The Best Places to Drink Outdoors in Seattle, 2014 Edition
Find those sunglasses and gird your livers: this summer, Seattle is boasting new beer gardens, expanded bar patios, and an excellent beachside firepit. Outdoor drinking around town got an upgrade over the winter. Now, as local bars rush to finish pressure-washing the dirt off the patio before the rain stops for good, it's starting to look like time to unpack your tank tops and grab a glass of the new season of Northwest rosé.
Last year we said, "The better the patio, the worse the drinks." But, to quote Darci from Varsity Blues, "Things change, Mox." These days, if you want to enjoy an awesome cocktail or freshly brewed pint in the sun, options are no longer limited. Here's our guide to Seattle's best new places to drink in the sunshine, along with updates on our old favorites.
For Creative Cocktails on the Beach: Westward
Built on a nautical theme, the bar's big windows and open layout practically flow onto the beach, where Adirondack chairs circle a firepit lined with oyster shells. The beach might be only on the lake, but you can channel the smell of saltwater by ordering the Casablanca ($11), a pickle-brine-based cocktail rimmed with ras-al-hanout (a Moroccan spice mix), spiked with Monopolowa gin, and lightened with lime juice and soda. It makes sense that the outdoors is embraced at this restaurant: Westward comes from one of the masterminds behind Seattle's first mobile food truck, Skillet. Bar expert and beverage writer Maggie Savarino (who wrote The Seasonal Cocktail Companion) helped out with the drinks menu, making sure that the cocktails fit an afternoon gazing out at the water.
For Wine in the Sunshine: Joule and The Whale Wins
There's double trouble on the Fremont patio scene. It's hard to pick which of these twin patios win the "Best Place to Drink Wine Outside" award. Korean-themed steakhouse Joule offers an impressive mostly Washington-focused wine list with a nice bar-style outdoor space, whether you're craving Ross Andrew Winery's rosé from Walla Walla or Pomum Cellars' Tempranillo from Columbia Valley.
While the firepit and steaks burn hot at Joule, next door at the Whale Wins is cool as ice. Whale's patio is crammed like a Paris sidewalk cafe with tables and chairs for long afternoons spent sipping from the eclectic European wine list. (Happy hour is 3 to 5 p.m.) There's tons of good stuff to drink: start with Francois Chidaine's bubbly or a bright pear cider from Bordelet before moving onto the tasty Fleurie from Clos de la Roilette or an '05 Rioja from Lopez de Heredia.
For a Real Beer Garden: Naked City Brewery
It's not hard to improve upon a vacant lot for a neighbor, but Greenwood's Naked City did much better, turning the adjacent empty space into an ideal beer garden. Naked City nails the most important feature of a beer garden: it has everything you need to drink outside for an entire day: an outdoor beer cart, games, tables, and food. Oh, and a giant mural of walruses. Try your hand at 'Washers' (think Cornhole with smaller pieces) as you taste your way through the taplist. The menu is split between Naked City's own brews and guest beers (from hyperlocal NW Peaks, to larger production Sierra Nevada), plus a handful of ciders, and even local root beer on tap.
Best Place to Drink With Your Dog: Populuxe Brewing
A rotating roster of some of the city's favorite food-trucks and friendly patrons—dogs and kids included—give Populuxe the feel of an endless backyard barbecue. But it's the sort of backyard with incredible Peruvian sandwiches and intriguing brews on tap. This nano-brewery's beer offerings change often, so there's always something interesting to try, and the convenient taster-size option ($2 per 4-ounce taste) gives the opportunity to try them all. The taplist is posted almost daily on the brewery's blog, and generally features at least a few different IPAs. While "Ballard brewery parking lot" seems to be its own genre of outdoor drinking in Seattle, Populuxe is the leader, showing how a gravel lot and picnic tables (blocked off from the minor street for a touch more privacy) can be converted into a friendly, engaging space.
For Refreshing Drinks, Executed Perfectly: The Innkeeper
Sidewalk tables are the norm for most of busy Belltown's outdoor seating, and the Innkeeper has those too, but this spot set itself apart with a giant back patio that somehow flies under the radar while similar venues get packed to the gills. The Caribbean/Latin American theme to the food menu carries over slightly into the bar menu in offerings like the Vincey Rum Punch and the Dark and Stormy, but you'll also find one of the best Moscow Mules in town. A sunny day on the patio with a cool copper cup of this Pearl vodka, fresh lime, and Regatta ginger beer-based drink is about as good as it gets, and from 3 to 6 p.m., the drink costs just five bucks.
For Beer by the Chicken Coop: Humble Pie
Located at the corner of the International District and Rainier, Humble Pie is ideal for Seattleites needing a beer (and pizza) break on the drive home from skiing, hiking, or biking on the Eastside—it's just off I-90. The shipping containers that house Humble Pie combined with the style of fencing enclosing the gravel area with outdoor picnic tables end up making the place look a little like a giant chicken coop. Within that area is an actual chicken coop, too. Luckily, the chickens (who lay the eggs that are served on some of the restaurant's pies) are good company for sunning yourself with a Balebreaker Pale Ale, and staring over at the fascinating design of the restaurant itself, which is crowned with a rooftop herb garden. The eco-friendly factors (chickens, roof garden) could feel gimmicky elsewhere, but here they seem natural, part of the laid back feel of the few patrons who know about the place, sipping Ninkasi IPA with the genial neighborhood beer fanatics.
