Make a reservation days in advance. Then arrive at the Capitol Hill gastropub and bar Tavern Law and find the hidden telephone to call upstairs. Climb the wooden stairs up to the secret parlor upstairs and you have arrived at the pinnacle of the Seattle cocktail world: the speakeasy of Tavern Law, known as Needle & Thread. Menus are for the clueless. You know cocktails and appreciate them to take the effort to even get here and go through the whole telephone and secret speakeasy game.
As usual I had no idea what to request when the jocund, so happy to see us waitress quizzed me on my cocktail tastes.
Whenever I go to a bar of this caliber I figure everything will taste top notch, as long as it’s not on crushed ice since then the drink gets watered down before I get a quarter the way through. Served up was the requirement. I mentioned my love of a cocktail in Paris that is rum based, with ginger beer, ginger cordial, and banana liqueur. She paused. Do I like bitter drinks? Sure, why not. Moments later arrived my perfect dance partner. Is it any indication of what was to come that my favorite actor is Fred Astaire? I dream of dancing like the master, with a bow tie on a luxury ship, or questioning the pronunciation of “tomato” trying to charm over a certain lady in Central Park.
The drink had no name, only described as two types of amaro, a bitter Italian liqueur, ginger syrup made in house moments ago, and lime juice. It was bliss. Cocktails can be hot or miss when ordered randomly like done at Needle & Thread. A bourbon on the rocks cocktail I tried had no discerning taste to it other than being a decent variation on a Manhattan, except chilled and watered down. Every drink here is elegant and beautiful in this posh parlor setting that feels more like a tea salon at a boutique Mayfair hotel than a gritty American bootlegger speakeasy. Prim and proper are the best way to describe how your posture should be. The vibe though is celebratory, everyone wishing to sample everyone else’s cocktails because their cocktail is such a treat.
I named the ginger cocktail after Fred Astaire since there must already be a Ginger Rogers cocktail out there. The waitress came back and informed me I should call it the Ginger Rogers, a mix of 3/4 ounces of amaro nonino, 3/4 ounces of amaro montenegro, roughly the same parts of ginger syrup as the amaros, and a lime garnish with a touch of lime juice added to the drink.
It turns out the Ginger Rogers cocktail outside of this bar is a variation of a martini with gin, vermouth, apricot brandy, and lemon…strangely, no ginger. The mixologist at Needle & Thread was inspired by a ginger cocktail in Robert Hess’ Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails. Here, the bitterness of the amaros blend flawlessly with the ginger syrup- both a scathing bitterness and dessert sweetness to the syrup. The layers of flavor build on each other, like a dance number reaching its climax.
I may not be Fred Astaire yet as a dancer, but I’ve certainly found my dancing partner, Ginger Rogers.