You may have suspected it, but the recent Washington State Bartenders Guild inaugural party made it abundantly clear: Seattle's bartenders are mighty attractive. They're also smart: They're banding together to share knowledge, promote their craft, "secure a congenial relationship with the WSLCB and liquor companies to broaden our state's spirit portfolio" (per wsbg.org), and generally get better drinks into your thirsty but discriminating hands. As one bartender said, "Whatever I do in life, I want to learn, so it's great—I'm learning."
The party took place at what was accurately billed as "Anu and Zane's Amazing Loft." Anu Apte and Zane Harris both tend bar at Vessel, and their amazing loft in Sodo—scarred hardwood floors, billion-foot-high ceilings, Harris's art on the walls, a telephone table made of a stack of olive-green vintage vinyl luggage—has an amazing bar of its own. It's the first bar Harris ever tended, salvaged from a restaurant his parents ran in North Bend. "This bar is nicer than half the bars in Seattle," a bartender said, and while surely appreciative of the African ribbon mahogany, the bartender meant in terms of liquor. It is enviably stocked.
Bartenders took turns being the bartenders' bartender, making drinks like Bobby Burnses (Dewar's 12, sweet vermouth, and Benedictine, all liquid gold and honeyed taste) and admiring each others' skill with garnish. Guild president Andrew Friedman welcomed everyone and briefly discussed building community, the state's growing new crop of distillers ("There's one around here somewhere"), an upcoming absinthe class, and the guild's planned persuasion of the liquor board—the aforementioned securement of a congenial relationship. If you've ever gone to a bar in New York or San Francisco or Dubuque, been jealous of the bounty of spirits (and thus ever more refined or just plain odd cocktails) available, and wondered what the hell's wrong with our bars here, the answer is the historically snail-like WSLCB. Approving new liquors to be sold in state liquor stores has not been high on the board's agenda.
Neither have local distillers been a priority for the liquor board: The advent of Dry Fly Distilling last year marked the first new liquormaker in our great state since Prohibition. A couple spirit aficionados/fly fishermen/businessmen from Spokane made it so only after heroic hoop-jumping-through and great expense, paving the way for others (including the one wandering around the guild's party, from Pacific Distillery: absinthe and gin coming soon). Prior to their efforts, the state agency didn't even have procedures in place to inspect and license distilleries. With the board's pump primed for positive change—change that provides jobs, makes use of local agricultural products as fodder for the still, and lets you support our state via a nice martini—and the careful attentions of the guild, the contents of the shelves of your liquor store and your favorite watering hole should become more diverse.
"Support your local bars!" Friedman concluded, throwing in a plug for his, Liberty. He and the guild's other founders spent a lot of time talking with Daniel Shoemaker of the Oregon Bartenders Guild (and of Portland's Teardrop Cocktail Lounge), modeling the Seattle charter on Oregon's. Washington, D.C., also has an independent guild, and San Francisco is rumbling about one. Otherwise, U.S. bartenders' guilds are backed by one of the largest liquor distributors in the country.
Other bars representing at the kickoff party: Sun Liquor, Spur, Union, the Can Can, the Saint, Black Bottle, Viceroy, ToST, and more. The vaunted Jamie Boudreau, formerly of Vessel, now at Tini Bigs, was absent but is on board with the guild's good work; whether the Zig Zag's famous Murray Stenson will join remains to be seen. The guild will also connect good bartenders with good bars—as one bar manager said, "I'm looking forward to being able to find someone who knows more than how to make a vodka tonic and cares about more than whether they get a dollar tip for it."
If you're curious which new bars bartenders are looking forward to, the buzz was about the imminence of the questionably named Barrio (12th at Madison) and a Thai place opening in Bellevue called Chantanee (slated for December). While the liquor flowed freely all afternoon and into the evening, everyone was happy, no one was sloppy: These are the kind of professionals who enjoy their drinks instead of letting their drinks enjoy them. The several hundred meatballs Zane had made provided ballast. "Fucking delicious," one bartender observed, spearing a meatball with a toothpick. Attendees went home with bags full of high-grade liquor swag: Dewar's stainless-steel flasks (the kind with the lid on an arm so as to prevent loss during turbulence), Bulleit bourbon T-shirts in handsome burnt orange, thick knit caps with the Crown Royal logo embroidered in golden thread, and 42Below terry-cloth wristbands with the notification on the tag "NEW ZEALANDERS AGREE: DRINK RESPONSIBLY." Somebody better tell New Zealanders.