Food & Drink

Craft brews and crafted cocktails star at Bellingham bars

Bellingham’s bar scene is on the rise. Local bars are creating a unique experience by putting their twist on classic cocktails through innovative flavors and techniques with sides of live music and fun, fresh atmospheres.

Raise your glass to what’s shaking in Bellingham’s cocktail scene.


Cocktails and beer have a common thread: they are both hand-crafted from a recipe.

While a combination of specific ingredients is used to brew a one-of-a-kind brewski in a large building or warehouse, cocktails are a symphony of ingredients shaken or stirred right before your eyes.

“Some of the best cocktails that we think about today — the martini, the daiquiri, the Manhattan — those all came out between the 1860s and Prohibition,” Derek Brown, an award-winning mixologist who has studied the history of alcohol in America, told NPR in a 2015 interview.

Craft beer came into popularity a bit later in American history. According to, the development of Cascade hops started in Corvallis, Oregon, in 1956, followed by the release of the hop to brewers in 1972.

Bellingham is adorned with breweries that seem to appear overnight and quickly attract a loyal following. If you live in Bellingham you might even have a brewery as a neighbor – with 16 breweries and 4 cider breweries to choose from in Whatcom County.

Start with the menu

This may not come as a shock, but start with reading the menu. You may be inclined to take your phone out and Google what you are reading. However, bartenders know best so ask them your questions! If you don’t know what to order they will most likely ask you questions to figure out the flavor profile you like.

A common ingredient you’ll see listed on the menu is bitters. They are the bartender’s spices.

Originally created for medicinal purposes, they’re a highly-concentrated, alcohol-based flavor that has been steeped with any combination of herbs, fruits, roots and leaves.

Pay attention to details

Decor and ingredients show a bar’s true character. For example, Bellingham’s Redlight cocktail bar, at 1017 N State St., has a dedicated shelf for alcohols that are infused in-house.

Redlight stands out because of its seasonal and weekly specials of flavor-packed beverages to choose from, along with a fresh-food menu that has vegan and vegetarian options (including handmade dumplings).

You’ll find unique menus at the Swim Club, 1147 11th St., and it’s Fairhaven neighbor Gainsbarre, 1143 11th St.

Grab a friend and check out the Swim Club, known for its creative, flavor-packed cocktails and fun retro decor. The cocktails are even delivered in whimsical vessels that are definitely picture-worthy.

The kitchen pumps out a “snack bar” menu that ranges from fried chicken to steak tartare.

Gainsbarre offers a drink menu that is comparable to a trip around the world. The cocktail menu is full of international inspiration and flavors that can be enjoyed with seasonal food or a meat-and-cheese board.

Sometimes the food or the ambiance can be the game-changer in deciding where you will procure your cocktail. Regardless, Bellingham has it all!

Stacey Coates is a pastry chef instructor at Bellingham Technical College. She’s been mastering the craft of all things sweet and buttery since her first Easy Bake Oven and will write weekly about Bellingham’s blossoming food and cocktail scene.