Behind the bar
Five Questions for the Bartender: Quentin Ertel
The man behind the Saint and Havana muses on mezcal, Sambar, and witnessing the so-called Sneaker Riot.
Born in Brooklyn, Quentin Ertel moved to Seattle 14 years ago. Since then he’s toiled away in notable waterholes like the Showbox, Palace Kitchen, and Luau Polynesian Lounge. In 2005, he left a gig as GM of Viceroy (Now Rob Roy. See that story here) and opened Havana on Capitol Hill in 2006. April ninth will mark the anniversary of his second bar, The Saint, another Capitol Hill canteen. (Signature cocktail El Santo comes highly recommended by this blog.)
Here, five questions for Quentin Ertel.
What is the most underrated spirit?
Right now, I’m infatuated with mezcal. A friend has been bringing me back bottles from Mexico. In the way that Armagnac is overlooked in favor of cognac, mezcal is like the brilliant lesser-known cousin of tequila. There are different single-village mezcals that run the taste spectrum—from bitter and earthy to sweet and floral. It tastes kind of ancient.
What’s your favorite Seattle bar (other than the Saint and Havana)
My answer here really depends on the day of the week. I love eating at the bar at Maneki. I love the Dynasty Room at the Four Seas, and I love Sun Liquor. But when it comes down to it, I have to go with Sambar on any night that Jay is working. It’s like this outpost of innovation. Sambar elevates everything.
What drink do you order at that bar?
Anything with tequila, and always bartender’s choice.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen someone do in a bar?
Wow. I’ve kind of seen it all, so I’m hard to impress. I’ve seen everything from knife fights to giant floods to public sex and heroin overdoses—and I’ve worked in some pretty nice places! But the prize has to go the Sneaker Riot: a bar brawl that turned into three fights, then five, then twenty. Someone set off a canister of pepper spray, and about 600 people spilled out into the street. It became a full-scale situation: bricks thrown at cops, hoses sprayed at rioters, gunshots in the air. Dozens and dozens of fights. We watched the entire thing from the roof of the bar, and it was just mayhem. The crowd ended up doing a bit of looting at a sneaker store up the street, hence the name. The things people do for the latest in footwear!
Name three reasons you live in Seattle.
Snowboarding in the winter.
Hot fun in the summertime.
It’s one of the top three cities in the country to be a boozehound. (And closing in on number one!)
Wanna know what the other two cities are? Ask Quentin yourself on April ninth, when he’ll be hosting the Saint’s anniversary party. He’s promising a mariachi band and piñatas, among other things.