The history of Seattle is steeped in vice: Bootleggers running liquor in from Canada or hidden stills on the islands dotting Puget Sound; entrepreneurial women running brothels where a tired logger who’d just been paid – or the timber baron who’d paid him – could find a companion for a night or an hour; speakeasies and saloons and gambling halls were once commonplace. Now, everything is washed in what sunshine the city has to offer.
Well-known tour company Show Me Seattle’s new “Vice Tour” ($69) makes for a nice introduction to Seattle’s lascivious past. Though I’m generally not big on shuttle bus adventures, or group tours, after watching some tour companions from South Carolina, I learned that an introduction is useful when you’re not even sure what to ask.
True, vice just isn’t that hard to find in Seattle — the city is a checkerboard of distilleries, wine shops, and marijuana dispensaries, and so as a local with easy access to all that stuff, I don’t need help finding new indulgences. But if I were in from out of town, maybe somewhere with tighter laws, this tour is a good way to shoehorn a bunch of sinning into an afternoon. Plus, you don’t have to drive – always a good choice when there’s liquor involved.
First Stop: Copperworks Distillery
I boarded a shuttle bus – with seven curious other travelers — to find what yesterday’s sins look like today. Our driver is Dave Groh, he used be known as “Cab Elvis” for his past driving attire. He’s shed the side burns and wide jumpsuits; he’s still sporting aviator specs. It’s fun to picture him as a late model version of The King, even though I’m not even a tiny bit high.
Groh knows the city and its history well. En route to our first stop he recaps Seattle’s bootleg days. Seattle had local prohibition two years before the national law went into effect – and it was completely ignored by scofflaws and police officers alike. That includes Roy Olmstead, the police lieutenant behind one of city’s biggest rum-running operations. Olmstead was one of the United States’ first wiretap busts – he later went completely clean, going so far as to teach Sunday school to prison inmates.
The reformed Olmstead would not have approved of our first stop: Copperworks Distillery. The space is warm and smells of wood mixed with the yeasty tang of fermentation. The gorgeous handmade stills are a steampunk dream of curved shiny metal, copper and brass, bolted thick glass windows reminiscent of an old deep sea diving suit. Our host is co-founder Micah Nutt, a wiry man with a long goatee and even longer hair. He walks us through the distilling process; I’m surprised to learn how much sitting around is involved in distilling liquor. “I set up a bench for the eight or nine hours it takes,” he says. “I might do some paperwork, but really, I’m just watching…”