Like anything worthwhile, a night at Zig Zag Café must be earned. From the fish merchants at Pike Place Market, you’ll take stairs, worn wooden ramps, a skybridge, more stairs. Its location renders Google Maps useless. Still, people find it. By 5 p.m. the dozen barstools are almost always filled. Patrons come for the easy conversation and the drink-all-day coziness. Above all, though, they come for the cocktails of Murray Stenson. The man is effortlessly talented, a bartender superhero. In fact, he may be the country’s best.
It’s not obvious. Murray is not theatrical. He does not wear arm garters or shake things above his head. His endless energy is more about efficiency. Speed. Simplicity. We’ve seen him glance at a long recipe brought in by a guest, then leave. Did he blow that guy off? After forty-five seconds, he returned with the drink. “Good find!” he said. There is no way he memorized that recipe. There is no way he found the ingredients so quickly. There is no way the cocktail is any good. But thenyou sip. And you understand. Each drink Murray pours is a mini-revelation, an introduction to rare spirits and a bold use of common ones. Behold the Sayonara, whose slow, intense pepper-infused-tequila burn can only be soothed by the sourness from a sip of the same drink: fire and extinguisher in a single glass.
Still, if you ever have doubts about Murray’s talents, do this: Sit near the end of the crescent bar. Peek behind it. Look closely at his workstation. Five drink racks. About twelve bottles in each. Artfully tiered from floor to torso, like a medieval organ powered by Dubonnet, kirsch, and Tuaca. If you think any ordinary bartender could play such an instrument, you’d be wrong.
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