WHEN THE SUN SETS in Seattle, the city’s food, art, and music come to life. And shorter daylight hours come fall and winter only mean more darkness to enjoy. From cabarets and ferry rides under the stars to some of the best happy hours anywhere on the planet, here’s how to celebrate nighttime in the Emerald City.
Seattle is known for many things — incredible natural beauty, the fervor of its sports fans, a world famous coffee culture — but perhaps nothing says Seattle like the strength and variety of its live music scene. The Sunset Tavern in Ballard is my personal favorite for divey, down-home goodness and pints of Manny’s. Just down the street is Tractor Tavern, which offers more of the same — nightly music on the cheap in a laid-back atmosphere.
If you’re downtown and looking for something a little…um…classier, head to The Triple Door, a lounge/theater with an amazing happy hour (see below for much more of this). Jazzy folks will love Tula’s and Jazz Alley — Seattle’s jazz mainstays. I caught Dr. John at Jazz Alley and it was brilliant.
Other awesome small to mid-sized venues that have a diverse nightly lineup are The Crocodile, Neumos, and The Showbox. If you can’t find music you love at any of these places, then you probably don’t love music!
A view from the top
Seeing the Emerald City glimmer from above feels so serene. A ride to the top of the Space Needle or the Seattle Great Wheel is a great way to get a view of the city from above while enjoying two of Seattle’s most popular visitor attractions. The Needle’s observation deck is 520 feet high and closes at 9:30pm in fall (awesome for night views!). I remember my first trip up as a kid, the way my great grandmother’s silver hair swirled wildly in the wind as we stepped out on the observation deck. Pro tip: With a CityPASS or the day/night admission option, the Space Needle lets you visit during the day and return at nighttime that same day.
The Great Wheel is a much more recent addition to the Seattle skyline (and at 175 feet it’s scale is different from that of the Needle), but the gigantic glowing Ferris wheel also stays open late and provides another great nighttime vantage point on the city.
Park it at night
Sometimes you just want a place to hang out where you don’t have to buy anything. Enter Seattle’s many public parks. They’re plenty awesome during the day, but here are a few of my after-dark go-to spots:
At Gas Works Park, I like to climb the grassy knoll at the center and gaze south, across the calm waters of Lake Union, watching the downtown skyline dance on the surface of the water. Cal Anderson Park is a block from busy Broadway on Capitol Hill — one of my favorite places for people watching or just kicking back on the lawn and killing some time. In the neighborhood of Queen Anne, Kerry Park is open 24 hours and is well loved for its incredible south-facing views of the waterfront and downtown.
Dinner and theater
Teatro ZinZanni is what you’d get if you shrunk a Cirque du Soleil show, stuffed it into an intimate setting, and surrounded the acrobatics and antics with course after course of delicious food. I’ve been to three TZ shows, and I always leave with a “did-that-just-happen” look on my face.
Meanwhile, Can Can Kitchen & Cabaret is the Pike Place Market’s answer to the Moulin Rouge. Cabaret, jazz, dance, and food collide in this funky nightlife mainstay.
After-dark ferry ride
A simple and cheap option for a low-key nighttime adventure is to get on the waters surrounding Seattle for a ride on a ferry. The ferry system runs a regular schedule into the night. Watching the city lights twinkle from the darkness of Puget Sound is a magical, and dare I say romantic, experience.
Recommended: The ferry ride to nearby Bremerton lasts an hour each way and will set you back less than $10. And they serve beer! Bundle up and spend the crossing on the deck, listening to the waters part beneath the prow.
Coffee culture cranked to 11
One of my favorite visits to the Wonka-like Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room was for a post-dinner small-batch coffee tasting. Although the copper and mochaccino-hued shrine to coffee isn’t strictly an after-dark affair (it opens at 6:30am after all), I’ve found it to be the perfect place to pull up a stool, start a conversation, and let a few hours fall off the clock.
You’ve been to a thousand Starbucks…but unless you’ve been here, you don’t know Starbucks. Not even close. The Roastery & Tasting Room is something like the lavishly furnished lab of an uber-caffeinated mad scientist. It’s a coffee temple.
Walk + art
Many cities in the US have a First Thursday Art Walk…but Seattle’s was the first. Pioneer Square’s Art Walk began with a handful of gallery owners and artists in 1981, and provided the template for every Art Walk in the country.
Show up from 6 to 8pm (the event officially ends at 8 but many spaces stay open later) and make the rounds, stopping into fine art galleries and crazy ramshackle artist spaces alike, enjoying the free wine and nibbles and, of course, the art. In the year I lived in a Pioneer Square loft, the Art Walk was a monthly highlight; it’s like a Seahawks game for people who prefer an oil-on-canvas to a 50-yard touchdown.
Looking for something to watch at the witching hour? SIFF Cinema Egyptian Theatre is a Capitol Hill movie-lover mainstay, showing indie, foreign, and restored classics. Every Friday and Saturday, it screens cult hits and classic films at midnight. Each weekend is a new set of midnight flicks, so keep an eye out for Blue Velvet, The Dark Crystal, The Birds…or whatever’s your fave cinematic blast from the past.
When the moon is rising and your tummy is rumbling, throw a stone and you’ll hit a restaurant or bar with a happy hour going. Here are just a few of my go-to happy-hour spots for food and drink:
- Since it’s right next to the ferry terminal, and since I was a server there for a year, I always stop into Ivar’s Acres of Clams. This huge waterfront seafood joint is a Seattle icon, but even more importantly their happy hour starts at 3pm and goes until they turn out the lights.
- The best sandwiches I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating have come from the ovens of the Honey Hole, a Capitol Hill mainstay for cheap beer and a crazy good sandwich menu. My fave is the Fast Eddie — tri-tip, pepper jack, aioli, onions, and sweet peppers. HH is in my top five grub stops in Seattle. Sandwich, fries, beer. It’s the perfect adult “happy meal.” I don’t even know if they have a happy hour (editor’s note: they do); it doesn’t matter.
- Sometimes you just want beer and tater tots. Luckily, Linda’s Tavern is always willing to oblige. Happy hour daily, 7-9pm.
- Kitty corner to CenturyLink Field is Elysian Fields, a big brewpub with great pregame fare. I worked here too for a season and I can tell you that on game days it gets so busy you have to squirm your way to the bar. But Elysian Fields has a huge selection of Elysian beers on tap, and the truffle fries and steamed mussels are awesome.
- In the heart of Pike Place Market is Maximilien. It’s everything you could want in a French restaurant — escargot and a rooftop patio overlooking downtown and the waterfront. This is an incredibly romantic place to take in the sunset over fresh oysters and champagne.
- If I’m feeling like a baller and I want to hang someplace chic, I point myself to BOKA Restaurant + Bar at the base of Hotel 1000. The happy hour is daily from 2:30 to 6pm, but that doesn’t exactly make it cheap as far as happy hours go. Still, this is definitely a case of you get what you pay for. The $16 BOKA Burger will blow your mind and fill your mouth with Beecher’s cheddar and perfectly toasted brioche bun.