It’s good to have options and Seattle’s temple of booze, Canon: Whiskey and Bitters Emporium, has a lifetime’s worth of awe-inspiring drink choices. Thumb through the bar’s 110-page yearly cocktail menu, scope their more manageable seasonal cocktail menu or check out their collection of American whiskey—the world’s largest. Canon also boasts a huge selection of decades-old vintage spirits (some more than a hundred years old) and one of the world’s biggest collections of liquor (some 3,000 labels). Despite their authoritative catalog of drinks, they’re just a neighborhood bar, and you can just as easily duck in for a cheap glass of draft as sit down and savor a tipple of authentic Beacon Hill Rye circa 1910 for $950.
Before we get to the drinks, let’s start with the details. Yes, the logo and the signage have a picture of a cannon, but the name is “Canon” with one n, for the canonical nature of their drinks list. The logo is a nod to the early British pubs of centuries past that didn’t write the name of the bar (as most of the population was illiterate) but instead had an image so that the populace could verbalize where to meet: Owl and Thistle, Red Lion, The Black Cap, and so on. Canon is an intimate venue—it seats about 40—and it’s decorated in a sepia-toned early 20th century style with a pressed tin tile ceiling, dark wood (the bar top was stained a rich brown using Angostura bitters) and a 1920s cash register, all cast in low light from flickering Edison bulbs and candles. (The floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with fine booze are also a nice touch.)
Canon’s huge choice of cocktails isn’t intimidating. The bar’s friendly and capable staff is quick with recommendations and easy with samples. For instance, for $16 they offer the Negroni Experiment, giving you three variations on the Negroni made with gin, rye and rum. If it’s whiskey you’re after, take one of their Spirit Flights, like the $16 Grain Grain Go Away giving you a taste of Old Fitzgerald, Old Grand-Dad and Buffalo Trace.
Every craft cocktail they offer is faultless, with most options in the $10-to-$14 range. Two great $11 options are the Corrascal (amontillado, pear, Benedictine, cava, bitters, star anise) or the oak barrel–aged Aging Diplomat (dry and sweet vermouths, maraschino, orange bitters). Another unique offering is their carbonated cocktails—drinks made bubbly not by adding tonic or soda water, but by injecting carbon dioxide into the cocktail itself during mixing. They come served in a soda bottle with a straw. They also have a great wine and beer selection and a fantastic food menu of delicious and affordable takes on pub fare.
Canon is equal parts bar, museum and cathedral raised to the glory of libations; every self-respecting barfly owes it to himself to make a pilgrimage.