WALLY’S WORLD: Working the bar has become a lot tougher

By Wally DuChateau

During the wayward course of my silly life, I’ve held many, strikingly different, kinds of jobs, from roofer (the hardest physical work I’ve ever done) to college professor (the easiest work I’ve ever done). Along the way, I’ve spent time bartending which, perhaps not surprisingly, was one of my favorites.

Enjoyable as that pursuit was, I’ve never really done much of it. In fact, I’ve only worked in two bars; specifically, a gay lounge in Richmond, Va., and a little avant-garde club in New Orleans’ French Quarter. The first only served beer and wine, while the other offered hard booze. Neither place was especially busy, which probably contributed quite a lot to my enjoying the work. There was plenty of time to perform the bartending tasks and still carry on extended conversations with regular customers.

Back in those good ol’ days, a mixologist only had to know, relatively speaking, a few basic drinks; i.e., the martini (gin or vodka), “Seven-seven,” whiskey and water, straight shots, etc., and some regional favorites, like the Mint Julep in Kentucky and the Manhattan in New York City. I knew many customers on a first-name basis and identified them with certain drinks. Occasionally, a stranger would come in and order some concoction I’d never heard of, but this was rare.

It’s different today.

Indeed, to bartend in one of today’s hip clubs on Capital Hill, in Belltown or Pioneer Square nearly requires a doctoral degree in chemistry. And even than, you might not be able to tackle a Planter’s Punch, which has no less than 13 ingredients. (That’s right, friends, 13 ingredients.) Every week or so, three or four new drinks seem to materialize out of nowhere, become popular with the crowd for a few nights (“What! You haven’t tried a Green Storm?”) and than fade away as new well-springs arrive. How can a bartender keep up with it all?

I’ve no idea, but somehow they do. And they do so with a style and speed and grace and artistic flash that never confuses ingredients or proportions. Talk about artistry in motion. Just check out the bartenders during the Thursday evening happy hour in Seattle’s Metropolitan Grill. They simply dazzle me.

The other day, I snagged the attention of mixologists Justine Ford and Cherie Stout in the Martini Bar (Room 24). I asked them what some of the most popular, current drinks were. They generally agreed: the Starry Night Martini, X-Rated Martini and the Kimberly Special.

You ever heard of those? Me neither.

The Martini Bar has more martinis than any 14 bars in King County. At times it seems like every new drink coming down the pike tacks “tini” on the end of its name. There are so many of them, I’ve run across some bartenders who aren’t sure how to make the original, classic Martini.

There’s a new concoction in Seattle’s Canlis lounge. It’s called “Our Lady of Thermador.” It blends Dry Fly vodka infused with sous vide strawberries, Pineau des Charentes, bitter lemon elixir, Campari, Champagne and a sous vide, carbonated strawberry garnish.

Don’t ask me how those ingredients are mixed. Hell, I can’t even pronounce half of them.