After Hula Hula had to relocate to Capitol Hill from its Uptown/Belltown location in March due to redevelopment, our ‘hood was going to miss its favorite tiki bar (and karaoke spot). Although its style is a bit more upscale and without the karaoke, Navy Strength is our new neighborhood tiki hotspot!
By AJ Rathbun
Anu and Chris Elford are slowly taking over Belltown. Following Anu’s venerable cocktail bar Rob Roy, the husband-and-wife team launched their James Beard-nominated beer bar/gastropub No Anchor just a few blocks down Second Avenue last fall. In late March, The Elfords introduced a third boozy sibling, dubbed Navy Strength, to the neighborhood. I recently sailed in to check out this tiki getaway neighboring No Anchor, and here are three impressions.
The Drinks: Browsing the bountiful and creative drink menu, split into three main sections, is like traveling across the Pacific Islands from past to present. The “classic tiki” section features impeccably made staples (none of that syrupy dreck that often passes for tiki drinks). The Mai Tai is lush and strong, and received hearty kudos from the man next to me at the bar who’d motorcycled up from Portland just to try it.
The “travel” section highlights drinks influenced by a particular region or country. It’s currently docked in India, and the Garam Masala Whisky Collins is not to be missed. It’s tasty and completely unique, with an under-a-palm-tree refreshing nature thanks to the addition of coconut soda.
The third “tropical” section, which features one of my favorite drinks, contains less-traditional tiki twists. Anchored with mezcal, the El Perro Grande includes butterfly pea flower, fresh lime and pineapple juices, and a little muddled jalapeno, all garnished with an orchid flower (Navy Strength’s garnishes are striking across the board). Chris worked on the drink for years before unveiling it. Its purple color, foaminess, citrus and smoke fit our Northwest spring like a grass skirt.
The Food: Chef Jeffrey Vance (also the chef for No Anchor, which earned a James Beard nomination) has developed a tight menu in keeping with Navy Strength’s island-and-ocean vibe. Our sage bartender says the rockfish ceviche is an early favorite among patrons, but the raw albacore tuna—served with cucumber yogurt and pickled red onions—has also garnered raves. A seafaring snacks menu features inspired creations like the Kumamoto oyster with passionfruit and black pepper granita. Sorry herbivores, but aside from two desserts there weren’t any veggie options during our visit.
The Space: Though they obviously revere tiki drinks and culture, the atmosphere at Navy Strength is subtly tiki, not veering anywhere near kitsch. A few paddles and masks, candles and shipboard lighting, and lots of wood (including beams from a 1940s prefab home) set the tone. The sizable U-shaped bar almost looks like a ship dry-docked on land. The space between the bar and the wood-and-subway-tiled back wall is huge (jellyfish tanks are on the way), giving the crack bar team plenty of room to mix complex cocktails quickly. I hear traditional flaming tiki drinks are coming, which will make that spacious setup even handier.
Instead of grabbing a window seat, moor yourself to one of the multicolored barstools and chat with the bartenders while they fill ceramic tiki mugs with tropical concoctions. You won’t regret it.