I had a chance to visit Seattle this Summer with my family. Since we had the kids with us, I didn't get a chance to do a real detailed exploration of this, one of America's premier cocktail towns, but I made sure to have enough time to hit a few highlights, and to get a feel for the general cocktail environment in town. For a variety of reasons, I will lead with a review of Liberty, at 517 15th Ave. E. (@LibertyLovesYou on Twitter) Liberty is the love child of cocktail warriors Andrew Friedman and Keith Waldbauer. Andrew started Liberty in 2006, with Keith joining him later, so that makes this a very well-established and long-lived high-end bar. I've known, or at least "internet known", Keith since I started blogging, as his now fallow Moving at the Speed of Life was one of the first cocktail blogs I read and among the first such blogs written by a working pro. Liberty and its owners take great care to characterize it as "just a neighborhood bar", rather than some Fancy Dan Craft Bar. This is a load of bull fritters. I insist that this is a fabulous, high-end bar. From the back wall (pictured above) full of a head-spinning array of ingredients headlined by a magnificent but not over the top selection of whisk(e)ys, to the menu filled with a great selection of classics and modern creations, to each and every drink that I saw placed before me or any other customer, Liberty is a cocktail lover's dream. This is place with drinks like the Point of No Return, which simply lists fire among its ingredients. (If you visit Liberty, be sure to try one. It's both delicious and a lot of fun to watch being made.) There is also an excellent balance between the types of drinks on the menu. Andrew and Keith offer not just a wide variety of spirit bases and flavor profiles, but also what I'll call "levels" of drinks. Many craft palaces I enter have menus of naught but ridiculously baroque concoctions that will be awesome to talk about with one's fellow geeks at Tales of the Cocktail, but are too bitter, complex, or simply weird for anyone else. There are drinks here for the snob who isn't "on duty" that evening, and the "training wheels" offerings still have something of interest to be learned from. That said, Liberty also really is a neighborhood joint. Liberty's location is one of the things that really strikes me about it. It is is located on a fairly modest stretch of retail shopping in a quiet residential neighborhood, rather than in the restaurant, tourist, or entertainment districts where most "serious" craft bars dwell. Tourists like me are an anomaly in Liberty, and businessmen drinking here are likely doing so on their own dime, rather than an expense account. As a result, the prices are almost shockingly modest for such offerings. To satisfy the Licensing Gods' demand for food service, not to mention that of any reasonable drinker's stomach, Liberty has the elegant and tasty solution of devoting about five feet of its bar to a sushi counter, with one or two cutters as demand warrants. The place has that well-used feel of many older bars, the kind that have been open forever, have seen weddings and wakes, sometimes for the same customer, yet never ever feel run-down, through the sheer force of the love and responsibility of its proprietors. The seating is comfortable, both at the bar and around the room. The bar itself is moderately sized and fits in visually, rather than dominating the space like some altar to the Gods of Fernet and Angostura. There is even a large back room for meetings and private parties, but which is essentially invisible to the regular clientele. Your average oblivious Jack and Coke drinker could make of Liberty his Third Place happily for years and never care or even realize that he was spending his time in a temple of high-end concoctions. And this last point, the seamless melding of tavern and cocktail palace is what makes Liberty so interesting to me and, so important to the craft movement. Craft cocktails as an industry have had a fascinating decade-plus of growth now, and are in a different stage of development in nearly every city in America. When you travel like I do all over the country killing people, you can move forward and backward through the whole history of the craft, using airline or auto as your time machine. Many locales still have yet to see the first blush of our passion; the only "lime" in bars still has with the word "Rose's" writ upon the bottle. Other cities have merely discovered the joys, and the commercial possibilities, of fresh or more exotic ingredients. Many, like my own Columbus, have a few restaurants and bars that are making a try at true high-end drinks. And cities like Seattle or New York have reached the point where the craft bars are a well-understood phenomenon, and most high-end restaurants have reached the point of having to offer competitive programs of their own. But like any movement that is reaching maturity, at least in some markets, there is now a lot of angst about where to go from here. Because the simple facts are, craft cocktails made with exotic syrups, or oddball bitters, or cinnamon smoke, are not for everyone. And even among those who do enjoy them, they are unprepared to drink them all the time. There are very real limits to speed of growth and profitability in the craft movement. This is why bars like Liberty, and Anvil in Houston, and to some extent Passenger or Bourbon in Washington, DC, are so significant, and why I admire them so much. These are places that serve all drinkers well, not just our specific clientele. The aforementioned Mr. Jack and Coke can happily hang out there with his buddy Mr. Vieux Carre. And Mr. Sazerac can find the opportunity to hit on Miss Greyhound here. (Mr. Grey Goose Martini, don't waste your time hitting on Miss Knob Creek Old-Fashioned. It's not going to end well for you.) Bar like Liberty are where previously undiscovered reserves of cocktail lovers (as opposed to cocktail drinkers) will be uncovered. The easy atmosphere provides no barrier to entry for the uninitiated (quite the contrary), but the magnificent offerings are the sort that can open doors and minds. If you visit Seattle, take the time one evening to cab your way to Liberty and settle in for a great evening. If you live there, this is the kind of place you take your uninitiated friends when they are resisting being initiated....abc
