The Watering Hole: The Innkeeper, 2510 First Ave., 728-2403, BELLTOWN
The Atmosphere: Cozy and dimly lit, The Innkeeper is reminiscent of a nice, warm, low-ceilinged cave. It provides the fetal comforts of curling up inside the womb, a feeling I imagine is recreated in the deepest, darkest mines, lit by a torch on the wall with firelight flickering and shadows dancing all around, playing tricks on the mind. Once I climbed up and snuggled my bum down onto the last remaining stool, there was no vacancy left at The Innkeeper's bar. It was 4:30 p.m., and the gray light that filtered through the thick clouds above was quickly fading to black. Though I had taken the last barstool, several tables remained available until around 5:30, when the Friday after-work crowd began to fill the room.
An impressive stockpile of liquor fills the shelves behind the bar, many varieties of which I had never seen before. Young professionals constituted the majority of the bar's patronage, and at one point, a group of 10 or so lawyerly looking young men in black suits filed in one after another and filled the standing-room-only space that remained.
An amiable fellow sat to my left. His sleeve tattoo, trendy glasses, and flat cap made him blend into the half-hipster, half-yuppie crowd, but his story made him stand out through the haze of foggy remembrance. He regaled me with a tale of an odyssey, beginning with his youth in an upstate New York trailer park with his biker-gang father. He recalled how as an innocent child he would sit with his father as they listened to Dark Side of the Moon and Black Sabbath's Paranoid, music that gave him nightmares. His father would ask him questions about abstract subjects like the meaning of life. Only later, as a young adult, did he realize his father was merely stoned.
The Barkeep: The tutelage of the great Seattle barkeep Murray Stenson is well in evidence in the dignified, professional manner of Tom Roberson. At Daniel's Broiler in Leschi, Roberson was guided by Stenson, named the best bartender in America in 2010 by a group of his peers at New Orleans' "Tales of the Cocktail" festival—which, from what I gather, is a very prestigious honor. "He was one of my mentors," Roberson said.
Following a nine-year stint at Wild Ginger, Roberson has mixed drinks at The Innkeeper since it opened just over a year ago (the space previously housed Marco's Supper Club). After I perused the food menu and made a few selections, he brought out a delicious plate of heirloom tomatoes and mango with mint-curry pesto and queso fresco. Three or four long, oval slices of grilled bread were stacked pyramid-style, like campfire kindling. Each supported a few wedges of crunchy, tangy green tomato, slices of mango, chunks of mild queso, and generous dollops of pesto. Biting down through all the freshness made me long for the farmers markets of summertime.
The Drink: Roberson mixed me a Shark, a drink Stenson passed down to him. Its ingredients included Kahlúa, two ounces of brandy, and Grand Marnier, shaken with ice and strained. A dollop of whipped cream topped it off. It was a good, warming, sweet drink for a wintry evening, but my one complaint rests with the whipped cream. It was much too firm a dollop, for it did not melt away and blend into the rest of the booze. At drink's end, there it sat, in nearly the same shape as at drink's beginning—a firm, white mountain chilling at the bottom of my glass.
The Verdict: The Innkeeper has a deep food and booze menu. I sampled several cocktails that evening, each one delicious and thought-provoking. One had an egg white in it. The food is very good, and staff and patrons alike are friendly and fun to talk to. Don't get carried away, though: This party of one left with a $90 bar tab.