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As speakeasy fad fades, Capitol Hill’s Knee High Stocking Co. steps forward

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Knee High’s Jack Valko (Image: CHS)

Knee High Stocking Co. was a pioneer in Seattle’s speakeasy resurgence when it opened in 2009 on an appropriately ignored block at the bottom of E Olive Way. It quickly became a reliable stop on Capitol Hill’s budding craft cocktail circuit. When Amazon arrived down the hill just a few years later, the bar’s popularity took off.

While Amazon executives and cocktail lovers continue to pack the intimate lounge, owner Jack Valko thinks that some of the speakeasy novelty has started to fade.

“I think it’s played out because craft cocktailing has gone mainstream. So, mission accomplished,” he said. “We’re going to change as the neighborhood changes.”

This year Knee High, which is co-owned by Michelle Valko, installed a secret door that leads down to an underground bar and lounge, built in a room that had been used as storage for years. Covered in teal and gold wall paper, the misshaped lounge currently serves to give patrons a little extra breathing room (you don’t have to text to inquire about a table anymore). But someday, the secret room may be the speakeasy vestige to a Knee High that operates above ground.

Knee High has already started inching out of its speakeasy shadows. Valko recently hired chef Clay Kinsey to magnify food’s role at the bar, adding Kinsey’s love of Spanish tapas to the existing bar snacks menu. “We’ll also continue to deep fry potatoes as long as people continue to order them,” Valko said.

Craft cocktails are still at the heart of Knee High. Bar manager Josh Haddock said he’s been stocking rarer cordials and liqueurs to keep things fresh behind the bar. He is also using the bar’s tight quarters to his advantage. “I don’t have room for every single bottle, so its about curating a list of interesting bottles that I can talk about and that people haven’t seen,” Haddock said.

Of course, today’s speakeasies are primarily modeled off the prohibition-era bars once common in Seattle. They also continue to come in forms that are both illicit and not all about drinking.

Running a modern speakeasy presents one obvious dilemma: how can you grow the business while simultaneously keeping it under wraps? Little or no obvious signage is a typical tactic. A “Knee High Stocking Company” plaque at the bar’s outdoor entrance is easy to spot if you’re looking for it, but also easily overlooked if you’re not. In the early days of Knee High, Valko used social media to directly spread the word on his bar, which played well with the speakeasy theme. As Valko toys with the idea of alterations at Knee High, he said the bar would likely take on a stronger presence in the neighborhood.

“We were formed to create hospitality experiences,” Valko said. “We’re not afraid to go out of our comfort zone and try new stuff.”

Knee High Stocking Co. is located at 1356 E Olive Way. You can learn more at kneehighstocking.com.

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13 thoughts on “As speakeasy fad fades, Capitol Hill’s Knee High Stocking Co. steps forward

  1. Moving out of the ‘Speakeasy Shadow’ is apparently raising the prices, getting rid of almost the entire drink menu and making it a place that everyone has started avoided.

  2. It’s not surprising they’re only getting Amazon executives with the jacked up prices on the menu. I used to go there more when they weren’t charging Canon prices for Sun Liquor-quality cocktails.

    Who am I kidding, taking the pretzel off the menu is the real problem here. Those things were amazing.

    • Oh wow, you remember the pretzel? I love that pretzel. The baker that was making them for us retired. We couldn’t find another one that was just as awesome so we discontinued it.

      I still mourn that pretzel.

    • Still useful. I’d like to see puff pieces on places that I haven’t been to in a while. More room… that’s great since it’s often packed.

      Now I’m more likely to give it a try.

      • It’s not a puff piece. I can show you one of those on Eater or a dozen other sites around here. We wanted to check in with an established business doing some new things especially in light of changes around Hill’s entertainment economy. There doesn’t always have to be a lawsuit… though maybe we should pull Valko’s records :)

  3. Love all these tough guys. I want to see you do better. Oh wait, you are wasting away in a cubicle thinking up then next ignorant thing to post.

    Why don’t you get up out of your chair head down there and give them feedback in person. You people are the reason why we can’t have nice things.

    GF

  4. Loved my only experience here where the bartender rolled his eyes when my girlfriend said she didn’t like her drink. Really left a great impression.

  5. Jack co-owns the place. What’s up with not mentioning Michelle? Not cool CHS. Not cool.

    Ps. Bring back the pot pie.