IT IS A clear day at Murano, and up in the Sea + Sky bar on the 24th floor, there is an unobstructed 180-degree view of Mount Rainier to the southeast and Puget Sound to the west. Earlier in the day, up above, a trio of bald eagles dive-bombed each other, cartwheeling through the sky.

The room boasts plush armchairs and couches, many of the seats filled, while bartender JB Van Horn gives a cocktail class to a rapt audience of 15. He begins by discussing the history of the negroni before building his take on the classic cocktail, replacing the traditional gin with mescal and adding Campari and sweet vermouth, finishing by plunking a large ice cube made from butternut squash and Parmesan in the heavy-bottomed glass.


“I think it was first distilled the same year you were born,” Van Horn quips to one of the attendees about the sweet vermouth, and a ripple of laughter rolls around the room.

This cocktail class could be taking place at any swank bar in Seattle, but Sea + Sky is at Murano, a senior living center in First Hill, just blocks from the Frye Art Museum.

Van Horn has been working there as a bartender since August, hosting his cocktail class, called Raising Spirits, on a weekly basis. His class isn’t the only one with an emphasis on food and drink. There are also Friday happy hours, and each Wednesday, chef Alvin Tsao or food and beverage director Sean Klos hosts cooking demonstrations.


Tsao has been the chef at Murano since September 2020; before that, he worked at Fremont’s Manolin for five years, and he also has spent time in kitchens in Los Angeles, the Napa Valley and Sacramento. He was like a lot of displaced restaurant chefs during the pandemic’s early days: itching to get back into the kitchen, but not seeing a way forward.

Then, he saw an ad for Murano and felt all those preconceived notions that came with the idea of a senior living center: “gray building; wheelchair access; two floors, max,” he says.

“But I got here, and it’s a 24-foot skyscraper with a Chihuly in the entry,” Tsao says.

Klos, who has worked at Murano since it opened in 2019, says they started with a blank slate of opportunity. The pandemic forced them to launch some of these programs in a virtual form offering video cooking demos and cocktail classes, delivering the ingredients for cocktails to residents’ doors but it never lessened his passion for creating something unique.

“Our residents have spent most of their lives out experiencing life, and it’s our duty to keep creating those experiences every day,” Klos says.

Now they’re back to hosting events in person making lasting connections with the residents and cultivating a casual, friendly atmosphere.


“It’s a very intimate group. But these are people I’m friends with; I’m with them every day,” Van Horn says.

The toughest part about going from the hustle of a restaurant to a place like Murano?

“We have 105 residents, and 105 different palates,” says Klos.

And, as Tsao says, at a restaurant, you’ll have regulars people you might see once a week or so “Here, we feed our residents every day.”

That means building a menu that straddles the line of comforting and intriguing. Being receptive to feedback when you run into a resident in the elevator or lobby. Building an institutional memory of who is gluten-free, who likes spice, who can’t have red bell peppers.

Tsao has given a little of himself in these demos for his first, he showed how to make ceviche, as a nod to his years at Manolin, while his second was a Shanghainese dish his grandfather loved in order to build relationships with residents and see how far he can push the boundaries at the restaurant.

“We have residents who just want to have a chicken Caesar salad every day, and that’s OK, but I don’t want them to feel like they have to get the chicken Caesar because it’s the only option,” Tsao says.


Some residents will ask him to tell the story of a dish’s origins, always eager to learn more. It has him driving to a West African market to source fermented greens and making his own seitan, while also being able to whip up grilled cheese at the drop of a hat.

“We have to go in every day knowing we’re not going to please everybody. More often than not, we’re shocked that we did,” adds Klos.