Well, in a few days the PeguWife and I are off. The munchkins will be ensconced at camp, the house-sitter will be ensconced here, and we will have several weeks to travel, have fun, and try to explore as many of America's best bars, in some of its best bar cities, as we can! We start with a jaunt to Kentucky to visit the Makers Mark and Four Roses distilleries. There are more great stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, but these two produce several products that have permanent shelf space in my home bar, and each has a fun story for me to tell you. After that, we begin the bar hop proper. We go from Washington, DC, to Boston, to San Francisco (and Sonoma), and finally Portland, OR. These are four serious cocktail locales, folks. They also have the added benefit of being home to some of my best blogging buds as well. Getting to meet a dozen or so of the best cocktail writers on the internet is a major motivation for this entire enterprise. I have bars picked out already to visit in each of these cities, chosen through my reading and also through the good advice of my local contacts. But I'm always looking for more options and advice. So if you have a favorite craft cocktail bar in these cities, or better, if you have your own craft bar thereabouts that you'd like me to visit, let me know.... I'll keep everybody posted on my progress, and try to blog as much as I can as we go along. UPDATE: Here are the Cities and Posts I've written up so far:
I'm happy to have discovered another cocktail blogger who actually works at this, Andrew Bohrer, of the blog Caskstrength. Andrew can carve an ice ball in 42 seconds, and creates famous bartender action figures out of Legos. I ran across Andrew's blog because he is hosting the next Mixology Monday. The theme this month is MxMo: Tom Waits.
Mecca the US Northwest, where Andrew keeps the counter clean.
View Pegu Blog BlogBarCrawl in a larger map abc
Wait. What the hell does that even mean? I've seen Tom Waits, and I'm not looking forward to him as an ingredient.It took me a bit to puzzle it out myself, but Andrew has come up with a very cool idea. This month we are not so much to present a drink, as a drinking story. I assume that including a good recipe as well will not be looked at amiss, but it doesn't seem necessary. Waits is the bard of late-night leaning on the mahogany, no matter which side, so Andrew invites us to tell a favorite drinking tale. I have missed the last several MxMos because, well, I had nothing interesting to contribute, and you can only get away with crap like this once. I do have a story or two which are legen.., wait for it..., dary, but I'll have to see if I can cast one in a light that works with a Tom Waits soundtrack. In the meantime, I get to explore a lot of cool music. Lots of you who blog, but not usually about cocktails, might want to take this opportunity to try getting into a MxMo. The other reason for this post is to mention that I added Andrew to the BlogBarCrawl, and to pimp that feature of the blog to any new readers I have accumulated since I first added it. Lots of us travel, and if you are into cocktails, what better information to have than an indication of where to get a drink from someone who obviously cares about good drinks? After all, there aren't too many cocktail bloggers out there writing odes to sour mix or their newly discovered, wicked awesome, pre-made strawberry daiquiris. These guys (and gals) care about that they are making enough to write about it. And even if the blogger in question isn't working when you drop in, you'll still likely be in a reasonably caring establishment. Next time you are in a strange city, take a look at the BlogBarCrawl and check out someplace cool. And if you are a blogging bartender and your joint ain't on the list, please let me know! The main link to the BlogBarCrawl is in the left sidebar, but I'll embed a smaller map, zoomed in on
View Pegu Blog BlogBarCrawl in a larger map abc
some none of you may have noticed, I have failed to participate in Mixology Monday for a while. Shame on me. I do hope to manage it this April 26th, when McSology will be hosting MxMo XLVIII: Pain in the Ass Drinks!
I had missed Mike McSorley's blog before now, but was excited to see it, since Mike is a working bartender. I love the special insights a boozeblogger has if he or she actually does this stuff for a living. I also love finding new bloggers who work behind the mahogany, because it gives me an excuse to update the BlogBarCrawl. Check it out when you are traveling, so you can know where to drink and have some inside conversation as well! You'll find Mike's place of work, the Naga Cocktail Lounge, pinned on the map in Bellevue, Washington.abc
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