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Originally published Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 3:05 PM

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Haute Americana and the new Pioneer Square

Tucked in the back of a Brooklyn-chic boutique, the bar at E. Smith Mercantile is just what you’d expect from the new Pioneer Square: craft cocktails, bar bites and $225 jeans.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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When you start hearing buzz phrases like “the new Capitol Hill” or the “next hip ’hood,” you inevitably get a place like E. Smith Mercantile.

It’s a boutique with a back bar on the main drag in Pioneer Square. It’s filled with antiques and period pieces, meant to conjure images of general stores, saloons and small-town Americana. But really it feels like Brooklyn chic meets Portlandia.

There are reconditioned cowboy boots and a $47 Swiss Army bag for sale next to the lentils and honey-wine vinegar, an eclectic offering of clothes, beauty products and dry food that’s branded with words like “vintage,” “artisanal” and other hipster argot.

E. Smith Mercantile is the kind of preciousness that’s a dime a dozen in Williamsburg, but in Pioneer Square, it’s still a novelty.

The front store, as these hybrids tend to be, was empty on a couple of visits. Patrons seemed more interested in drinking whiskey cocktails and talking Seahawks than shopping for $225 high-rise jeans.

The drink menu is part pre-prohibition-era cocktails and part contemporary takes with mescal, amaros and other trendy ingredients.

It’s a promising craft-cocktail program, with some solid spirit-forward classics. But some tweaking is needed. A tequila-and-mescal cocktail was drowning in too much sweetness to taste any agave notes. And a scotch cocktail with tequila, honey and grapefruit didn’t have enough acidity to cut into the smokiness.

Given the closet-size kitchen, food is limited to deviled eggs, chicken-liver mousse over crackers and other nibbles and finger food. Chickpeas, the new beer nuts, are usually served salty and crispy elsewhere, but here, they’re a mushy mess. A standout, though, is the salty, creamy smoked-trout spread over crostini.

E. Smith Mercantile, obviously, isn’t a perfect bar, but it’s quirky and interesting enough to warrant buzz on this old strip, a nice change of pace from the usual dives and dirty beer halls crammed with soused sports fans.

On several evenings, E. Smith Mercantile was filled with apartment dwellers and workers from around the neighborhood. That’s a welcome sign of the new Pioneer Square.

And come Nov. 1, the neighborhood will get another jolt of energy when rising star chef Brendan McGill from Hitchcock restaurant on Bainbridge Island is scheduled to open a beer-and-bratwurst joint, Altstadt, across the street from E. Smith Mercantile.

E. Smith Mercantile, 208 First Ave. S., offers happy hour on Tuesdays-Fridays 4-6 p.m. with $3 beers, $6 well drinks and $1 off on bar snacks. The bar currently opens from 4 to at least 11 p.m. and hopes to expand its hours and days of operation soon (206-641-7250 or www.esmithmercantile.com).

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @tanvinhseattle



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