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Dec 21, 2003 01:32 PM

Best liquor stores in SEA

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Hello. The liquor store nearest my home on the east side does not have some particular brands I wanted to buy. Is there a liquor store in Seattle that has a better choice than others? Since they are all managed by the State, do they all have the same schtuff?

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  1. All the stores don't necessarily have the same stuff on the shelves at all times, but you should be able to request a product at your local store. They seem to have a pretty good system for checking specific products and how many bottles, if any, are on what shelves at which stores.

    BUT, there is one store in Seattle that has hands down the best selection. It's the store through which local restaurants and bars buy product, so overflow of special orders go on the retail shelves here. It's store #101 at 1702 4th Ave S, very near the back side of Safeco Field.

    3 Replies
    1. re: cynbad

      Thanks for tipping us off to the liquor store near Safeco Field. We have found the best liquor to be on the state liquor store shelves as a result of someone else's special order.
      To answer Fritz's question directly, the Washington State Liquor Control Board has a pretty darn functional website (link below), listing all liquor products, prices,etc., and identifies which stores currently have a specific product on the shelf. I did a statewide general search for port the other day, and found that the little liquor store in Tumwater, WA was listed often as amongst the stores to have the most interesting ports. That's the same liquor store where we found Hendrick's gin on the shelf as a result of someone else's special order, and having bought a bottle and been amazed at how far superior a gin it was to anything else we had ever tasted, we are now the ones ordering it for ourselves.


      1. re: Olympia Jane

        P.S., to answer your other question about state liquor stores all carrying the same stuff..the answer is a definite no. Like any other business trying to sell a product, state liquor stores stock their shelves to cater to their expected neighborhood clientele. That said, I have always found liquor store employees to be helpful and very willing to bring in any item requested, as long as it is available to them to order.

      2. re: cynbad

        Hi. Thanks for the suggestion! I went to Esquin for wine then to the liquor store you suggested which is just 4 blocks north. They had just what I wanted (pear williams brandy). Picked up some fresh lemons at the fruit wholesaler just behind there as well. Well it's gonna be a happy Christmas eve with the martinis I'm planning :)

      3. The best liquor store in Seattle is.... in Las Vegas, Nevada. Or Sacramento, California. Or Chicago, Illinois. Or online at Anyplace but here. There are no good liquor stores in Washington State.

        I know y'all get excited when you see some odd brand that you've never seen before because of someone's special order, but really, folks -- there are thousands of brands -- there are entire CATEGORIES that are missing from here. And no, they're not on their website, either.

        There are twenty brands of rye whiskey made in America, and the WSLCB has only ever carried two. The same story goes for every kind of booze. Imagine, walking into Lee's Discount Liquors at any time of day or night and being able to choose that not-particularly-obscure rum you heard about -- not the regular Appleton Estate, but the VX, or one of the other 100-odd rums you're likely to find there.

        And yes, I like my White Horse Scotch -- the only common blended scotch with a high proportion of Islay malt -- in half-gallon size, not the fifths that show up in this state about once a year at best.

        Great, they've got Campari -- how about Amer Picon?
        Byrrh? Suze? Geez, what I wouldn't give for a Suze on the rocks right now. Chartruese, but Chartreuse Yellow? The V.E.P.? There are a million things we're missing. The single malt situation is better than it was a decade ago -- we've got access to a good 5% of them now. And you can get grappa, though only one maker, in insanely expensive (though beautiful) bottles for what is supposed to be a cheap drink.

        If you have only ever lived in a state liquor store state, you don't know what you're missing. Our liquor stores SUCK, period. Store #101 has a better selection than the others, but that's like saying that the McDonalds in Federal Way has the best Big Macs. Go somewhere and bring it home in your suitcase. Carry it on the plane. Order it online. Illegal? I'll start caring when someone explains why the government is in the liquor business at all. I don't mind paying the taxes but I very, very, very much mind having to rely on their "judgement".

        22 Replies
        1. re: Steve T

          Over five years later and I have to chime in that Steve T is absolutely correct. Seattle (and Washington State) liquor stores are horrid. The 'best' Seattle liquor store--SoDo--is outdone by a mid-sized city store in North Carolina and by a Gresham, OR store I visited this weekend.

          I go to Oregon to buy any decent amount of spirits; the stores are independently owned and buy/order their own selections from the state of Oregon which buys requested spirits in bulk to keep prices down and responds very quickly to demand. In Washington State stores are owned by the state and stocked & staffed by state employees who act like state employees (lethargic, sullen and could care less).

