Crawling the new boozemakers in the old blue-collar district
Wedged between downtown, Ballard and the hillsides of Queen Anne and Magnolia, Interbay is largely known as a place to drive through on your way somewhere else. This industrial belt bordering Elliott Bay’s Smith Cove was Seattle’s original working waterfront, developed in the 1890s as the terminus of the Great Northern Railroad. Back then the area was called Boulevard and its residents worked early trans-Pacific steamship lines long before the city’s current deep-water port was built. In the early 1930s, Interbay’s maritime trade dried up after the longshoremen strikes and deadly police crackdowns known as the Battle of Smith Cove. The neighborhood has never been known for warm hospitality.
And yet! Surviving, even flourishing, along Interbay’s pedestrian-hostile gauntlet is a handful of young, surprisingly beautiful destinations for food and drink (mostly drink): Holy Mountain Brewery, Batch 206 Distillery and Citizen Six, all set along the western side of Elliott Avenue within easy walking distance of each other. The Interbay Booze Corridor is still nascent, but with the imminent arrival of thousands of Expedia workers next year, it’s very real, and offers delicious finds.
Start at the north end, at Seattle’s most celebrated new brewery. In a city that sprouts a new craft brewery almost every month, Holy Mountain has received intensifying buzz among beer cognoscenti here and beyond. Credit the company’s badass branding and their brewers’ industry credentials. But most of all, credit their iconoclastic approach to beer: creative combinations of obscure hops varietals, oak barrel-aged beers, and saisons and sours with funky, chewy flavors far more interesting than sharp IPAs. Holy Mountain rotates a half-dozen or so of these Belgian-style ales almost daily, depending on what’s coming out of the tank or barrel. They’re all singular and excellent.
Even better is Holy Mountain’s Three Fates Pilsner, though it isn’t always available. This updated German-style lager—clear, crisp, bright—is made sporadically, then swiftly consumed, mostly by the people who work at Holy Mountain. It very well may be Seattle’s best beer, and enjoying one inside Holy Mountain’s sun-drenched, high-ceilinged, white-tiled taproom sanctuary—with a rollup door that opens almost on top of Interbay’s railroad tracks and, in the distance, active shipyards—feels like a Jodorowsky-esque dream.
Next door, Batch 206 Distillery produces gin, vodka and, more recently, whisky inside a dark, cool facility that looks like a modern-day speakeasy. Sidle up to the bar and pay $5 for four half-ounce tastes—the limit allowed in distilleries by state law.
Batch 206’s mint vodka is a confection suggesting an Andes mint. Their straight whiskey is sadly reminiscent of macro-made bourbon, and their Old Log Cabin barrel-aged, small-batch bourbon is warm, smooth and mildly oaky, good but not great. The star here is the Old Tom Counter Gin, an American-style gin (less herbaceous, more vegetal) aged six months in oak chardonnay barrels. Locally made aged gin is rare and special, and this stuff glows with a lovely caramel color and mellow spice on the tongue. A bottle costs $32.95 out the door.
A short walk south is Citizen Six. Liquor Board laws require that the six-month-old, group-owned cidery, distillery and restaurant each operate under a different license, so Number 6 Cider and SixSpirits are made on-premises and served in the dining room of Citizen Six. The Frankenstein nature of the business is invisible inside the place, the interior of which is museum-worthy.
A mural, painted by Andy Eccleshall to mimic the Hudson River School style, covers the wall behind the bar. The bar and tables are made from slabs of an old tree trunk recovered from Magnolia, believed to have been felled during railroad construction 100-some years ago. A 16-foot-long, 5,000-lb. steel table is made from a Civil War-era cannon lathe—the hulking device used to make canon barrels—salvaged from a neighboring warehouse. The interior was devised by Hollywood set designer Clint Wallace, a Washington native who’s an investor in the place. The back deck offers a view of Pier 86’s grain terminal.
Sponge your booze binge with Korean-style chicken wings, sweet, sticky and just spicy enough. Then survey the libations: A half-dozen ciders, the most delicious of which is the traditional, medium-dry True Cider. Gin again, here fronted by bracing juniper and hints of cucumber, ideal for high-octane gin mules. And, most interestingly, Applejack—cider distilled to a whopping 50 proof. It’s America’s original spirit, and taken with a dash of water or an ice cube, a rustic finale to an industrial bar crawl.