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Baker's and Bar Miriam

Craft cocktails, elegant food, tavern vibe

Brian Smith has always had an entrepreneurial bent and knew that if he was going to live in the hospitality industry, he would want to own his own place. After years behind the bar, he had a clear idea of what he was interested in: neighborhood bars in the 2020s.

"My wife and I knew that ultimately we'd make Seattle our home base," explains Brian. "I knew exactly what I wanted to create as a business, an intricate cocktail program, with better-than-you-expect food and drink. A casual place where people drop in and are surprised at the quality and unpretentiousness of the food. I love neighborhood places and knew the kind of high-energy tavern vibe I wanted to create."

They were living in Brooklyn where the architecture is doors in front, yard in back. When he stumbled on an available store front on Sunset Hill, he knew it was perfect. "The door is on the sidewalk and there's almost a secret garden feel to the space in the back. It was concrete, but we went in, added planter boxes, and landscaped the area. It's a covered space with heaters, allowing comfortable outdoor dining."

Baker's opened April 29, 2019. "We had 10-1/2 months before the pandemic hit. Although that's a short time to develop a following, the regulars really supported us. Each shift we tried during the pandemic, they'd ask how they could help."

Brian had no problem creating cocktails for the bar but needed a good opening food menu. His friend Matt Janke, who had co-owned Lecosho, agreed to act as his consultant. "We were looking for the right chef, but it fell to Matt's executive chef at Lecosho, Cody Westerfield. He understood the space-hoodless kitchen, minimal room for equipment. It's limiting but also freeing. You have to think within those parameters. All our chefs have been talented, but not everyone created the kind of elegant food I wanted within the space limitations we have. Cody is very good at what he does."

Another old friend, Molly Ringe, had done a deep dive into natural wines, which Brian is interested in as well. She had worked for an importer/distributor in town and Brian knew he was going to be buying from them. He found out she was looking for a place where she could write the wine menu and work a few nights a week. "We came up with Monday Natty Wine Nights where she would bring four wines in and do wine flights. She and the guests fell in love with each other. When the 200 square foot shop next door to Baker's became available in late 2019, it was perfect for the wine shop she'd been wanting to start. The synergy between Baker's and Molly's is incredible. The community supports both; people will have a glass before dinner, or stop after dinner and get a bottle to take home."

When Brian first returned to Seattle, he was looking for a home as well. Friends on Queen Anne offered him their basement mother-in-law space where he stayed for close to a year. He would run the Crown of the Hill route through the neighborhood. "At some point, I had to cross an intersection and that was generally 5 Corners. That was the only corner where I wanted to put a second bar. I had a feeling the neighborhood would respond to a more modern spot with the same vibe/concept as Baker's. It's just off the beaten path yet on a high-traffic corner and near homes. Baker's was doing well and I felt like it was time for a second project. When Sharon Woo decided to sell Bite Box, it was the exact space I wanted. I jumped on it. She is a big supporter of the Queen Anne neighborhood and was happy to see it go to someone who felt the same way. It happened quickly so was a little scary. I got keys on April 1, 2021, and we opened Bar Miriam on February 2, 2022. There was no plumbing in the front of the building, so we added a brand new bar and plumbing."

The space next door was also available. Brian approached Molly about doing another bottle shop. She was in, then decided she wanted to have her second spot in West Seattle. "I was disappointed, but decided to double down and do it myself. The two concepts pair so well together, I felt it would work, plus you never know who you might get as a neighbor if you don't take it. As it turned out, the main water line is under the second spot, so we were able to plumb the new space without bothering anyone else."

When Lecosho closed in December 2020, Cody became available. Brian had Bar Miriam on his agenda, so he immediately asked Cody to run both spots.

Bar Miriam is more crowded and louder; the Bottle Shop is more spread out and quieter. Food menus are similar although Bar Miriam has a small kitchen and can't service both spaces on all dishes. Cocktails can't be served at the Bottle Shop, but the wine list is larger. On busy nights, the Bottle Shop can be used for overflow. There are no reservations, but if guests check in at Bar Miriam, they can go next door for a glass of wine without losing their place in line. "We want to be as accommodating as we can," says Brian.

Cocktails and food menus change quarterly. "Cocktails are generally done in one major overhaul. Food is more of a rolling thing. In order to have intricate cocktails in a bar that is built for speed, we batch nonperishable ingredients." Cocktail names are created with a device Brian used in Denver: movie names. "We pick a movie, TV show, sometimes music, then choose a name from there. They're fun names on their own, but if someone gets the reference, it's good. Beard of Zeus and Sex Panther came from Anchorman."

Brian has moved fully into a management role. "Cody has lots of autonomy. We talk about what he wants to do and if it can be executed. I rarely create cocktails anymore; I have a great bartending team. They come up with cocktails and I'll suggest tweaks. I'm more like a music producer, just twisting the dial."

Read Brian's background here

Connie Adams/April 2023

Baker's Sunset Hill
6408 32nd Ave NW
Seattle, WA 98107

Bar Miriam
307 W McGraw St
Seattle, WA 98119

Queen Anne Bottle Shop
309 W McGraw St
Seattle, WA 98119

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