          I was able to buy a fifth of Ancient Age & Henry McKenna bourbon for less than $11 each in Oregon. They weren't even stocked in Seattle stores last I checked. Oregon state's Liquor Control Commission even contracted with Jack Daniels--love 'em or not--to make a 'limited' batch of JD for Oregon's 150th anniversary of statehood. Washington state can't even muster up the energy to stock their stores with any decent affordable selections on a day to day basis much less make an effort like Oregon did with the JD distillery.

          I'm sorry to agree but what a absolute joke.

          1. re: kickerOE

            I don’t disagree with the trashing of the WSLCB and the absurdity of a state monopoly over liquor But, for the record, there is some improvement in availability since the 2004 post by Steve T. I just made a run to the SoDo WSLCB store and picked up some St. Germain, Domaine de Canton, and Martin Miller’s Gin, among other things. I also noticed that they had some of the items singled out in Steve T’s earlier post, like Chartreuse Yellow.

            1. re: Tom Armitage

              Agreed that the WSLCB system is fundamentally flawed and should be abolished, but also that it does not make for a lost cause. The 12th and Pine bureau has perhaps the best selection for cocktailians, including rarer rums, amari, piscos, eau de vie, absinthes, and french liquers.

              1. re: equinoise

                Speaking of absinthe, Pernod, the original absinthe maker, has recently reintroduced their famous original. The company stopped making it in 1915, when the French government banned absinthe. It is a damn good absinthe, and makes one mean Sazerac. It’s available in the WSLCB system.I

            2. re: kickerOE

              Great idea. I'll be going through Portland soon - any specific stores to recommend?

              1. re: somerset

                used to be, a long time ago, the liquor store in the uptown shopping center (w. burnside just before it scoots into the west hills, north side of the street) had the best selection because it purchased for the fancy restaurants in nw portland. it may be different now that there are fine restaurants all over portland, but that one may be a good place to start.

            3. re: Steve T

              Spot on Steve. Can someone please reply as to why Washington State is still in this business?

              Here is a good example, I was in CA a few months back and stopped at Costco; bought a couple half gallons of Tanq. Gin for 25$ each. They sell for 45 each here. Could our state not tax so that they come out the same, but allow Costco, or whomever else to sell and make their (obvious) profit at 25$? I know this is not a political web site, but haven't wars been fought over booze and food before?!!!

              1. re: The Shepherd

                Don't complain to much. Compared to what I had to put up with in Oklahoma, Washington laws are like heaven.

                1. re: vanillagorilla

                  Vanilla, I spent some time in Oklahoma City during the era where you had to bring your own liquor to a bar and they charged you full price for drinks using your own stock. Then, if you left the bar with the balance of the bottle, the police could arrest you for having an open container in the car. (Not to be confused with Texas having dry counties--no liquor--counties where you can buy a bottle but not a drink and counties where you can buy a drink but not a bottle.) Isn't government wonderful?

                  1. re: Leper

                    Vanilla, I'll just insert here: "aren't people wonderful?"
                    Laws like that are made by people, "concerned citizens," who, through lobbying, initiative, or other involvement, bring them about. Because government is created by people, no, it is not wonderful.

                    1. re: mr.nelso

                      Washington liquor stores are the most depressing I've seen in the country. It's almost like they want you to feel embarrassed and ashamed for buying the devil's elixir. Sharp contrast to my hometown of New Orleans where the liquor stores practically celebrate their fare with excellent merchandising and a huge selection. It's pretty close in British Columbia, the larger "signature" stores even have liquor and wine tasting sampling a la Costco. My luggage usually clinks and clanks a little with my north-of-the-border booty when I come back home.

                      1. re: ACleverGuy

                        Have you been to Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, or Utah?

                        1. re: vanillagorilla

                          I've hit up 2 liquor stores in Utah.
                          They had generally better selection than any in WA.

                        2. re: ACleverGuy

                          But in Canada, you can't buy wine in a grocery store. I learned that the hard way.

                2. re: Steve T

                  Right on, Steve. Maybe we should write out legislators. I understand that the state wants to make money on it but you think they could make more money by putting a great liquor store in Seattle.

                  1. re: bourbongal

                    if washington is like oregon the state doesn't make money on liquor, the liquor board makes money on liquor and doesn't share it with the general fund. at least that's how it was when i worked in the portland bar and restaurant business in the early 90's. the whole set up in both states is a vestige of powerful temperance movements in the progressive era and was designed initially to keep a very tight control on liquor distribution. what that devolved to over time was little oversight from the legislatures, a free hand that often amounted to what would be in a legal context unconstitutional tactics of enforcement and a shadowy, self-serving system of revenue management. since i've retired to full time customerhood i'm not as privy to the specifics but i've noticed loosening in both states at least in terms of availability of varied product and wider licensing.

