Image: Smith Tower
Seattle is one of the most scenic cities in the nation, with endless vistas of water and mountains, and the city’s rooftop bars offer a fun way to drink in the views while indulging in cocktails and nibbles. There’s been a proliferation of sky-high open-air rooftop bars that are literally raising the bar on super-scenic gathering spots. We’ve put together a short list of our favorite high-elevation hot spots for you to check out, including Mbar, The Mountaineering Club, The Nest and two rooftop bars in the historic Smith Tower. Cheers!
The vibe is swanky and the cocktails are pretty at Mbar, a made-for-Instagram setting high atop the 14th floor, overlooking Lake Union. Sailboats dot the water’s surface and float planes buzz as they take off or land. Situated in the South Lake Union neighborhood, Mbar is a truly extraordinary setting on a blue-sky day and it’s simply magical after dark when lights blink on in the city’s high rises.
The bar and lounge are under cover and surrounded by movable glass walls, with extensive seating around firepits on an open-air deck. The drinks menu offers fun signature cocktails and wine, including a refreshing frosé, and the Mediterranean-inspired menu features large plates such as duck breast with eggplant romesco and spiced lamb shank. The stars here, in our opinion, though, are the appetizers and small plates, which range from a delicious version of beet salad with lemon labneh to baba ghanoush.
THE MOUNTAINEERING CLUB
In the University District, north of downtown, this 16th-floor rooftop bar atop The Graduate hotel has the most unique view in the city. The Mountaineering Club faces south with a distant view of Seattle, fronted by Lake Union. The Space Needle looks small enough to be a keychain trinket. The true treasure on a clear day, though, is magnificent Mount Rainier jutting above the horizon to the south. In the evening, fire tables take the chill off any breezes and strands of lights from I-5 lace together the U District and the lit-up city.
Indoors, it feels like the study of an outdoorsy professor, replete with charcoal-color walls, vintage snowshoes and Persian carpets. But it’s outside where you want to be as you sip on classic and signature cocktails, and enjoy innovative grilled sandwiches, or maybe the Mountaineering Mezze, a snackable feast of marinated shrimp, green chile bean dip, smoked salmon pate, tinned mussels, pickled onions, sourdough and more. Desserts are as Northwest as they come: apple cobbler and the club’s own take on s’mores.
You’ll get a birds-eye-view of the Pike Place Market, the waterfront and the majestic Olympics as the Great Wheel churns in the foreground at The Nest, atop the Thompson Hotel, a Hyatt property. Long and narrow, this aerie has an intimate feel to it, with lots of plush nooks with couches that yield the opportunity for you to have your own “living room”-with-a-view in this airy setting. You can expect inspired cocktails and a solid wine list to accompany substantial nibbles, such as shrimp agua chiles tostadas and steak banh mi. Among their house cocktails is Spa Day, with cucumber-infused Grey Goose vodka, lemongrass syrup and Mionetto prosecco.
THE SMITH TOWER OBSERVATORY AND THE LOOKOUT
When completed in 1914, the Smith Tower, in Pioneer Square, was the tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi River. Today, while it’s dwarfed by more-contemporary buildings, The Smith Tower more than makes up for that with its ornate, neoclassical façade and history-soaked charm. To reach the 35th floor Observatory Bar you have to shell out for the attraction ($22), and you might even have to wait a bit until there’s space. Trust me, it’s worth it. A series of rooms with historical interactive elements, including a telephone switchboard where you can listen in on “calls” is at the start of the journey, followed by a ride in the building’s original Otis elevator. The Observatory rooftop bar with astounding 360-degree views is the prize at the end. A narrow, wrap-around catwalk enclosed by a cage allows you to take in the views without feeling dizzy.
You can watch honey bees in action through a glass wall in The Lookout’s rooftop apiary. Honey from the hives is used in featured drinks at the Observatory Bar and The Lookout, including the Prohibition-era “The Bees Knees.” To make this yourself, combine equal parts honey and hot water to make a honey syrup. Then fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add 1/2 ounce of honey syrup, 2 ounces of gin and 1 ounce of fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Shake and enjoy!
Indoors, the Prohibition-style bar is, as you might expect, in a dark-toned room. Vintage Chinese décor includes the “Wishing Chair,” an intricately carved historic chair that legend says grants the wishes of women who wish to marry. All you have to do is take a seat, make a wish, and supposedly, presto! Your wish will come true within a year. Whether or not your wish is fated to work out, you can toast to the experience with in-house barrel-aged craft cocktails with entertaining Speakeasy-style names such as The Secret Stash and The Socialite. The bar also serves sandwiches and poke bowls.
If you’d rather enjoy your drinks and noshes with your scenery, The Lookout is the place for you. As with the Observatory, you need to spring for a ticket to the top. On the 22nd floor of the Smith Tower, this is a breezy, contemporary indoor/outdoor space with a southwest-facing deck surrounded by glass walls offering views of the waterfront, stadiums and snowclad Mount Rainier. Beer, cider and wine are available in this spot that’s especially popular with smartly attired Millennials—which makes the setting as good for people-watching as it is for scenery-watching.