We’ve all been drinking a lot around here lately (see page 28). I mean, more than usual. This story seemed like a good idea at the time. We’d seen this article in the Seattle Times about Murray Stenson, a Seattle bartender who, looking for libational inspiration, resurrected a Prohibition-era drink born in Detroit called the Last Word.
Which is, if you notice, what we call this back page here. The Last Word.
(If you’re still confused about why we’re writing this story, let me explain something vital about our mindsets: deadline pressure drunken journalists naming coincidence = obvious, excellent story idea.)
Anyway, this drink — an exquisitely balanced mix of gin, lime juice, green chartreuse and maraschino liqueur — took root at the Zigzag, the bar Stenson tends, on those steep-ass steps between Pike Place and the water. From there it spread, becoming a raging success in Seattle. So much so that two separate Seattle-area booze historians — this is an actual discipline, look it up — declared the Last Word the quintessential Seattle drink. They cited the fact that it was really good and also slightly greenish in hue, just like the Emerald City itself. From there it went international, earning accolades as far away as Sydney.
Which we found a little unfair.
Spokane is a bigger alcohol town than Seattle. We have studies (well, a study) to prove it.
On Feb. 4, Men’s Health and USA Today declared Spokane the “51st drunkest” city in America. This was based on a super-objective, and we’re sure, scientifically rigorous survey of cases of alcohol-related liver disease, DUI arrests and binge-drinking.
Yep, 51st. That’s 13 spots drunker than Seattle.
And so we asked ourselves — repeatedly, sometimes slurring the words — if America’s 64th drunkest city gets a cocktail for which it’s world-renowned (and didn’t even invent!), why shouldn’t we?
This led to us polling bartenders, which was hilarious. First we asked people: Is there a drink that Spokane is famous for?
Emily Paulson, a longtime bartender at the Satellite, had a tough time. “My initial thought is just: Bud Light,” she said, “Or PBR.” But these are universally trashy beers, we decided. Not region-specific trashy beers.
Nicele Johns at Mizuna got us there. She suggested the Spokane drink was Kokanee, a Canadian beer so mediocre, in the words of writer Jess Walter, “not even Canadians drink it.” When pressed for a cocktail, Johns offered red beer, which is, of course, just beer and tomato juice in whatever the hell proportions you want.
Several other bartenders, including Wild Sage’s Rob Cox, answered with some variant of, “anything with a sugared rim.”
The implication being that while this may be the 51st drunkest town in one of the drunker nations in our alcoholic-ass world, Spokane is still in its college swill years. We have a ways to go before we take our benders (and bartenders) seriously enough to gain international acclaim for our cocktails (despite receiving quite a bit of acclaim for our spirits).
It’ll probably be years beyond that before our first booze historian appears.
The night was young, though, so we re-fashioned the question: OK, OK, if Spokane had a signature drink we could be proud of, what would it be?
This is where things got a little sad. We heard “Bull Blaster” a number of times (as did Joel Smith, see Bar Guide page 3), but we worried that these people hadn’t heard the part about “pride.” Energy drinks and self-worth are mutually exclusive in our minds. Sorry.
We put our brains to it, refining the question further. The ideal signature drink, we thought, would have connoisseur cred and still be adored by the masses. So came the question: Is there anything that’s really popular but that you [the bartender] can stand to drink?
That’s when we got some real answers.
Clinkerdagger’s Tara Doak suggested their Lavender Cosmo, a sweet but still complex mix of Parfait Amor, Absolut Mandarin, cranberry juice, orange blossom liqueur and lime sour. There’s a sugar rim, but it’s blended with lavender. According to Doak, “A lot of the crew like it — which says a lot.”
And while Rob Cox at Wild Sage recommended the restaurant’s namesake drink, owner Tom Sciortino pointed us down-menu to the Cucumber Quince Martini — a mix of quince-infused gin, fresh cucumber, various citrus juices and a spritz of rose water.
Writer Jess Walter offered the Martinet as a current favorite. He said that Mizuna’s Brooklynd Johnson mixed the martini precursor (made with lime juice) for him and that it was “incredible.”
So, to those pushing Spokane libationally forward, we commend the following advice. Make it retro, make it complex and make it cheap. The world will thank you. Eventually.
Or we will at least — we drink historians in training, our livers pickled but our palates refined from long hours noting and poting our town’s concoctions, all created in halting pursuit of that most important human endeavor, the perfect drunk.
BAR GUIDE 2010
The Holy Grail
Looking for the perfect mixed drink in the Spokane area
The best, worst taverns around
Seeking an echo of the old scene
Confessions from area bartenders
The Last Word
Seattle has its trademark drink. What’s Spokane’s?