The hotly anticipated Tavern Law — mentioned in The New York Times and on cocktail-geek blogs — debuted in late August on Capitol Hill, opened by the owners of the nationally acclaimed Spur Gastropub in Belltown. At Tavern Law, a vault door leads to a den adorned with Prohibition-era motifs: a flask believed to be owned by Houdini, vintage glassware and custom furniture recalling designs from the 1930s. Above, antique chandeliers. Below, a floor constructed from reclaimed barn wood in Montana.
“We wanted to celebrate the classic cocktail and the art of bartending,” said Brian McCracken, who co-owns Tavern Law with chef Dana Tough. Instead of a cocktail menu, the speak-easy bartenders craft drinks based on the customers’ flavor profiles (a cocktail with smokey notes, for instance). The true speak-easies — illegal ones — have always lurked around Seattle, as recently as in the last two decades, in the Chinatown International District and even one near the Seattle Police substation in Capitol Hill. Sometimes, they drew shady characters. Often, their cocktail offerings were limited. The new wave pays homage to the pre- and Prohibition-era cocktails, with bartenders donning vests and fedoras, serving the Martinez, the precursor to the martini, and the old fashioned, the rye libation of choice for the suave Don Draper on the hit show “Mad Men.”
Customers also like to dress the part. Dec. 5 is considered Seattle’s biggest cocktail party, when cocktail geeks every year don Bonnie and Clyde get-ups to celebrate the end of Prohibition in 1933. Those costume parties are more frequent with the faux speak-easies.
Recently, Tavern Law was rented out for a private party at which folks dressed in gangster suits and flapper dresses arrived in a stretched Rolls-Royce.
In an e-mail, cocktail historian Robert Hess of Lake Forest Park explained: “The Speakeasy concept itself is one that is gaining in popularity quite a bit, with bars jumping on that bandwagon in almost every city with even a mild cocktail focus. In general, it is a fun and entertaining idea. Everybody likes a mystery, and it is enticing to have a ‘secret handshake’ necessary to get into the ‘club.’ “