It’s been less than a year since chefs Dana Tough and Brian McCracken’s Spur Gastropub made its daring debut, setting the town afire with such branding-iron signatures as carpaccio with deep-fried bearnaise, and pork-belly sliders. These crackerjack kids with the modern Western-themed haunt wasted no time knocking food fanatics off their Belltown bar stools — where they’d been perched precariously already, thanks to alcohol’s artful alchemist David Nelson. Now they’re set to do it all over again with Tavern Law — a “speakeasy bar” expected to open late next month at the Trace Lofts complex on Capitol Hill.
Getting Tough (left) and (Mc)Cracken in the kitchen at Spur
Today, the windows at 1406 12th Avenue stand covered, but what we’ll eventually find inside is seating for 80, upstairs and down. “It’s going to have a very dark-wood masculine feel downstairs, with a beautiful mahogany curving bar and a vintage cooler behind that,” says Tough. A 20-foot Venetian-plaster mural depicting a lovely lady draped in a glamorous gown will overlook bookcases, dark leather banquettes and booths, and we can expect “some little surprises along the way.”
It will come as no surprise that these roaring 20-somethings and masters of the memorable menu plan to replicate the formula that’s brought them so much praise. Nor that Nelson will fuel the fire on the Hill with another classic cocktail agenda. “David’s staying true to that era,” says Tough.
Barman David Nelson’s Boulevard, fried hominy for snacking
[Seattle Times photo: Dean Rutz]
McCracken describes their chalkboard menu as short and ever-changing “so it doesn’t get boring.” We might find tweaks on a wedge salad with Green Goddess dressing, perhaps a Monte Cristo sandwich, or clams and oysters dolled up in Casino finery. McCracken insists their fare will be “less fussy” than Spur’s but no less appealing. Prices? They’ll call $15 the ceiling.
“Capitol Hill is a vibrant, fun neighborhood and there’s always energy out on the streets,” says McCracken of their decision to hit the Hill with their second location. And given the proximity of colleges and an oft-changing restaurant landscape, “Capitol Hill will always stay young,” says Tough. “People go out every night of the week.” Unlike Belltown, “it’s not so much a destination spot, it’s a self-contained neighborhood.”
If anybody can capture the zeitgeist of Capitol Hill and its growing collection of go-to eat-and-drinkeries it’s these young cowboys of cuisine, who, at 28 (Tough) and 27 (McCracken), have been singled out as the new breed of Seattle chefs, acknowledging the classics be it at the bar or in the kitchen, yet keeping one foot firmly at the cutting edge of contemporary American cookery.
McCracken grew up around the restaurant industry and notes, “My dad owned big fun bars in Seattle” — among them Charlie Macs and Montana’s, as well as “little bars and sports bars.” Meanwhile, his mother wowed them in the kitchen at home and taught cooking lessons on Mercer Island. A graduate of Portland’s Western Culinary Institute, McCracken landed at Silks at the Mandarin Oriental in San Francisco and came home to work at Earth & Ocean under Maria Hines, where he met his future business partner.
Tough — who followed Hines from Earth & Ocean to her award-winning restaurant Tilth as her chef de cuisine — is a Montana native who graduated from the culinary program at South Seattle Community College. “I got started cooking with my mother,” he says. “I was always the one in the kitchen, seeing what was going on.” His career got a kick-start with a dishwasher’s job at Twin Lakes Golf & Country Club in Federal Way where the chef gave him a solid piece of advice. “He said, `You’ve really got to love cooking, because you’re not going to get paid a lot doing it.'”
Asked how that’s come to pass, McCracken posits, “From the beginning, our idea was to never have anything lacking, to pay as much attention to each product that’s going out — the service, the bar, the food, the ambiance, we didn’t want to overlook anything.” With Spur, “We had a very clear vision of how precise we were with the product — offering food that’s exciting and fun and approachable, and we wanted to have a bar that had the same attention to detail. With Tavern Law, we want to do the same.”