The Watering Hole: The Zig Zag Café, 1501 Western Ave., 625-1146, DOWNTOWN
The Atmosphere: For 14 years, the Zig Zag, on the Pike Street Hillclimb below Pike Place Market, has been a destination bar for Seattle's drinking class. Murray Stenson, a celebrity among cognoscenti, took this place to the next level, a run capped last year when he was named America's best bartender by a vote of his peers and Zig Zag made Esquire's list of "15 Bars Every Man Should Drink In Before He Dies."
Murray's gone now, off to new challenges at Canon on Capitol Hill. Meanwhile, the Zig Zag lives on, with Erik Hakkinen leading a staff of 'tenders who bring their own talents to the bar, having benefited from the opportunity to learn at the side of an icon.
There's no longer quite the buzz there used to be surrounding this warm, intimate space, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. For one thing, it's easier to get a seat, especially at the bar, where you can watch the staff work their magic. That's where we are a little after 5 on a Monday afternoon, poised to take full advantage of one of the best happy-hour deals in town.
The Barkeep: Ben Perri is a transplanted New Yorker. He's from Long Island, just like our mayor, but has a genuine friendliness and charisma that Mike McGinn can only dream of.
Perri has been behind the bar here for two and a half years. "I was coming here as a customer; loved the place," he explains. "[I] wanted to work here, and [went] home and tried to replicate the drinks.
"I wouldn't want to work anywhere else," he volunteers without prompting. And working with Stenson for two years was "the most amazing learning experience. Watching the way he interacted with people. The sheer love he has for his work, and the way he brought that out in me. Just a full-on mentor."
The Drink: Evan Williams, a smooth-sippin' bourbon, the pride of Bardstown, Ky., going all the way back to 1783, puts the fire into Satan's Soulpatch, along with dry French (Dolin) and sweet Italian (Cinzano) vermouth, Grand Marnier, fresh orange juice, and orange bitters, over ice, shaken and strained into a martini glass.
The Verdict: Make no mistake, this is a strong cocktail, with a seductively sweet citrus tang and a pleasingly substantial mouthfeel. You'll want to drink more than one, and at $6 a pop during happy hour (5–7 p.m.), you probably should. It's also a Zig Zag original: Co-owner Kacy Fitch came up with it almost two decades ago, riffing on the gin-based Satan's Whiskers. It could well coax you to the dark side . . . assuming you weren't there already.