The Watering Hole: Belltown Pub, 2322 First Ave., 448-6210, BELLTOWN
The Atmosphere: Stopping to enjoy some of the last rays of sunshine before a long, gray autumn sets in, I glanced up at the gnarled trees on the hanging sign suspended above the sidewalk and stepped through the door into the Belltown Pub. Greeted by a few waitresses, I grabbed a seat at the bar and promptly downed a glass of happy-hour pinot noir, followed that with another glass of vino, and—alcohol receptors properly lubed—got down to business.
The crowd was small but lively for happy hour. Folks chatted eagerly over cheap food and drinks. The warm late-summer sun floated serenely in the sky before disappearing behind the buildings of First Avenue. Sunlight flooded in through floor-to-ceiling windows and bathed patrons in vitamin D. It must have been 80 degrees outside. Inside, Belltown Pub is lofty and woody, decorated with taxidermy, Jameson-bottle light fixtures, and a mounted single-barrel shotgun. The copper-colored ducting, hanging exposed from the whitewashed ceiling, and the red brick walls make for a clean, industrial space. So often, very old buildings just seem like nice places to be.
The Barkeep: Lisa Raybell has a friendly smile and easy-come laugh. She's tended bar here for two years. From down the bar, a waitress yelled, "Hey, Lisa! Do we have a potato vodka?"
"Luksusowa!" she yelled back, hinting that she knows her booze.
The Drink: Asked to make a concoction of her choosing, Raybell crushed, poured, and mixed expertly, creating a light and bubbly Moscow Mojito. Served in a sweaty copper cup, it's a mix of a Moscow Mule and a mojito. Ginger beer and gin make a refreshing combination, sweetened with simple syrup and soured with fresh-squeezed lime. I drank mine through a straw, sucking up morsels of muddled mint with every sip. "It's crispy," said Raybell. "I like to give people a good mojito, because they are kind of hard to find in this city of ours." Suddenly I was whisked away to an island world of sugar-sand beaches, turquoise water, and classic cars. "Hey, Mr. Hemingway! You have to try this drink!"
The Verdict: The Belltown Pub is calm and cool, and you feel comfortable and happy while drinking expertly crafted libations and chatting with the friendly staff and customers. Everyone seems to have a nice time, and that can be infectious. The food is good. The drinks are delicious. Next time, Luksusowa is on the to-try list.