How long have you been bartending?
Off and on since 2004, in college. I took bartending more seriously when I moved back to Seattle in 2010 from California.
What do you love most about your job?
Building community. That's the one thing I've always been enamored with. I love when I get to see regulars become good friends. And whether I see them once a week, five times a week, or once a month, it's always nice to catch up where they last left off with the stories of their lives.
What qualities make a good bar-tender?
The ability to execute a great cocktail while also maintaining some kind of engagement with your guest. And also just being genuine and caring, and having empathy and compassion as well, knowing how to read the situation right. You can definitely tell when someone comes in, and you know they're one drink or even one conversation away from having their day be completely turned around. Possibly going from a really bad day to you changing that narrative and making it a better rest of the day or weekend for them.
"If you take me to the bathroom, I would like to handle your fingerlings." [Oliver's Twist has fingerling potatoes on its food menu.]
What can't you drink anymore after bartending for so long?
I definitely can't drink Scotch anymore. Not the way I used to. I studied jazz in college, and after college, I moved to New York for a bit and spent time out there in my early to mid 20s. I had this idea that I could be like all those jazz greats, sitting in a cigar-smoke-filled room playing jazz and drinking Scotch. I probably burned a hole in my esophagus.
Current drink of choice?
Any variation of a Negroni or boulevardier. It's classic, it's spirit-forward, it has a nice citric essence from the oils in the orange peels that are used as garnish. It's kind of a litmus test, as well. If I go to a new bar, or anywhere new, I'll order a Negroni or boulevardier; if they ruin that cocktail, then I'll just have a beer and a shot.
Drink you make best?
It sounds pretty standard, but I like to think I make a really mean old-fashioned (I add a little essence of orange oil, so it balances out the Angostura bitters), or a really mean manhattan as well. My pisco sours are pretty top-notch, too.
Least favorite drink to make?
When I make it, I will make it to a tee, and make it look beautiful, but I definitely have a hard time making a Ramos gin fizz. I worked at a bar once, for a friend, and he put the gin fizz on the brunch menu. It's one of those cocktails where you can go through one shift and not sell one, or you can go through one shift and all it takes is one person dropping it off to a table and it piques everyone's interest. Next thing you know, you have 12 gin fizzes lined up to be made.
Favorite place to drink?
If I'm looking for a good cocktail, I love going to Rob Roy. I think they do a good job, and it has a nice ambience if I'm having a date night with my girlfriend. Otherwise, I'm one for any of your local watering holes—the Shanghai Room up in Greenwood is a good spot. If I feel like playing video games, Coindexter's up on Greenwood as well.
What do you do when you're not slinging drinks?
I spend a lot of time listening to records or walking my dogs—I have a Labrador-rottweiler mix, his name is Django (like the movie), and a pitty mix, his name is Bender. I'm usually spending a lot of time with them, or with my girlfriend, Audrey. I'm a big homebody—I spend a lot of time reading. Or if the weather is nice, I'm outdoors cruising the neighborhood
Karuna isn't just a bartender at Oliver's Twist in Phinney Ridge (6822 Greenwood Ave N), where he's been for the past few years—as of August 2017, he's also the owner.