When it opened in August 2018, Renee Erickson’s newest bar, Deep Dive, quickly gained recognition for its dramatic, moody design and conspicuous location at the base of the Amazon Spheres. Open to the public, the basement bar is reservation-free and seats only 30 people, lending to a more intimate ambience than the airy, open atmosphere that visitors experience up above. It adds up to a stunning effect, which helped it nab Seattle’s 2018 Eater Award for Design of the Year.
“We didn’t want it to devalue the spheres by competing with them,” says Jim Graham, Partner and Co-Founder at Graham Baba Architects. “The spheres are a charged space. They’re light and lifting, while Deep Dive is more introspective and calming.”
Upon entering, natural light dissipates as visitors make their way through a hallway and down a ramp, descending into the bar’s subterranean depths. Glass cloches with dried plants and small taxidermy mounts line the bar, alongside collections of old books and other oddities.
Inspired by Jules Verne and Charles Darwin, Deep Dive more likely resembles the office of an eccentric 19th Century botanist than a traditional 1920s establishment.
“We didn’t want it to be a canned story about a prohibition-era speakeasy,” Graham says. “We wanted it to feel like an old library more than a bar.”
The quirky layout and complicated design needs initially called for more problem-solving than creativity. ‘It’s a small place with complex geometry to solve,” he says. “It was like building a boat.”
The design aspects of the Sea Creatures’ restaurant group’s latest venture were a combined effort between Graham Baba Architects and Curtis Steiner — a local artist and collector who embraced the whimsical botanist narrative, even adding pieces from his own collection in the bar’s displays. The two teams worked with Amazon leadership and Renee Erickson to develop the unique aesthetic appeal and combine the individual ideas in a way that flowed together seamlessly.
“There were a lot of hands on deck, but that’s what was great about this project,” Graham says. “It was everyone’s hand. And Curtis really helped drive the story forward.”
One of the most dramatic pieces resulting from the collaboration is the back room’s chandelier, an extravagant piece of custom work that Steiner and two local artists designed for the library space. Though it was a collaborative piece, the artists worked independently of each other until the piece was nearly complete.
“No one knew what it was going to look like,” Graham says. “At the last minute, it was all hung together and it was perfect.”
With an extensive cocktail menu developed by Bar Director Jermaine Whitehead and presented in a leather-bound booklet, the artistry and imagination involved in creating Deep Dive eclipse the solely physical aspects of the bar.
“In hotel bars around the world, I’ve always felt like I was being taken care of,” Whitehead says. “With Deep Dive’s menu, I wanted to emulate that experience by having curated classics that are best suited for our guest, serve modern cocktails created by hospitality professionals that inspire me, and of course showcase a seasonal list of creative, one-of-a-kind originals.”
The visual aspects of the drinks were just as important to Whitehead as the cocktails themselves, echoing the same museum-quality appearance that the rest of the bar embodies. The Chill Pill — a personal favorite of Whitehead’s — combines vodka with yellow chartreuse, egg white, house-made pineapple shrub, and citrus, showcasing a balanced sweetness and subtle herbal nuances.
Additional noteworthy menu items include the caviar toast and indulgent Seattle dog, featuring a hazelnut-smoked beef hot dog topped with cream cheese, pickled jalapeños, red onions, and pink salmon caviar.
Graham says the individuality behind Deep Dive is unmatched in the area and is an authentic culmination of all the creative minds behind it. Though the meticulous detail and design is something to be admired, he says, Deep Dive was constructed with a specific purpose in mind.
“The space is best appreciated by simply enjoying your company,” Graham says. “Don’t study it. Just relax and take it in slowly.”