For an Outdoor Dive Bar Experience: Octopus Bar
The Octopus Bar gets you. The bad puns and jokes on signs stick in your laugh-trap with suction, the Rainier on tap comforts you with eight arms, the low-brow cocktails served in surprisingly nice glassware mock you from behind a porthole. There's something incongruous about a new bar being a dive bar, but here, it works. The raised patio at the Octopus lifts drinkers above sea—er, street—level, giving it extra sunshine and a good perspective from which to drink a Jackie Pearson ($8), made with local Bedford ginger beer, Jack Daniels Whiskey, and lime juice.
For Top-Notch Cocktails: Canon
This year when Canon re-opens the back deck for the season in early June, it will have double the outdoor seating space. The opportunity to drink from cocktail star Jamie Boudreau's menu of every great spirit under the sun, while sitting under the sun, was worth the challenge of snagging a seat before. And now that there are more seats to snag, we wait, drooling, for the deck to open.
What to order? We're a little obsessed with Canon's Perlini-carbonated version of Seattle's favorite cocktail, the Last Word ($13 small/$17 large; the long-forgotten drink was popularized by local bartender Murray Stenson.)
For Good Drinks with a View: Marination Ma Kai
Best for three-beer lunchers and fans of eating with your hands, Ma Kai, Marination's third location on Alki Beach will disprove anyone who says "the better the view, the worse the food." You can eat their incredible Spam sliders while admiring one of the best panoramic vistas in the city, and sip a boozy shave ice while sitting on the bright-blue-and-green chairs on the patio.
Ma Kai also serves cocktails (through a window to the patio, so you don't even have to go inside to order), and has daily specials like G&T Tuesdays ($2 off gin and tonics) or Facebook Flip Fridays (check in on Facebook and flip a coin to see if you get 50% off your drink) to make the drink selections extra enticing. Toss in the ease of getting here via the water taxi straight from downtown, and it's hard to imagine a better place to spend a sunny afternoon.
For Secluded Herb Garden Cocktails: Poppy
If you aren't looking carefully, peering behind the lemon verbena and sage plants, you'll barely know the sweetly romantic garden at Poppy is actually plopped down in a parking lot. Planter boxes and raised beds form impromptu walls, the herbs rising high to shield the noise and view from outside. The chef here, Jerry Traunfeld, did make his name at a place called 'The Herbfarm,' so it only makes sense to be surrounded by fragrant herbs as you sip. Those herbs are also found in many of the drinks, which change seasonally. As spring blooms, look for rosemary and lovage to begin making appearances.
To drink here in the garden, though, you generally have to eat—the few small tables next to the brick building are reserved for diners. But if you come when it's slow, and ask nicely, they've been known to let you sit out there just for a beverage among the tangle of greenery—some of which is probably also used in your cocktail.
For Outdoor IPA Heaven: The Yard
Hop bines and passionflowers weave through the wooden fence, guarding drinkers at The Yard from the busy Greenwood traffic and sending a message regarding what the bar is all about: a passion for hops. As the name implies, most of the seating at the bar is in the big front patio, even with a recent expansion.
Hoppy beers prevail on the menu of this Mexican restaurant/bar, the owners having made the mental leap that tacos pair as well with an IPA as they do with a margarita (though they make a mighty strong one of those here, too). IPAs take up about half of the menu of twenty or so brews, with a huge variety within the category: rye IPAs, session-style, and heavy high-alcohol IPAs are all represented.
At The Yard, neighbors meet neighbors and beer lovers sit side by side with strangers, soccer fans, and those in search of a boozy brunch in a community atmosphere that's rare in Seattle. Something about sitting at a picnic table in the sun with a great IPA does that to people.
For Casual Wine: Bottlehouse
One glass of rosé on the Bottlehouse patio, and you're likely to be planning a Provençal vacation. Running along the outside of the old Craftsman housing the wine shop and tasting room, the patio's bistro-style metal chairs and wooden tables are shielded from the street by a flurry of greenery. The only possible downside to the narrow porch is that you might need to go for ice cream after, succumbing to the scent of Molly Moon's waffle cones floating over from two doors down.
In the meantime, take the opportunity to sip taster sizes, flights, or full glasses from Bottlehouse's well-curated menu (you can also pay a small corkage fee and open any bottle you've chosen in the store). The list covers a mix of Northwest and European wines, but goes much deeper than you'd expect with just two dozen options. From a dry Spanish Moscatel to a Nebbiolo from southeastern Washington, the list is intriguing and the staff is well-versed not only in the wines themselves but also in the art of helping the customer find just the right one. Which, on patio-weather days, often involves the rotating rosé on tap.
For Mexican Cocktails: Fonda La Catrina
In a classic Georgetown post-industrial recycling move, two large boat sails strung overhead provide shade to the whole of the Fonda la Catrina patio. Underneath, the wooden tables are covered in bright Mexican-design oilcloths, which seem to look out of place until an order of chips, guacamole, and a Paloma lands on them.
The drink menu is Mexican-inspired, and we adore the Palomazo, a smoky take on the traditional Paloma, made by adding mezcal instead of tequila to grapefruit soda. Fans of spicy drinks flock to the Fresca ($8), which mixes El Jimador Tequila with muddled cilantro and serrano pepper, before adding in pineapple juice and fresh-squeezed lime.