The suite on the corner of Railroad and Holly has transformed from a Starbucks into a cocktail bar– and with a name like Matthew’s Honest Cocktails, one might be prompted to ask: What, exactly, makes a cocktail honest? 

If you ask Owner Matthew Twining, he’ll tell you that an honest cocktail is “something that doesn’t get in the way of the spirit itself, is simply a vehicle for the spirit itself, and allows the spirit to speak without being diluted … by a lot of ingredients that are unnecessary.” 

In other words, he’s passionate about cocktails that are elegant in their simplicity. Twining was born in California, raised in Washington, and eventually wound up in New York City, where he landed his first bartending job. While he made the move to New York for different purposes, it was bartending that “inspired a different awakening,” namely a newfound respect for spirits and their possibilities. 

Now Twining has returned to Whatcom County to open his own bar as “a little chunk of New York” in Downtown Bellingham. Matthew’s is catered towards working professionals rather than the college crowd, and the decor is complete with rich jewel tones, elegant finishings, and– for added cheekiness– mugshots of iconic celebrities like Prince and Elvis adorning the wall. (The philosophy behind the mugshots? “Let’s be civilized– but not too civilized.”) 

But beyond the decor, it’s the drinks– and Twining’s own mixology expertise– that make Matthew’s so special. The menu spotlights three rotating featured cocktails each week– but classic cocktails these are not. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find similar libations anywhere else in town. This is partially thanks to the liquor itself; for example, Twining is a member of a whiskey club and sources one-of-a-kind barrels from places like Kentucky and Tennessee.  

The other standout element is Twining’s own creativity. On the day I stopped in, he told me about his latest creation: a stinging nettle martini, made from elderflower liqueur, crisp floral gin, and locally foraged nettles. Twining uses regional ingredients whenever possible, whether that be in regards to local liquor or more unusual elements like house-made thimbleberry and salmonberry reductions. 

If that wasn’t enticing enough, other standout mixology experiments include a whiskey-based martini made with lemon and an earl gray reduction. He also used a Napa Valley cabernet reduction to create a sangria-inspired drink with rosemary, lemon, and high-quality potato vodka.  

All in all, these cocktails are straightforward yet exemplary thanks to Twining’s deep consideration of each ingredient. If you ask Twining, though, the X factor at Matthew’s isn’t the cocktails or the decor– it’s the Bellingham community itself. 

“I’m more interested in people than I am in cocktails,” Twining says. “The cocktails are going to be extraordinary. And our ingredients are really, really good. … But really, the truth is, the people on that side of the bar, they’re going to make this thing work.” 

Twining designed Matthew’s with interpersonal connection in mind, and decor elements like a curving bar top make it easy for guests to engage the bartender and mingle with each other. After all, Matthew’s was never designed to be an end-of-the-night kind of joint– he wants it to be the catalyst for a memorable evening on the town. 

“The number one thing I want is to have people connecting with each other,” Twining says. “I think that cocktails are a great means to that end.” 132 E. Holly St., Bellingham, @matthewsofbham ,