EVERETT — It is a dark and stormy night.
A slow drizzle of rain cascades over downtown Everett, casting a gray pall over the city streets. From my seat inside the dim lounge, I wait for the target to appear as I nurse my cocktail.
After taking a sip, I set it back down and retreat into my thoughts, the first of which is how I haven’t been able to get a proper Old Fashioned in this city since 1986. My man Kevin behind the bar here has changed all that, much to this old gumshoe’s delight.
Okay, so maybe I’m taking some artistic liberties here. For one, I had no idea what was even in an Old Fashioned until last year, and for another, I was born over a decade after 1986.
But I’m being truthful about feeling like a neo-noir femme fatale on a dark and rainy night in downtown Everett. And the target for whom I was lying in wait was none other than Herald photographer Ryan Berry, who does in fact carry the gravitas and world-weariness of a pulp detective (though I’ve never seen him attempt to pull off a trench coat and fedora).
The vibe that had me in my Bogart feelings is all thanks to a recently opened spot that’s turned a former Starbucks location into the closest you can come to spending the evening in a speakeasy this side of 1924. The Colby Club pairs atmosphere and flair with can’t-miss cocktails, simple bar snacks that reliably hit the spot and excellent, knowledgeable service — a combination to die for, just like the love of a loyal dame.
‘A much different feel’
The first thing you notice when you step off Colby Avenue and into the Colby Club’s nondescript facade is the atmosphere. I know that word gets used a lot, but there’s no better descriptor for the sense of place in the bar; the air literally feels different inside, like you should be wading through thick, sweet clouds of pipe tobacco smoke.
I stopped in on a Monday afternoon shortly after the club opened and found the small space occupied by only one other customer, who sat at the bar sipping his drink and chatting in a low voice with the bartender. I gravitated immediately to a plush pink velvet armchair taken right out of my pastel Victorian dreams and made myself cozy as I took in the gilded ceiling tiles and the dark wood paneling, letting them surround me comfortingly like I was returning to an old haunt. The crackly sound of vintage blues and jazz playing in the background had me craning my neck to look for an old-timey phonograph spinning dusty vinyl in some corner or another.
At first glance, you’d be hard pressed to identify this vintage-inspired nook as having lived a past life as a modern coffee chain. It feels as if the club has been here, sealed off from the outside world and patiently awaiting its time to shine again, since going underground with Prohibition.
Owner Robert Penrose designed it that way, of course, carefully renovating each corner of the space to lend naturally to the authentic underground feel. Through the wide front windows, you’ll watch busy people going about their afternoons on Colby, and you’ll feel practically untouched from inside as if removed to a parallel universe.
“It has a much different feel from any other bar downtown that I think people have really been wanting, and they’re really responding to the concept,” Penrose said.
Penrose, who also owns the vintage-styled Revival Lounge in Mount Vernon, said his inspiration came in part from traveling elsewhere after growing up in Edmonds. Speakeasy-style bars have been making a comeback in the last few years, he said, and like many other locals, Penrose had seen what other cities had to offer and came back to Snohomish County wishing there was a little slice of it here.
And with the recent trend in classy cocktail menus coming to Everett, like those at 16Eleven and The Whiskey Muse, Penrose thinks we’re now set for a revival all our own.
“People are starting to be able to look close to home for those fancier things, the specialty things you used to have to go into Seattle for,” Penrose said. “Now you have options to choose from right in town, and they’re all gonna offer you something different and great in their own way.”
This speakeasy’s secret is out
Open from 4 p.m. to midnight five days a week, and until 10 p.m. on Wednesdays and Sundays, the Colby Club is my ideal of the after-work neighborhood haunt. It’s the kind of place you’d want to take a good book and spend a few hours alone, but you’ll definitely want to come early on a weekday to secure your favorite seat — word got out about this little secret shortly after it opened in October, and weekends are pleasantly packed with groups of friends around the small circular tables.
On my visit to the Colby Club, I was tired from a full workday and seeking a libation with just enough kick to take the edge off, but restrained enough to let the aesthetics of the place shine through. I chose the chai sidecar ($15) from the seasonal side of the club’s extensive cocktail menu, not really knowing what to expect with a marriage of warm, spicy chai and the tang of triple sec and fresh lemon.
To my utmost thrill, it was a match made in heaven. The house-infused chai vodka brings an unexpected depth to the classic flavor profile, pairing surprisingly well with the bright and citrusy DNA of a typical sidecar. Served in an elegant martini glass and half-rimmed with sugar — the time-honored and proper way to garnish the drink, I was informed by our sharply dressed bartender, Kevin — it was the perfect complement to the atmosphere, and it looked absolutely stunning perched atop the delicate crocheted doily that served as a coaster.
Herald photographer Ryan Berry went for the classic side of the cocktail menu, doubling down with The “Old” Old Fashioned ($14). Modeled directly on the original recipe developed at Louisville’s Pendennis Club in the 1880s, the drink is as close as you can get to an authentically old-fashioned Old Fashioned these days, Kevin told us. But Ryan, who’s been to the Colby Club a handful of times in his off hours, usually beelines for the Paper Plane ($15), a mix of bourbon, Aperol, lemon and amaro that hews much more closely to my own personal tastes than those of the hardy folk who were swilling bathtub whiskey back in the day.
You’re bound to find something that speaks to you on the cocktail menu, but if you’re feeling like keeping it especially simple, the club’s bar is admirably well-stocked with everything from mezcal to rye to absinthe and Israeli whiskey. There’s even a “teetotaler” menu dedicated solely to mocktails that are every bit as classic and playful as their liquored-up cousins.
Don’t miss the food menu, either. The Bavarian pretzel with Beecher’s cheese sauce ($9) and the stuffed medjool dates ($9) are popular among light snackers, Penrose said, and small plates like Beecher’s classic mac ($16) and a selection of flatbread pizzas ($13-14) will be more than enough to tide you over while you savor your last drink.
The Colby Club, 2823 Colby Ave., Everett. Open 4 p.m. to midnight Monday to Tuesday and Thursday to Saturday, 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Sunday. Call 425-212-9641 or find The Colby Club on Facebook for more information.