In November, a Seattle-based ginger beer operation pouring boozy, tropical quaffs quietly opened on a busy stretch of SE Hawthorne Boulevard, inside the former Peet’s Coffee space. It’s still sitting across from the Bagdad Theater right now, fizzing along at a leisurely, half-steam pace. That’s incredible, because we are talking about Rachel’s Ginger Beer, our northern neighbor’s artisan equivalent to Portland’s eternally mobbed Salt & Straw. Imagine, if you can, strawberry-balsamic-black-pepper ice cream being scooped in downtown Seattle with no lines on a Saturday afternoon. Get it?
Since launching RGB in 2011, owner Rachel Marshall has opened three shops (a fourth is expected in Seattle in June), with more than 200 bars and restaurants dispensing her tart, lemony ginger elixir from bottles and taps. RGB also has a symbiotic relationship with veteran Seattle chef Monica Dimas (Spinasse, Le Pichet), who finds nooks in each of Marshall’s outposts to serve tortas (Tortas Condesa), tacos (Neon Taco), or (briefly), in Portland’s case, Sunset Fried Chicken. That operation is set to shutter this month. Sunset turned out a fine fried bird, topped with pickles and jammed into a soft Franz bun, but you got the sense that Dimas’s satellite staff wasn’t quite doing her mini-franchise justice. At press time, RGB’s new, local partner was still under wraps.
RGB wins few points for atmosphere: the blond-wooded space basks in the glow of ESPN, with a modest 35 seats filled mostly with Hawthorne’s nomadic grunge-youth, rather than Portland’s dining elite. And yet, it’s a hidden gem lying in plain sight, the refrigerator stocked with signature nonalcoholic brews primed for mixing. The Moscow Mule on tap is deliciously mouth-puckering, a “Dark & Fernety” paired with blood orange ginger beer is a surprisingly even match, and caramelized pineapple ginger beer with a tall squiggle of Snoqualmie soft-serve is everything you might hope for in a fizzy float. You can sub in Heart Coffee coldbrew instead, for a wonderfully bastardized, ice-cold affogato.
Opening in time for our brutal winter probably wasn’t ideal for pushing fried chicken sandwiches and boozy coconut slushies, even for a Northwest ginger beer magnate. But with the storm clouds parting and a new restaurant concept in the wings, we think RGB will do just fine, even without the brand-name recognition.