It’s a shame “best kept secret” is such a silly clichéd phrase, because tiny Sambar —situated along a pedestrian-unfriendly stretch of NW Market Street behind parent restaurant Le Gourmand —is most definitely one of Seattle’s best kept secrets.

First there’s the design. You’d be hard pressed to find such well-achieved whimsy anywhere else in the city; the place has a nonchalant cheeky-yet-classy beauty, like something out of one of the more restrained Almodóvar films. (“Restrained” being a relative term, of course.)

“Oh yeah,” patrons think, walking into Sambar for the first time, “I can have a good time here.”

But it get better from there, because as any cocktail-loving chef in town will tell you, Sambar bartender Jay Kuehner is as good as it gets in Seattle. Thin, graceful, with the hairstyle and fashion proclivities of a studio art prof at a liberal arts college, Kuehner calls himself “a reluctant mixologist.” And while other bartenders advertise their abilities to mix any drink “you name the spirit,” Kuechner lets the cocktail waitresses disclose his considerable skills. “He can make anything!” one once told me. And it’s true.

Here, five questions with Jay Kuehner.

What is the most underrated spirit?

To each his own, I suppose, but it would be hard to nominate just one. Fruit eaux de vie, for one: Poire Williams, Prunelle Sauvage, Framboise, Mirabelle, Myrthe. They are sorely under-represented in the Seattle market and not often demanded by consumers. Also rum, particularly Rhum Agricole from Martinique, and tequila and mezcal. Finally, a word for Amari and their kin, although they’re not thought of as spirits. It would be nice to have Picon and Suze along with our Antica and Campari.

What’s your favorite Seattle bar?

Depends on the day of the week! I could give shoutouts to a number of bartenders and their respective bars: Vessel, Sun Liquor, Tavern Law, ZigZag, Rob Roy, Hazlewood …you know who you are. But for personal more than industry reasons I’m fond of a few: the bar at
Maneki – time seems to stand still here. And if FC Barcelona is playing, a seat at the George and Dragon bar with a view of the telly and very little interruption. And there’s the Roanoke Inn on Mercer Island.

What drink do you order at that bar?

Shochu and a beer at Maneki, tequila and apple cider at George and Dragon, tequila and a beer at Roanoke.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen someone do in a bar?

Bring a very kind and beautiful cocktail waitress to tears.

Name three reasons you live in Seattle.

The people.
The landscape.
The view from Discovery Park loop trail, pushing the pace.


Get to know Seattle’s best bartenders: find more Five Questions interviews here.

[Photo: H_Malcolm]

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