Chocolatier Shares Pioneer Square's Hidden Gems

Aaron Barthel dishes on the hidden side of Seattle's historic neighborhood.

For the last seven years, the Intrigue Chocolate Co. has been providing visitors to the Pioneer Square spot some of the best chocolate truffles around. There are nearly 300 flavors, with 12 rotating flavors daily. We spoke with owner and chocolatier Aaron Barthel about the hidden gems in his neighborhood, his favorite restaurants and more.

Aaron Barthel

Do you have a favorite truffle flavor?

Tequila and grapefruit is one of my favorites. Our most popular is probably the bourbon and vanilla bean. We steep the vanilla beans in bourbon for three months and then use both the bourbon and the vanilla beans in the chocolate.

Any special events coming up at the shop?

One thing I like to tell people about—it’s not on our website, it’s just a you’ve-got-to-know-it thing—is we’ve got a weekly after-hours session. Every Thursday we stay open an hour later. From 6 pm to 8 pm we do an off-menu tasting or mini demo of some kind. It’s open house, it’s free, just stop in and see what we’re up to. We usually post on Twitter or Facebook, usually that morning. It’s a good time to just come in and chat and see what we’re up to.

What are your favorite restaurants?

One of my longtime favorites is Saffron Grill up in Northgate … some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had. And here in this neighborhood, speaking of really awesome Indian food, but in a different direction—it’s more cuisine Indian food—is Nirmal’s. I like to drop by Altstadt, [I am] fairly regular there. The käsespätzle mit speck—the German mac and cheese with bacon. It’s amazing. I should mention, for lunch spots, Rain Shadow Meats. Their sandwiches are killer.


Favorite spots to get a drink?

The cocktail bar at E. Smith Mercantile is amazing … it’s an overused phrase, but it’s really craft cocktails without a lot of pretension. Because it’s so small, they’re doing it because they love to.

Any hidden gems you love in Pioneer Square?

They’re all hidden gems. Pioneer Pet [Feed &] Supply—I don’t even have a pet, but I like going there because it’s underground and he’s got a couple cats that he got as kittens that just wander the shop. It’s in the basement or what would have been the first floor before the uplifting of the streets.

Klondike Gold Rush Museum. Most people don’t realize the county’s smallest national park is right here in Pioneer Square.

I haven’t been yet, but I’m dying to go: The Flatstick Pub. With mini golf inside! Like I said, it’s all hidden, it’s all small and tucked away stuff here.

It’s a hoot if you’ve never been: the Planet Java Diner. It’s a classic diner and they’ve been in the neighborhood … for 25 or more [years] and it’s family run. Everything is covered with clocks and Coke collectibles and Gumby figurines. It’s wall-to-wall bright colors and weird, strange, fun objects.

Sake Nomi. I think it’s Seattle’s best sake bar. It’s off a side street and Johnnie owns the place—he gets stuff that you can’t get anywhere else because he knows the brewers or distributors in Japan.

Millhead’s Barbershop. It’s a modern take on an old-school barber shop. You can drink beer while you wait; it’s really nice, talented people.

What is a must-do when visitors are in town?

I recommend doing the walking tours. Beneath the Streets and Seattle By Foot are two that we collaborate with on occasion, and they’re run by people that are really passionate about knowing the things that they’re telling … I think it’s a great way to do the city rather than just hitting tourist things, because you’re spending time out and about and walking around and you’re seeing how the city actually feels.

Beneath the Streets

What is the No. 1 spot on your travel wish list?

My first spot on my travel wish list is Iceland. Everybody I know who’s gone there has absolutely loved it. People seem really welcoming; the natural hot springs sound awesome.