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Gals in the Neighborhood: The Seattle Speakeasies

Posted by Johnine Larsen on June 6, 2014
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Prohibition never ended in parts of Seattle. Three modern-day speakeasies hide within a mile of downtown, infusing the city’s nightlife with a little mystery and a lot of class. Step inside any one of them to find low lighting, murmured conversation, and a setting so secretive you’ll quickly forget these establishments do, in fact, have liquor licenses.

Speakeasies Map

Knee High Stocking Co.

Knee High Stocking CompanyThe building looks abandoned. Boarded-over windows, drab paint, and a plain wooden door. A single porch light illuminates the building, and only tiny block letters (KNEE HIGH STOCKING CO) hint that this place might contain something more than dust and memories. But when you try the door, you find it locked. Then you notice a doorbell of the $5 kind you’d find in the back of an old hardware store. You decide to try it. As soon as you push the button, a bouncer unlocks the door and ushers you inside.

This is Knee High Stocking Co. It can only seat 42 people, and after those seats fill, no one else gets in. Reservations are encouraged—but not by phone call. In a snappy mix of Prohibition and iPhones, you can only make a reservation via text message. That’s (206) 979-7049. Keep it quiet.

And talk quietly, too, while you’re sipping on your cocktail. No photos are allowed, and absolutely no talking on your phone. The atmosphere is pure class, and the drinks deserve your attention. The bartender is an artist who mixes strong and stunning cocktails. Knee High offers food, too; believe it or not, the gourmet tater tots are worth a try. You’ll thank us later.

We talked with Jack Valko, one of the owners, to get the skinny on what happens behind the bar.

Real Estate Gals: What drinks are people ordering?

Jack Valko: When you come to Knee High, there’s a seasonal menu of cocktails that changes with the calendar. In spring, many guests order gin-based cocktails. Gins are herbal and woodsy, and pair really well with spring fruits and vegetables. Popular titles are “Midnight in the Garden” (Gin, lime, cucumber, rhubarb), and the Laura Palmer (Gin infused with earl grey, lemon, coke).

Seattleites love their bourbons and whiskeys, just like they love their coffee: dark and full-bodied. This time of year however, most of our customers are ordering on the lighter side due to the unseasonably warm spring we’re having!

REGals: What is your bartender’s favorite drink to make?

Valko: Our bartender’s favorite drink to make is the one you just ordered.

REGals: What sets Knee High apart from other Seattle speakeasies?

Valko: Knee High has fully embraced the speakeasy concept, from our non-descript entrance, to our personalized reservations by text, to the way we advertise our business through one-to-one contact with customers. And we have a strong customer service ethic that reminds our guests of “simpler” times when no one had cell phones or crazy tech jobs.

Knee High Stocking Co. has hidden in Capitol Hill for five years. Drinks start at $6 for a well and peak at $16 for The Widow’s Kiss (Calvados Boulard, Green Chartreuse, Benedictine). Knee High’s website:

Knee High Stocking Company

Needle and Thread (Tavern Law)

You won’t see a sign for Needle and Thread, and if you look online, you won’t find a website. The only way to contact them is a through phone number (206-325-0133), and the only way to get in is through a phone booth. Think Italian Mob meets The Matrix.

To get there, walk into a Capitol Hill bar/restaurant called Tavern Law. It’s a classy place in its own right, but we want more than class. We want secrecy. Once inside, you’ll see an old-fashioned rotary phone on the wall. That’s your ticket in. Pick up the phone, and it will automatically call the upstairs bartender. If there’s room, or if you have reservations, he will let you come upstairs. Walk through an old bank vault and up a winding staircase and—

Welcome to Needle and Thread.

Speak quietly. The place is committed to imitating the Prohibition era, and back then, loud noises would alert the police. And don’t expect vodka, because that wasn’t a major spirit in the America of Al Capone and John Dillinger.

