Cocktail Paradise at Canon
Jamie Boudreau wants you to be "ensconced in booze." From the floor almost to the ceiling at his brand-new bar, there are shelves upon shelves of glowing liquor. It's like a library, but with beautiful bottles instead of books, interspersed with glittering cut-glass punchbowls, mysterious decanters, a hammered copper still, shiny shakers, a very sharp-looking sword. This is Canon: Whiskey and Bitters Emporium (Boudreau's colon).
Boudreau ran the bar of Vancouver's Daniel Boulud restaurant Lumière. Then, at the late, great Vessel, he was the first barkeep in Seattle to give each cocktail on his menu a date, a place of origin, and a composer (as available), way back in 2006. He was also the first in town to deride vodka as lacking complexity and unfit for cocktails—"for amateurs," he said.
Boudreau has since relaxed considerably. You still won't find vodka on his cocktail menu—not the brief list now, nor, one imagines, the 100-drink book that's en route from the printer—but there are two full shelves of it, front and center (if notably low). "There's nothing wrong with beer or wine!" he says to some new arrivals. "We're trying to be a neighborhood bar, not a cocktail paradise." Everybody orders cocktails (no vodka).
The signature rye-and-Ramazzotti Canon cocktail is topped with Cointreau foam, which, in turn, is topped with Angostura mist stenciled in the shape of a cannon. Boudreau shakes a Pisco sour for so long, it goes with him on a walk to the kitchen and back. (The food, by fellow Boulud alum Melinda Bradley, merits consideration another time.) His Old Fashioned syrup is like the soul of the drink itself. In his natty vest and tie, he pours a tiny sip of each and every cocktail into a small golden cup, then tastes it to make sure it's perfect.
Along the bar are copies of Harry Johnson's Bartenders Manual, a seminal work first published in the mid-to-late 1800s (the date, soaked in liquor like most bar lore, is disputed). "The greatest accomplishment of a bartender lies in his ability to exactly suit his customer," it advises. (There should also be proper ventilation, a cuspidor, and "plenty of toilet paper" in the lavatory. Canon's bathroom contains a 1926 prescription for one pint of whiskey, to be taken at bedtime, and an audio recording of The Old Man and the Sea plays.) The bar top is stained with bitters. "On purpose!" says Boudreau—he used Angostura as a stain.
Overhead hang old-timey lightbulbs with flickering filaments, like every other person is having a very good idea. These and the shiny tin ceiling remain from the former occupant, Licorous; otherwise, that place's peachy Dream Date decor quickly, thankfully, becomes a distant memory. Say what he will, Boudreau has created Seattle's latest, greatest cocktail paradise.
This article has been updated to reflect the following correction: It is Harry Johnson's Bartenders Manual, not Jerry Thomas' Bartender's Guide, that is on the bar at Canon. Harry Johnson kicks Jerry Thomas' ass.