May 12th, 2007

Seattle’s ZigZag Cafe

Zig Zag Cafe

Scott Holliday, former bartender at Chez Henri and an honorary member of our Best Boston bartender list, wrote me recently about a trip to the Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle (Scott moved to Sacramento last year but will soon relocate to Montreal). His account made me want to hop on a flight to the West Coast immediately:

“Had the very good fortune of hitting the Zig Zag Cafe while in Seattle and sitting at Murray Stenson’s bar for a spell. (Actually, Kacy Fitch and Ben Dougherty are the co-owners. As bar owners willing to have Murray take the spotlight, they are as rare and gracious as their star employee — and both damn fine bartenders themselves.) He’s a great bartender, amazingly gracious and inspiring. That bar, for me, was more exciting than Pegu, Flatiron or Milk & Honey. They put out some amazing drinks (with amazingly rare ingredients) without making it an exclusive or precious experience. All drinks $8.25 and most menu items $12 or so.

“Murray gave us tastes of liqueurs from a French company, Giffard — both the ginger and an Indian-spice blend called Mangalore. Both were beautifully pure and balanced. Murray and Kacy said anything they’ve tried from Giffard was excellent, though sadly it’s not available in the U.S. Also, just to satisfy my incredulity at what ingredients sat before me (see photo), they poured us tastes of Suntory Hermes Violets (you know, the nearly unobtainable descendent of dead-and-gone Creme Yvette) and, from the Firenze distiller L’Officina Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, Elisir di Edimburgo (a bitters) and Alkermes (an ancient medicinal bitter and supposedly the predecessor to Campari). And then for comparison an Alkermic made for Murray in San Francisco. All the while I watched Murray and Kacy carefully mix drink after drink, and with few exceptions consistently reaching for one of the Zig Zag’s impressive collection of bitters and herbals including Zwack Unicum, Torani Amer, both Amer Picons, Cynar, Fernet Branca, Branca Menta, VEP and yellow Chartreuse, and multiple Absinthe substitutes …

“Then we started on cocktails. I know, I’m a name dropping bore, but I’ve been so starved for the talk and craft of good drink I can’t help myself.

“It was on my second visit that I had the chance to chat with Ben Dougherty, and he introduced me to the Creole (variation). If I had the ingredients at home, or if they existed anywhere in Sacramento (gingerale isn’t even stocked in the bars here — if you order whiskey and ginger you get whiskey and 7up with a splash of Coke), I’d probably be half fluent in Creole by now or at the very least constantly slurring, ‘Laissez les bon temps roulez.’ It was also he who handed me Ted Saucier’s ‘Bottom’s Up’ to show me the recipe, essentially making me about $50 poorer by pointing out yet another void in my library. Hello eBay!”

Keep in touch, Scott.

Permalink | Filed under Bitters, Cocktails, Liqueur, Seattle |

9 Responses to “Seattle’s ZigZag Cafe”

  1. Rachele

    I’ve heard from several people how awesome Murray and the ZigZag are…it makes me want to hop a flight to Seattle too! In fact, it’s a couple of my friends who are keeping him stocked with Hermes Violet. It’s widely available here in Japan, though I’ve heard that it’s being discontinued. I hope that’s a false rumor, though I’ve stocked up just in case!

  2. ljclark

    Holy sh*t, Rachele! Three questions:

    1. Can we petition the makers of Hermes Violet to continue production?
    2. What’re you doing in Japan?
    3. Where can you get a good cocktail there?

  3. Stephen

    i was gonna make some creme de violette…. but the price of the pedals are cost prohibitive…. (anyone wanna rob their mothers garden and hook me up?)

    i just ordered two pounds of elder flower leaf and supposedly it infuses well (aromatic and not highly bitter). st. germain is pretty good. but i want to make mine with a sugar content so i can make a 2:1:1 gin, elder cordial, lemon with the same brix as maraschino ergo an aviation….. w00t w00t my refractometer skillz are 1337!

    i had st. germain at zuzu recently…. she threw down my strange request like it was nothing…. unfortunately no orange bitters but real serous none the less….

  4. Br. Cleve

    Hermes Violet!! I love Seattle, but I may just head straight to Japan! I was given an ancient bottle of Creme D’Yvette a few years back by a certain cocktail doctor, who’d dug up a case in France somewhere. My fave drink was the Blue Moon – Yvette, gin and lemon juice. I’d like to try one of those with the Hermes!

  5. murray stenson

    In addition to the Hermes Violet and Orange Bitters, they also have a killer Orange Curacao. Thanks for the kind words about the ZigZag.

  6. ljclark

    …and ZigZag bartender Mr. Murray Stenson himself weighs in! Thanks for joining in, and thanks for the tip on the Orange Curacao.

  7. Caryn

    just spent 6 days in seattle and 3 nights at the zig zag cafe. The first night i was by myself and sat mesmerized by the style and passion that Murray put into each drink. The different bitters, the eye droppers of house made elixirs, the unique and dazzling array of liquors all made me want to try more. Egg whites whipped to order for meringue toppers!! Murray and Casey were gracious hosts, letting me try different cocktails as they were made. The next night I showed up with about 10 people also visiting, just so I could prove this great place existed. The place is nothing fancy, but warm and welcoming, and beckoning me back!

  8. ljclark

    Wow, Caryn, spending half your Seattle visit in the ZigZag — that’s quite a testament to what Murray et al. are doing there. Thanks for the report!

  9. Robin

    I had the pleasure of Zig Zag with the amazing Murray this week – it’s everything it’s hyped to be and more – there’s so much so many other bartenders and owners could learn from here – and some delicious cocktails! Murray is truly a gem! I LOVED the celery bitters from Germany that I’ve not had anywhere else (yet…)

    Thanks also to Robbie McGrath at Matt’s in the Market for pointing me in the right direction – he has his own excellent bar operation going on at a much more modest scale, but with amazing food as well!

    I hope I can get back to Seattle again very soon!

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