Tuesday, January 26, 2010


"Having heard, or more probably read somewhere, in the days when I thought I would be well advised to educate myself, or amuse myself, or stupefy myself, or kill time, that when a man in a forest thinks he is going forward in a straight line, in reality he is going in a circle, I did my best to go in a circle, hoping in this way to go in a straight line. For I stopped being half-witted and became sly, whenever I took the trouble… and if I did not go in a rigorously straight line, with my system of going in a circle, at least I did not go in a circle, and that was something."--Samuel Beckett

Sometimes the shortest route is not a straight line. It's a zig zag. A couple weeks back, after a long circuitous journey through Seattle's drinking holes, restaurants, brewpubs and surly dives over a period of years, I finally discovered my favorite bar. Off the beaten path, on the Pike Place Hill Climb tucked under the Market, rests the Zig Zag Cafe, a justifiably well regarded bar where the cocktails are touched by genius. That genius in question is bartender Murray Stenson (that's him up above, not Samuel Beckett after all), a man who resurrects classic drinks and creates some classics of his own with homemade bitters and infusions and surprising ingredients. Murray was voted one of the ten best bartenders in the world by Playboy Magazine:

“Inspired by a vintage cocktail book from the 1950s, Zig Zag Cafe senior bartender Murray Stenson resurrected a classic cocktail known as 'the last word' (made with gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and lime juice), tested it on some customers and realized he'd discovered a goldmine of a great drink. Mixologists from as far as New York and London subsequently added it to their cocktail lists—flattery, not theft, according to Stenson—and his career has continued to soar.”

The Zig Zag is definitely NOT the place to got for a Fuzzy Navel, Sex on the Beach, or any of those other sorority girl drinks. Stick to the sports bars for that. The Zig Zag is strictly old school, no flatscreen ballgames, no extreme fajitas or jalapeno shooters, this is old school with a new twist, hip and urban and subdued, where people sit and talk and a film noir private eye might meet someone over drinks.

We started there, en route to Cafe Campagne for a birthday dinner. We liked the place immediately. I started with an Armistice Cocktail, a drink made with rye, dry vermouth, maraschino, green chartreuse and bitters. It was a great way to start celebrating my birthday. Wendy had a Trident--aquavit, cynar, dry sherry and peach bitters. From there, I had a Finnish Fly--bourbon, sweet vermouth, gran marnier, absinthe and bitters. It didn't take much before we fell in love with this tiny unassuming bar, and I guess we weren't the only ones.

“Ben Dougherty and partner Kacy Fitch pore over old cocktail guides in search of quirky forgotten recipes to serve at Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle-like this pleasantly bitter gin drink that calls for the unlikely pairing of Dubonnet, a sweet French aperitif, and Fernet Branca, a bitter Italian digestif.” -- Food and Wine

"When owners Ben Dougherty and Kacy Fitch aren't behind the bar shaking up concoctions like the Aviation (gin, maraschino liqueur, and lemon juice), you'll likely find the inimitable Murray Stenson, arguably the city's best barkeep. Bring in a favorite cocktail recipe for Stenson to make or, better yet, ask him to invent a drink in your honor.” -- Bon Appetit

Of course,
if you're not feeling so adventurous Murray can also make a fine martini. In fact, it was recently voted the best martini in town. See you there.

Zig Zag Cafe
1501 Western Ave
Downtown Seattle

Zig Zag is open daily from 5pm-2am. Happy Hour is 5-7pm on weekdays (featuring $5 specials on house drinks). With a selection of whiskeys, brandies, tequila & rums is one of the best in the state. Their cocktail list won Best Classic Cocktail List at 2007's Tales of the Cocktail. http://www.zigzagcafe.net/


Bob Rini said...

We went to the Zig Zag again for Wendy's birthday before dinner, and I had the "last word" and it was refreshing and delicious, a great classic drink recovered from the dustbin of history by Murray the bartender. Didn't stop there, however, and tasted a few more excellent drinks, including my favorite, "The Armistice." Wendy love Aquavit, so she had a "Trident."

Unknown said...

Absolutely love this bar.... I'm on a quest to find its equal. Think it is likely I will find the holy grail first.

Great staff and the most interesting and amazing cocktails...

Also where else can you get an alligator gumbo or a bison rib-eye (both are fabulous)?