You won’t find your run-of-the-mill cocktails here. You won’t even find a menu. Tell the bartender what spirit you’d like and describe the general taste you’re looking for, and he’ll concoct something that you’ve probably never heard of. If it doesn’t agree with your taste buds, the bartender will mix things up until it does. By the time he’s finished, your drink will be delicious no matter how picky your palate. Sip your cocktail to the music of Louis Armstrong, and soak in the Prohibition décor. This is place is secret and sexy; a perfect venue for an intimate date. The general manager, Amanda Reed, talked with us about the speakeasy’s day-to-day:

Real Estate Gals: What drinks are people ordering?

Amanda Reed: In Needle and Thread, we have no cocktail menu. When we take a drink order, we ask questions that give us an idea of the style of cocktail or specific flavors our guests are seeking. It seems that the two category of cocktails that tend to be ordered most often are: gin, citrus, herbaceous; and whiskey, spirit forward, bitter.

In Tavern Law, we have a cocktail menu with around 40-50 cocktails that changes seasonally. So we have a wide variety of drinks that people order. The styles listed above still tend to prevail.

REGals: What is your bartender’s favorite drink to make?

Reed: Each of our bartenders has their own unique style.  Our syrup and tincture program is seasonal and always evolving, as is our selection of unique and interesting liqueurs, so our bartenders are always experimenting.  Tending bar in Needle and Thread is such a great platform for this creativity.  You are always being challenged and you become a much more innovative bartender as a result.

REGals: What sets Needle and Thread apart from other Seattle speakeasies?

Reed: The space is so beautiful and the talent behind the bar speaks for itself.

The drink average is $12. Needle and Thread will celebrate its fifth year this summer. Their phone number: 206-325-0133.

Knee High Stocking Company

Bathtub Gin & Co.

You’ll probably pass it. Then you’ll get lost. Then you’ll pull out your phone to check the directions, but that won’t help, either. Bathtub Gin & Co. is the most sneaky of Seattle’s speakeasies, at least when it comes to the entrance. You need to duck down a shady alley between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave and look for a nondescript door. Even when you spot the tiny plaque beside it, it’ll feel like you’re breaking into a storage room.

But once you step inside—it still feels like a storage room. A storage room straight out of the 1920s, an era when men in waistcoats and women in black dresses slipped into these tiny, hidden rooms to enjoy their secret libations. The walls here are made of crumbling brick; the furniture, dark wood. Sepia pictures as old as your grandparents serve as artwork.

And the drinks? To die for. Or at least to break the law for, if Prohibition really was still in effect. These bartenders know their stuff. Ever thought about putting Maple syrup in a cocktail? We hadn’t either, until we went to Bathtub Gin. Now we’re hooked.

Ari Bennett, personal assistant to owners Jessica Gifford and Marcus Johnson, let us in on a few secrets:

REGals: What drinks are people ordering?

Ari Bennett: The most popular cocktail at Bathtub Gin has been our signature cocktail, the Tomahawk. A mixture of smoked paprika and cinnamon accompanies rye whiskey (Old Overholt unless otherwise requested) and agave nectar. It is stirred, double strained, and finished off with an orange peel.

We have found Seattleites at Bathtub Gin tend to order mainly gin. We have a well cultivated selection of gin, which often prompts patrons to order from that spirit category.

REGals: What’s your bartender’s favorite drink to make?

Bennett: Dealer’s Choice! It is the most popular cocktail ordered on our menu. When someone orders the dealer’s choice, it is up to the bartender to infer what the patron might enjoy based on what they describe or have had before. It is fun for the bartender to use their imagination and creativity to make something truly one-of-a-kind.

REGals: What sets Bathtub Gin & Co. apart from other Seattle speakeasies?

Bennett: Bathtub Gin has great ambiance, atmosphere, and customer service. I find that oftentimes people sitting at the bar top, or even downstairs, tend to spark up conversations with each other and oftentimes form friendships (even if just for the evening). It is a place of community and fun.

Bathtub Gin will celebrate its 5-year birthday this July. Drinks cost $10, but you can snag $7 deals during happy hour (5 p.m. to 7 p.m.). The place is tiny and won’t rush its guests, so make reservations or show up early. Their website:

Pictures from Knee High Stocking Co. Used with permission.