                    1. re: ericlutzker

                      I have lived in Seattle two years now and I really miss the days when I could peruse the shelves of the local liquor store. I have lived in 5 states and in each one of these there was always a nice liquor store (independent of course) that offered a widely varied selection of wines and liquor. In some they would even have specialty markets attached so you could by your aperitif, cheese, paté and bread all in one place. I would often make an effort to try and get to know the staff at these places because they would steer me to the best local microbrews, provide their opinion on the wines in stock and even let me know when certain shipments were due and sales about to happen. It was a great consumer experience to shop at these places - even my kids liked going.
                      Then I moved to WA and my great consumer experience was gone - as was my ability to find those liquid treasures I had grown to love over the years. After reading this original post I started to think about what it really was that depresses me so much about the fact that liquor sales are run by the state. Is it that I can’t get the products I want or is it that it is that the consumer experience is so poor here.
                      So, yesterday I went to go stock up for the upcoming holidays and I really paid attention to the whole process and here is what I discovered about myself and the whole state run liquor store issue.
                      1) All the stores look basically the same – sparse, with no character;
                      2) The people working there were simply working there. They had no interest in my taste or satisfaction as a consumer. In fact, I found it odd that there were 5 people working the front of this store and all they were doing was complaining about how the middle-class is getting the shaft. Not once did they engage with me or any of the other customers (7 during the course of my visit). I hate to say it but what popped into my mind was another example of wasted state dollars – maybe two people could have run that store.
                      3) This is petty but I would not want the opinion of any of the employees there and certainly would not follow it.
                      4) The store generally had what I wanted. Sure, I wanted bigger sizes of certain things but they generally had what I was looking for. Now, all I was doing was buying the basics so I would expect them to have the basics.

                      What did this visit teach me? In the final analysis it is still disappointing that I can’t get the exact product I want (brand and size) but what really bugs me is that the wonderful and personal activity of discussing a 12 vs 18 year old single malt or a recommended small batch tequila with the proprietor doesn’t exist here in WA.
                      As I drove home with my purchase it hit me – buying liquor in WA is like going to the Department of Motor Vehicles/Licensing. They are all the same, the staff has no incentive to help you and in the end you just want to get in and get out – on the positive side it has decreased my alcohol spending.
                      Anyone have a recommendation for a good liquor store just over the border in OR?

                      1. re: White Castle

                        I think the apparent lack of interest and/or specialized knowledge on the part of state liquor store employees is becoming more of a problem given the burgeoning interest in craft/classic cocktails and the increasing amount of spirits that are available generally in the US. The experience is night and day when compared to the enthusiasm for the product you often find at good wine shops. As you noted, at the Kontrollicrat stores, typically the workers stand at the cash registers, seemingly concerned only with checking ID and taking money, making no effort to roam the floor and offer assistance or opinions on the products, which would be most welcome at a time when many of us are interested in comparing brands, finding obscure unfamiliar items, and engaging in an enlightening discussion.

                        1. re: equinoise

                          white castle you won't find it any different in oregon. it's virtually the same set up as washington. i was told by a store employee in oregon (again this was some years ago) that they were virtually forbidden from recommending product. again these systems are the vestigial remains of a system designed originally to restrict and limit alcohol consumption as much as possible without outlawing it. although that is no longer the open presumption of the system the attitude remains in place in the form of these practices. i wish i could show you the server's class materials and exam that the olcc employed in the early 90's. the attitude towards imbibing customers implicit in the training was not far off how i might imagine training prison guards to view the incarcerated.

                          1. re: ericlutzker

                            I just thought I would rekindle this discussion regarding state run liquor stores now that 1100 was defeated. We are doomed to have poor selection, poor service, and give those working at the state run liquor stores full state benefits for running a cash register. No I don't worok for Costco.

                            1. re: White Castle

                              Where the old Best-by-comparison liquor store on 4th ave was, to my supply recently I went there to discover a Bargain Grocery Outlet in it's place... now where do the restaurants in DT get their booze? Did it move? Sigh... I was SO hoping 1100 would pass!

                              1. re: gingershelley

                                It moved farther south... 2960 4th Ave S
                                (between Forest St & Hanford St)