Don’t miss the drinks from these up-and-coming Seattle bartenders. Reporter Tan Vinh has the details on where to imbibe and why.
We have always known bartenders on a first-name basis.
Back then, it was for their avuncular qualities: good listener, relationship therapist, debate moderator.
Now, we know them first and foremost because they can make one mean mescal drink. Or the best damn Manhattan in town.
I’m struck by how everyone knows all the top bartenders in the area.
Most Read Life Stories
- Kitchen confidential: How I downsized the most important room in the house VIEW
- Bad Travelers: A harrowing boat crossing to Victoria leads to a lesson — trust the professionals
- The best dinner-for-two deal in Seattle: a bottle of wine and 2 pasta entrees for $35
- 12 new bars in Seattle and on the Eastside, from a spot in The Spheres to one on a rooftop
- Big, juicy pork chops — stuffed and sauced with a flurry of fall flavors
Fifteen years ago, most restaurant news releases featured just the chef’s food. If drinks were mentioned, it was the sommelier’s wine selection, not the bartender’s cocktail menu.
That has changed. The industry has changed. Racking up alcohol sales is more important than ever to a restaurant’s bottom line (see the tipping and minimum-wage debate). Their creativity in making affordable cocktails while handicapped with the nation’s highest booze tax makes them an asset to the restaurateurs.
Below are six bartenders whose names have been on my mind because I sat at their bars, and I scribbled on cocktail napkins and coasters notes like, “Why haven’t I written about this bartender before?” or “Bartenders to keep an eye out in ’17.”
They’re not the usual big names, more up-and-coming or under-the-radar talents around town.
Adam Fortuna, Foreign National
The best bar to debut last year, Foreign National comes from the folks behind the nationally acclaimed restaurant Stateside next door. Fortuna, a sommelier, had much to live up to given all the pre-opening hype. He delivered.
His Southeast Asian-themed cocktails have the DNA of tiki without the Polynesian kitsch — elegant drinks done with molecular-mixology technique but none of its pretentiousness.
300 E. Pike St., Seattle; foreignnationalbar.com
Zac Overman, L’Oursin
In a city filled with copycats, Overman composed a drink list so distinctive, even in a blind tasting, I can tell you which cocktails he made. Overman ran the excellent bar Fort Defiance in Brooklyn before doing stints at Rob Roy and Sitka & Spruce. His bar program is heavy on aperitifs and European-inspired cocktails made with brandy, Armagnac, sherry and vermouth — crisp, clean, mostly three-ingredient drinks.
What to order: Alsatian Cousin, Fleur de Pomme and Esplanade.
1315 E. Jefferson St., Seattle; 206-485-7173, loursinseattle.com
Erik Hakkinen, Russell’s
He worked for almost 10 years at the storied Zig Zag Café, often overshadowed by legendary barman Murray Stenson. He’s also — wrongly — referred to as a “protégé” of Stenson. Just about every bartender in this city will tell you Hakkinen is one of the best in the business.
No mistaken identity now. Hakkinen has left Zig Zag to build his own bar and legacy. His 60-seat bar will be inside the boutique hotel being built in the former Lusty Lady space, scheduled to open in the summer of 2018. Expect eau de vie, sherry and pisco cocktails, as well as a Champagne menu.
In the meantime, you can find Hakkinen behind the stick at Russell’s in Wallingford on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
What to order: Just like at Zig Zag Café, tell Hakkinen what spirit you prefer and whether you like your drink on the sweet or boozy side, and he’ll tailor a drink for you.
4111 Stone Way N., Seattle; 206-547-1653, russellsseattle.com
Amanda Reed, Heartwood Provisions
About five years ago, I sat at a Capitol Hill bar next to a studious young woman who was furiously scribbling in her notebook. She was checking out other cocktail bars to improve her game.
Her name was Amanda Reed. She moved from San Francisco to bartend at RN74 downtown. These days, you’re likely to find other bartenders checking out her drinks. Reed is now the beverage director at Heartwood Provisions downtown. Her cocktail, Good Medicine, was one of the best drinks I had last year — Japanese whiskey with vegetal notes from Shiso liqueur, hints of floral and vanilla from Carpano Bianco vermouth and some turmeric to punch it up. It was an elegant, aromatic drink that was well-structured.
Heartwood Provisions doesn’t always hit it out of the park, but it takes a lot of risks by trying to create cocktail-and-food pairings. I love that Reed doesn’t play it safe. She challenges the way we think about cocktails in relation to food.
What to order: Good Medicine, Beets by Reed and Strawberry Fields.
1103 First Ave., Seattle; 206-582-3505, heartwoodsea.com
Marco Haines, Herb & Bitter Public House
This is the most underrated and improved bar on Capitol Hill. Have you been? You should. This bar on the Broadway East drag boasts an impressive craft-beer lineup (18 taps) and 300 whiskeys, many priced a couple bucks cheaper than other bars around.
Haines, the bar manager, has also put out solid cocktails throughout the seasons. He’s on a roll.
His drinks focus on amari, Italian liqueurs whose bitter and herbal profiles don’t exactly jive with the vodka-and-soda crowd.
But Haines, originally trained as a chef at The Culinary Institute of America in New York, shows the depth and versatility that amaro can bring to the party. His menu is reader-friendly, broken down by categories such as “bitter” and “herbal” to accentuate some of amaro’s taste profiles and also “adventurous” for the cocktail geeks.
What to order: Beach Party Cobbler, Wooden Nail and Night Owl.
516 Broadway E., Seattle; 206-708-6468, herbandbitter.com
Myles Burroughs, The Derschang Group
I’ve seen so many head bartenders struggle to create a cohesive drink program or theme for their bars. How does Burroughs do it — and do it well — at five bars?
Burroughs, the beverage director, has put his fingerprint on each Derschang project, from the California eat-veggies mantra of Tallulah’s, where he makes fruit liqueurs and started an organic wine menu, to Smith, where he has built a solid, all-around craft-beer, whiskey and cocktail program.
The Seattle native was working on two degrees at UCLA while studying for his sommelier certification before deciding to become a bartender during the craft-cocktail craze. His first day on the job for Derschang: St. Patty’s Day at King’s Hardware in Ballard 2015.
“That’s the first and last time I’ll work around green beer,” he said laughing. “You live. You learn.”
These days, Burroughs jumps from one bar to another every week. His focus now is an al fresco drink program (look for slushies) for Tallulah’s on Capitol Hill, which will double to 150 seats when the patio opens in the spring.
What to order: Eleusis, Tequilero (both cocktails served at Smith), Stormy Weather (at Tallulah’s).
Smith, 332 15th Ave. E., Seattle; 206-709-1900, smithseattle.com
Tallulah’s, 550 19th Ave. E., Seattle; 206-860-0077, aneighborhoodcafe.com