Few bars in Seattle have the legacy that Capitol Hill’s Canterbury Ale House did. For decades, it was a notorious dive, back when Capitol Hill had notorious dives, an allegedly haunted joint that was 90 percent dark corners. In 2014, when real estate developers outnumbered ghosts on the Hill, it got new owners and upscaled into a gastropub. In 2018, it again got new owners, one of whom became controversial during the 2020 protests when he said on social media that looters should be shot; the Canterbury was subsequently vandalized.
It closed for good in March 2022, and more than a year later the people behind upscale Indian Fremont restaurant Rasai are taking the building into a new era as a more cocktail-focused, somewhat less dark spot called Meliora. Eater Seattle got a first look at the space before its June 27 opening date and chatted with incoming executive chef Rhys Nunnelee, formerly of the Butcher’s Table and Queen Anne Beer Hall.
The new owners have kept plenty of nods to the original Canterbury, most obviously the suit of armor and the stained glass window. There are also lots of taxidermied animal heads still looming on the walls, a rarity in a city not exactly know for its hunting scene. This might inspire some menu items. “I’m thinking maybe for happy hour for the bar menu doing a sausage sampler,” Nunnelee says. “Elk sausage and boar sausage and maybe a venison one in there as well.”
The decor doubles down on the sensation that you’re a noble just returning from yet another unsuccessful unicorn hunt in m’lord’s woods. There are plants (including, like, an indoor tree), plant-motif wallpaper, and a sprawling forest-themed mural from artist Robert Williamson.
Speaking of sprawling, this space is huge — 5,000 square feet, and around 150 seats, including a main dining room, bar seating, and comfy-looking chairs and couches. There’s also a side bar with limited seating Nunnelee says will be called the Canterbury Room that may feature exclusive bites and cocktails to create a speakeasy feel.
As for the main dining menu, there are going to be a quite a few departures from ye olde Canterbury’s offerings. Meliora will be replacing some of the former bar’s beer taps with cocktails on tap, and will add an oyster bar, encouraging some customers to treat the place as a drinks-and-bites destination rather than a sit-down dinner restaurant.
The plan right now is to open for happy hour at 3 p.m. for bar seating only, then open the main dining room at 4 p.m. and serve the dinner menu until 10, at which time Meliora will switch over to a more limited late-night menu, which will probably include the smash burgers Nunnelee was known for at Queen Anne Beer Hall.
“Everyone loves a good smash burger,” says Nunnelee. Even the ghosts.