BACK IN THE NOT-SO-OLD days, I worked at the daily newspaper just north of the Columbia River, a place where it was entirely appropriate to give a Christmas "bonus" of HoneyBaked Hams—vegetarians, Muslims, and Jews be damned.
From those gifts arose HAMping, a now annual tradition whereupon a large ham travels to a campsite to be eaten in all manners for a weekend (please use Bubba from Forrest Gump's voice here): ham sandwiches, ham and eggs, plain ham, ham and lentil soup, and yes, an unsuccessful rum and pineapple concoction with a ham wedge as a garnish. Ham is life; the rest is just details.
My love for Hamlet was a foregone conclusion. This Instagrammable bar on NW 12th—with endlessly repeating black and white subway tiles, tall chairs, and sleek booths—even manages to make an incredibly refreshing ham-centric cocktail.
Opened in May by Nostrana Chef Cathy Whims, bartender Ryan Magarian and ChefStable's Kurt Huffman, Hamlet is a snack-plate-sized spot where you can rendezvous with salty protein and ambitious drinks for pre-game or late night. Make no mistake: This is a $12 cocktail and $18 for an ounce of ham zone. But the payoff is real. That $18 will get you one ounce of thin, hand-carved jamón de ibérico—the fatty, acorny, supple crown jewel of Spain that is the best ham on the planet. Pair it with one of the excellently curated dry sherries and feel terribly continental for $30, even if your passport has expired.
The cocktails are impeccable, and in case you're the kind of person who keeps Rothman and Winter apricot liqueur on hand, the drink recipes are listed on the menu. The Melon vs. Meat ($11) is a brilliant mix of dry gin, fresh lemon and honeydew juices, honey syrup, and a dash of orange bitters, with an air-dried prosciutto slice resting on the edge. Genius. The drop-dead winner, however, is Thumper's Revenge ($10), a blend of house-infused horseradish vodka, carrot and lime juices, and honey syrup. It arrives orange as can be, with a green "top" of mint, the sweet carrot flavors contrasting against the hot horseradish and acidic lime.
The best value is the Herb and Kathy ($15), a three-ounce plate of sliced prosciutto Americano, speck, and piccante from Iowa's famed La Quercia. Pair it with an in-house pickle plate ($6) and a baguette with butter ($4) from Frice Pastry, and you've got yourself a date.
My hope is that Hamlet—with its adorable hand-drawn logo of a pig holding a skull in homage to its Shakespearean namesake—expands to offer lunch or brunch options, because the sandwich section should be available at all hours. The Frice baguette appears again in a simple sandwich of prosciutto piccante, butter, and salt, the bread perfectly tearing away with the right blend of salt and cream with every bite. A Croque Madame ($9), while slightly out of place at 8 pm, would be a welcome midmorning wake-me-up, with Prosciutto di Parma, a thick Mornay sauce, and fried egg.
To ham or not to ham is not a question—the answer must always be to ham.
Sun-Thurs 4 pm-midnight, Fri-Sat 4 pm-1 am. For god's sake, keep the kids out. Vegetarians may eat the olives and cheese. Full bar.