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2016 Best of Olympia: Dillingers Cocktails & Kitchen

Best Creative Cocktails, Best Manhattan

Dillingers Cocktails & Kitchen gives history lessons at the bar. Photo credit: YELP.COM

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At Dillingers Cocktails & Kitchen - winner of both Best Creative Cocktails and Best Manhattan - everything old is new again.

"Sherilyn (Lightner), who did most of our menus, really stuck to the classics from the twenties and thirties," said Lela Cross, co-founder of Dillingers. "There's a history behind that, and as they are sitting at the bar, people are learning the history."

"The majority of our menu comes from the pre-prohibition and prohibition era, and that's something uncommon for Olympia," said Lightner, the former bar manager.

This theme fits with the bar's name and with its setting in the 1927 Security Bank Building, where the most coveted table is inside the former bank vault.

When it comes to the Manhattan cocktail, said to date back to the 1870s or 1880s, Dillingers follows the classic recipe. That, along with starting with the right products, is what sets it apart, Lightner said.

"We do the traditional proportions, which is not traditional around this area," she said. "Most people just rinse the glass with sweet vermouth. We do two parts bourbon and one part sweet vermouth.

"And you don't want to skimp on the bitters," she added. "Four dashes of Angostura bitters - no more, no less."

In addition to classics that are old enough to qualify as new, the bar serves modern takes on traditional themes.

"With some drinks, we add a modern twist," Lightner said. "We substitute ingredients or change proportions to make them more balanced and a little bit different."

The current menu does incorporate Dillingers' originals.

"They stay true to the concept behind prohibition cocktails, but with modern ingredients," she said.

The place is best known for its drinks, but Dillingers has become a popular restaurant, too - so popular that Cross and co-founder Sandy Hall are planning to expand into the space next door, where Burial Grounds is now located. (Burial Grounds in turn is moving around the corner to the former location of Darby's, now in the same building as Three Magnets.)

The expansion isn't a certainty, but it's close, Cross said.

"It will enable us to have a bigger kitchen and do more things," she said.

And clearly there's a need for more tables, since it's difficult to even get a seat at the bar without a reservation on weekends and nights when there's a show happening downtown.

"We turn probably fifty to sixty people away on the weekends between the door and the phone," Cross said on a recent weeknight. "Tonight we're full, and we turned quite a few people away."

DILLINGERS COCKTAILS & KITCHEN, 404 Washington St. SE, 3-10 p.m. Monday to Wednesday; 3-11 p.m. Thursday; 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday; and 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday. 360.515.0650,

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