Greatness—For $9 a Drink
The Zig Zag Cafe is located behind and below the famed Pikes Market in Seattle. It's a pretty hard place to find for someone unfamiliar with the layout of this area of town. Not deterred by a crooked line of sight, I set out with my girl to find this place that has been described to me as the home of one of America's best bartenders.
Finally, after marching past a few thousand pounds of salmon, dodging construction and raindrops, backtracking, using slanted ramps, stairs, elevators and steps, we found ourselves in front of the Zig Zag Cafe. It was 4:40pm and the joint wasn't open for another 20 minutes. We hopped inside the Mexican place next door and had some Guacamole while waiting for the doors to cocktail heaven to open. Around 5pm, we both agreed, "let's give them another 10 or 15 minutes. We don't want to barge in right on the hour."
We waited and finally head across to the ZigZag at 5:15pm.
The bar was packed, with not a seat available anywhere near it. We should have known. Murray was at the helm.
Here's the deal: Murray Stenson, the Zig Zag's senior barkeep, is a great craftsman, one of the greatest mixologists in America, a font of information who loves imparting what he knows to unsuspecting sycophants at his bar, and great fun to watch.
See, this is what makes cocktails far more accessible than wine. I can sip on a perfect blend and mix of the best spirituous ingredients available, put together by one of the greatest bar keeps in America, and watch it all done right in front of my face, for a mere $9.00. What would it cost me to watch the greatest winemaker craft a great bottle of wine then have a glass? Besides it not being possible, the bottle of wine would likely put me back hundreds of dollars.
What makes Murray so important and admired is a devotion to creating drinks that simply does not exist among the vast majority of barkeeps in America. He wants to know their history. He wants to know how they can be improved and, most importantly, he wants you to taste what he tastes. Sitting at the ZigZag bar, one is likely to see Murray slide across the bar toward you a glass holding a small taste of the drink he just made for the folks down at the other end of the bar. He'll give you this taste because he spotted your attention. Ask him about some strange caraway seed-based liquor, and you'll likely get a taste. Murray wants you to taste and learn.
I had no problem with that.
I have to admit, sitting at the ZigZag bar behind which is a master mixologist has something of a "bucket-list-check-mark" quality to it in the same way that "get a golf lesson from Tiger Woods" does. But the coolest things about Murray and the ZigZag cafe is that as unlikely and expensive as it would be to play a round with or get a lesson from Tiger, I can keep going back to see Murray for about $9 a drink.