I consider Seattle, WA one of my favorite cities and have visited nearly a dozen times over the years. I recently visited a close friend who lives in Seattle and was able to experience new adventures and visit establishments that I have never been to before. One of my standout experiences was visiting the Zig Zag Cafe.
A little history on the Zig Zag Cafe before I share my experience. The Zig Zag is regarded as having the best bartenders in the Seattle area. Becoming a head bartender is really an apprenticeship that comes to age with mentoring and patience - not rushed and no shortcuts. In fact, rumor has it that the #2 bartender in Seattle who worked at a competing bar and was revered by local cocktail connoisseurs, quit to join the team at Zig Zag. He did not pour a cocktail the first year he worked there. If you are familiar with Zig Zag you likely recognize the name Murray. Murray has earned the recognition as one of America's Top 10 Bartenders. Unfortunately I was not able to meet Murray or observe his craft. Instead, Eric was bar tending the evening I visited. Eric is one of Murray's apprentices and like any Jedi in training, eventually the Jedi becomes a master.
From the moment we entered the cafe, Eric became aware of our presence while he was preparing someones drink. A quick look up to acknowledge me and my friend. As the host escorted us to the bar my friend mentioned to me that it had been over a year since he had stopped into the Zig Zag. The moment we sat down Eric had placed a glass of ice water with napkin in front of each of us and said, "Good evening gentlemen. It's been a while since we've seen you Mr. Gates [referring to my friend]." Eric and my friend exchanged pleasantries and I was introduced. Eric asked, "What would you like this evening?" My friend replied, "I'll have the usual." - testing Eric's memory. Eric did not miss a beat and confirmed, "Ketel One straight up." While this impressive display of memory was playing out, the wait staff were coming up to the bar from three different locations and placing orders with Eric for the dozens of tables they were serving. The coming and going of the wait staff was like watching bees arrive at their hive, make a deposit, then depart to search for more pollen. Eric was also calmly looking to his left and right to ensure the patrons sitting at the bar were satisfied.
As we sat enjoying our martini's and took in the ambiance, Eric prepared dozens and dozens of drinks with a precision I have never witnessed before. Every, literally every, drink prepared was tested at least once before leaving the bar. Eric would use a cocktail straw and his finger tip to cap the end of the straw (this traps the liquid in the straw), remove it from the cocktail and drink the contents of the straw. He would then approve the drink and pass it to the waiter for delivery or he would make an adjustment to the drink so it tasted perfect. Most of the time the adjustment was a drop, or two, of one of the ingredients that was required to make the perfect balance. After each adjustment he would place a new cocktail straw into the drink and test it again. On rare occasion (of the 100+ drinks I watched him make he did this once) he would pour the drink out and start over. Again, as Eric's attention to the smallest detail would appear all consuming he still would engage with the patrons. Looking up at us, "Mr. Gates, I don't think any one's order Louis since you last visited." At this moment someone from behind the bar needed Eric's attention and pulled him away for a brief conversation. When Eric returned my buddy said, "My friend's visiting from out of town so let's have two." Eric grabbed two cognac snifters and began preparing our glasses that would contain the cognac. First he filled two tumbler glasses with hot water and then set the snifters of cognac on their side on top of the tumbler so the Louis would warm up. As he was doing this my friend asked Eric if they have any Port Ellen and in a blink Eric had grabbed a bottle (8th Release) from the shelf and placed it in front of us while continuing to prepare our drinks. Eric asked if I had tried the Port Ellen and I answered no to which he poured me a complimentary taste of the $400 bottle of scotch. As I enjoyed the Port Ellen I watched Eric complete the heating ritual and present our glasses of cognac.
What inspired me the most about Eric was watching someone who is dedicated to their craft and seeks perfection. His awareness, memory, precision, attention to detail, multitasking, focus and passion were astonishing to watch. It truly was like watching a professional athlete do their thing.