza and all, but Brandon's whimsical libations are its hidden gems. All three cocktails were dangerously smooth, making it easy to forget their potency. Since each drink is a nameless, spur-of-the moment creation, finding them elsewhere is practically impossible.

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