I’m going out on a tipsy limb, but I think we have the best bartenders in the world. Seattle has an abundance of bartending superheroes who are convivial, courteous (mostly!) and, most important, creators of delicious cocktails. We asked a few of our favorites about what drinks they’re serving up, where they go to unwind and what they’re sipping for inspiration.
Bar Manager, Rob Roy
Working at a renowned cocktail bar like the Rob Roy can be a challenge, knowing the history that’s behind each drink served, but Kathleen Manley has certainly put her stamp on the cocktails since starting there. But she not only can serve you a perfect drink – she can suggest a better hairstyle. We recently chatted with her about the bar, teaching cocktail classes, and her ability to cut hair.
1. You’ve tended bar at the legendary Rob Roy for a couple of years now. What’s changed most about the bar since you’ve been there?
Rob Roy has always been dedicated to providing attentive, professional service in addition to quality drinks. As the cocktail scene expands and people have so many options for places to get a rare whiskey or a uniquely crafted cocktail, I think it becomes even more important to remember the value of hospitality. We have been in the neighborhood for more than five years now and pride ourselves on having a solid group of local regulars and industry folks who come to unwind when they finish their work day.
2. You’ve also started teaching classes at Swig Well, the cocktail-and-drink class series run by Rob Roy owner Anu Apte. What kinds of classes have you taught?
The class I teach is a Bartending 101 course designed for working bartenders who want to improve their technique and basic knowledge of drink making. It's also a relevant course for amateur cocktail enthusiasts who enjoy entertaining at home.
3. How do you like teaching? More or less than bartending?
I often have guests ask me questions about what I am doing as I work, and I enjoy talking about the practice of bartending. Teaching is an opportunity to give a smaller group of people my undivided attention and go into greater detail. I don't like it more than bartending, but I do appreciate the opportunity to have a different experience behind the bar.
4. You also just graduated from cosmetology college. Please tell us you aren’t leaving bartending?
I am officially a licensed cosmetologist! I love my job – that's why I have been doing it so long – and I don't plan to entirely quit, at least not right away. I have a BA in art and design and have been seeking an opportunity to exercise my aesthetic muscles a bit more. I also think it's important to have a variety of skills and interests. It helps me be a more well-rounded person and ultimately a more dedicated professional.
5. Has thinking about styles and cutting for hair influenced your cocktail creating, or vice versa?
In both cases I am providing a service experience that improves my guest's day and makes him or her want to return. A person might have a sense of what he or she wants, but lack the industry language to ask for it. My job is to start a conversation that helps people feel comfortable and ultimately get what they want. Intuition is important, as is listening. It’s always fun to get to know someone’s style well enough to suggest something new they might like.
6. You’ve created some amazing drinks, including one of our all-time Rob Roy favs, the Leaf and Silo. What do you think about when starting to craft a new cocktail?
I start with a single ingredient I want to use. That's usually the base spirit (although not always). With the Leaf and Silo, I was using Basil Hayden bourbon, which has a high rye content. Rye made me think of caraway, a flavor I love. I also tasted some subtle notes of spearmint in the bourbon alone, so I thought that might be an interesting flavor to enhance. From there it's a matter of balancing acidity, astringency, texture, sweetness, making sure all the flavors are balanced and nothing is lost or overwhelming. Often the drink I end up with is pretty different from what I expected when I started.
7. When you’re not making cocktails, but going out to drink them, where do you like to go, and what’s your regular drink?
I prefer sweet, bitter, herbal flavors so I sometimes drink a Negroni or Martinez before dinner. But I actually have about 12 regular drinks, depending on the season, time of day, day of the week . . . I like everything, so I drink everything! I like to go places where I know I will receive warm service, no matter what style of establishment it is. I go to Single Shot and Sun Liquor in Capitol Hill, Standard Brewing in the Central District, and Zig Zag downtown. Everyone should have a friendly local pub; mine's the Streamline Tavern in Queen Anne because I can walk there and bring my dog. And I do drink at Rob Roy on my days off sometimes, because it's the best!
Up Next: Seven questions for Jesse Poole