Jay Kuehner, one of the region's most respected and creative bartenders, will take on several new projects after Sambar closes June 2.
Happy Hour | A smoky mescal cocktail with hints of chocolate, ginger and hazelnut, with grated cinnamon. A savory tequila drink with tomato juice, celery bitters, lime, pineapple and sea salt with a foamy egg white.
You’ve had cocktails, but you haven’t had a complete Seattle cocktail experience until you’ve had drinks from Jay Kuehner at Sambar in Ballard.
Having Kuehner plop down his creations before you is one of the essential cocktail experiences in Seattle.
June 2 will be one sad day for the cocktail geeks, an end to one of the most original bar programs in the city. After 27 years, Le Gourmand restaurant will close its doors after that night, and along with it goes its cocktail den Sambar.
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Kuehner, 41, is one of the region’s most respected and creative bartenders.
His take on the classic negroni is the best cocktail I had this year: mescal in place of gin, the different amaros lifting this classic to another level, the kick coming from the ancho chili peppers and salt. It’s served in a glass that’s been rinsed with a single malt.
He also made one of the best drinks I had last year — a pisco cocktail with Palo Cortado sherry, the saffron syrup balancing the tartness from the pineapple and lemon, the Angostura orange bitters rounding it all out. It’s an aromatic, nutty, sour cocktail.
Kuehner’s name has become synonymous with a certain style — complicated concoctions done with odd flavor combinations, often with agave spirits and amaros. Making my rounds around bars, I often heard bartenders and cocktail geeks say, “That’s a Jay drink” or “Doing the Jay thing.” After hearing three to five variations of this, I started to ask bartenders, “Who’s Jay?”
Kuehner does occasional shifts at the wine bar, Bar ferd’nand at Melrose Market, but his best work is at Sambar.
The bar food isn’t bad either, from the kitchen of Le Gourmand — some crispy, golden fries; a crunchy, buttery croque monsieur; and an off-the menu item the regulars always order, the steak frites.
You won’t see Kuehner behind the bar much after June. He’ll travel overseas, write a cocktail book, consult for bars and work an occasional special event.
He will also be out of the country in mid-April. His few remaining days behind the bar will be on Thursdays and Fridays. You don’t want to miss it.
Sambar, 425 N.W. Market St., from 5:30 to midnight Tuesday-Thursday and from 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday (206-781-4883 or www.sambarseattle.com).
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @tanvinhseattle.