Where do you meet a bartender for a drink? At the Zig Zag Cafe, where the bartenders' bartender, the world-famous Murray Stenson, does his alchemy. At 10:00 p.m. on a Thursday night, the bar is already full of supplicants. A second-row stand-up table is as close as you can get to an audience with the great one. The Zig Zag is hidden away halfway up the Pike Street Hill Climb; it's a nice place, not overposh. Murray—to bartenders and aficionados, he is the only Murray—doesn't need decor, just his billions of bottles. Above his obviously open bar, the tiny "BAR OPEN" sign is illuminated; back by the kitchen, a pirate flag flies. Candles and anticipation provide a glow.
Murray's demonstrating how he got the nickname Murr the Blur, mixing drinks at an aneurysm-inducing speed. Brandi says that when you're that busy, it's more fun—that's what you're there for, that's what you thrive on. She guesses all bartenders have at least a mild case of ADD. Brandi is a bartender at Lowell's, maybe a block away as the crow flies, making her a lucky bartender indeed, especially since Lowell's closes around nine: The Zig Zag can be her after-work bar. "Murray is magic," she says.
Of her namesake, Brandi says, "I don't hate brandy, but brandy sometimes hates me." She's what she calls a "dirty old man drinker," meaning she prefers bourbon and tequila. She orders the Choke Artist, which is tequila, Cynar (the artichoke liqueur from Italy), dry sherry, and orange bitters. It is declared raisiny and earthy. It is loved. For brandy, Brandi recommends the Alabazam: brandy, triple sec, lemon, and Angostura bitters. It's served up and cold, but it has a sideways richness and the warmth of a glassful of sun.
Brandi sometimes dots the "i" in her name with a heart, but only in jest. "Do I look like a Brandi to you?" she asks. She does not. What Brandi looks like is Velma from Scooby-Doo: short, dark hair, squared-off dark-framed glasses. (She says her dog looks like Scooby, too: "I didn't do it on purpose.") She's possessed of the quality that'll have you telling secrets nearly immediately, with total confidence that they'll be kept. She's a cocktail nerd, but she recognizes that people like what they like. At Lowell's, she'll lure a tourist from Nebraska into a better drink, running down a flight of stairs to the produce stand to get fresh grapefruit and herbs for their greyhound. She loves making drinks for fishmongers, businessmen, British people, and middle America, sometimes all at once, watching (and doubtless helping) everyone get along. She's a little bit magic herself.