The Admiralty Lounge opened at the end of March in the old Snowy River Cocktail Co. space adjacent to the Mt. Baker Theater in downtown Bellingham, Washington. The new cocktail bar and restaurant concept is built around nautical and naval history. The theme is personal to co-owner Jabriel Donohue.
“My dad is an avid sailor, and in my youth I lived on a boat with him in part,” says Donohue, who grew up in Bellingham. “Something about the nautical traditions always really appealed to me. Bellingham is also very much a port town; even when it doesn’t represent it, it’s infused with that history.”
The lounge’s menu is built around “nautical comfort food,” and highlights the ways in which navies fed themselves on vessels of yore — which, Donohue says, “I thought was going to be a pretty dire story, but it’s not.” These seafaring groups would dock weekly along the coast to gather their food, resulting in a wider variety of flavors in the ships’ galleys.
There’s a balanced variety of cocktails to match, alongside a short wine list and beer from Bellingham’s own Menace Brewing on tap, all accented by nautical décor including rope knotted by Donohue’s father and a large bell behind the bar (“an exceptional find at the Re-Store”). Prints from the ’80s and ’90s by local painter James Williamson offer glimpses of various historical locations along the nearby coast, from Semiahmoo’s lighthouse to Bellingham’s old Sehome Coal Wharf.
Donohue left Bellingham around age 20 for Los Angeles and the movie industry, but has slowly been making his way back up the coast ever since, embedding himself in the bar and restaurant scene along the way. “I kind of fell laterally into the craft cocktail movement around the time of the [Writers Guild of America] strike in 2007 and 2008,” he says.
After a brief stint back in Bellingham, he left again in 2009 in favor of Portland (which included time at Punch Bowl Social, Irving Street Kitchen and as president of the Oregon Bartenders Guild) before continuing on to Seattle (via CIRCADIA, Dino’s Tomato Pie and most recently the Mountaineering Club). The former owner of Snowy River contacted Donohue and his business partner Dan Pagard (currently the owner of two pubs in Seattle) about buying the North Commercial Street space in October.
Though the two already had a lease on another space in Bellingham — that concept is still under wraps but expected to launch around midsummer — they decided to sign onto the new space as well. “This is really an opportunity to be a part of the Bellingham community,” Donohue says. He hopes to bring live music and “Teachable Tuesdays” (spotlighting home bartending skills) to the venue soon.
“I really want to help Bellingham become something great. For me this is about bringing back a lot of what I’ve learned in almost 20 years away,” he adds.
Three Drinks to Try at Admiralty Lounge
The Wellerman arrives on the bar looking like a sno-cone in a rocks glass: A tawny mix of rums and lime, accented with lemongrass, galangal and pu’er tea, provide a base for the burnt-sienna hue and spice profile of Angostura bitters dashed generously over a julep-like crown of crushed ice. Pair it with the Tavern Steak, a lamb, beef, onion and beer cheese concoction inspired by a recipe in a Dungeons and Dragons cookbook that “felt right here.”
The Fraser Rush was born of a guest prompt for “something orchardy” that Donohue took in an earthy, pungent direction by mixing cognac, applejack, Cynar, gentian-bittered Avèze and a noticeable kick of salt. It’s an ideal accompaniment to the pork rillettes with apple, ginger, five-spice and garlic.
0˚ Declination is perfect for winding down your night with a boozeless concoction, also heaped with crushed ice. Featuring the sugary citrus profile of a melting lime sorbet, it’s finished with a float of Mexican Coke. To go with it, try The Parfait, a mélange of honey-laced Greek yogurt, plantain chips, aromatic mint and fresh fruit.
The Admiralty Lounge | 100 North Commercial Street, Bellingham