There’s a strong argument to be made for the digital jukebox. It offers a near-infinite selection of music and a credit card payment option; it also costs more to play the more obscure stuff, which (one would assume) translates to a larger cut of the proceeds for the establishment. And yet, there are still a few bars left in Seattle who lovingly curate and maintain the sleek, retro-looking CD player varietal. At this juncture, it’s a statement-making move; one that suggests the sonic backdrop to our lives is important and should be curated by actual human beings. Human beings who care enough about what’s playing in the background to make sure it’s not possible for some drunk toolbox to harsh everyone’s mellow by playing “Don’t Stop Believin” six times in a row. Here are a few such locations.
The 5 Point: This 24-hour diner-meets-dive-bar is a fixture of downtown Seattle. Vinyl bar stools, lots of neon and bathrooms papered with band stickers makes the place look like a Tarantino set. The frank, no-bullshit service only adds to the illusion that you’re an extra in “Pulp Fiction.” Maybe you came for some killer eggs and hash browns, but the crazy playlists you can make on this jukebox — think Mastodon meets TacocaT meets N.W.A. – will keep you sticking around for a second drink so you can watch the patrons react to your DJ skills.
When to come in: Sunday – Thursday from 7 pm until close, they feature a $3.50 boilermaker – a 12 oz. can of cheapo beer (Rainier or if they’re out of that, Iron City) and a shot of well whiskey.
The Twilight Exit: This jukebox goes hard on ‘70s classic rock and ‘90s Northwest alt-rock (Nirvana, Soundgarden, etc), but that’s okay, because the people who remember that stuff when it first came out still aren’t sick of it, and the people who don’t are still really into it. That said, there’s also plenty of other good stuff, like the “Repo Man” soundtrack and the Dead Milkmen.
When to come in: On weekends until 4 pm, all burgers on the menu are $3 off. These are not the wimpy, undersized happy hour burgers some bars bait-and-switch for the regular menu size, either. This is a fat stack of six-inch-high burger mess, and it comes with a huge pile of fries that most humans will not be able to finish in one sitting. We suggest washing it down with an Irish coffee or a big-ass Bloody Mary.
King’s Hardware: This place may be the closest thing Ballard’s got to a rock and roll bar now that the Two Bit Saloon closed. But it’s still Ballard, and as such, the jukebox here features plenty of alt-country and twang. Not just ubiquitous crowd-pleasers like Johnny Cash and Ween’s country album, either, but things like the Cave Singers and Ballard heroes the Maldives. There’s also plenty of punk and metal to choose from for those who’ve grown weary of beard rock. And hey, bonus: you can listen to the songs you chose while enjoying a rousting game of Skee Ball.
If you’re drinking, the cocktail menu features several few variations on the Moscow Mule (otherwise known as a vodka and ginger ale with lime). I liked“Far From The Tree,” which is a blend of Jameson, maple syrup, orange, lemon and a splash of Spire Dark ‘n Dry cider. Garnished with a cinnamon-dusted orange slice, it’s tangy, slightly sweet and more refreshing than most the heavy winter ales and cocktails on offer at this time of year.
When to come in: During happy hour, which is 4-7 pm daily, a tallboy of Olympia costs $2 and a pint of draft beer costs $3. This is a good deal by any neighborhood’s standards. Be warned: This place is a (fun) zoo on weekend nights, so if you’re looking for a quieter evening, come in on a weeknight.
The 5th Street Tavern: Not to be confused with the 5 Point, this delightful little Maple Leaf neighborhood bar consists of two small rooms, one pool table and an itty-bitty kitchen. It also has a kickass jukebox. You can play speed metal back to back with John Lee Hooker and the unflappable regulars will politely tolerate it as long as there isn’t a game on. Pool doesn’t cost here, but you can expect to be challenged and then politely trounced by one of the resident pool sharks if you occupy the table for more than a couple of games. The menu is basic, satisfying American bar fare, with occasional food specials and friendly service. Your dad would drink at this bar, and you should too.
When to come in: If you wanna ROCK? Come in anytime the Seahawks aren’t playing.
Linda’s Tavern: Linda’s is basically a Capitol Hill burger joint for hipsters, so it’s fitting that they’ve got one of the best jukeboxes in town. Whoever chose these albums did so with the clear goal of juxtaposing the best of current and classic Northwest artists: From Gossip to La Luz, Mudhoney to the Unnatural Helpers, Dead Moon to Neko Case, there’s not a single bad chestnut.
When to come in: If you show up from 3 – 4 pm, you can get yourself a pint of Oly and a side of fries for $5; from 7 – 9 PM, there’s a short $6 menu featuring bar staples like quesadillas and cheeseburgers.