Five Questions for the Bartender: Seth Sempere of the Coterie Room and Suite 410
"There are reasons why bathrooms are for customers only, and those reasons usually require gloves."
The Coterie Room is perhaps the most wine-focused of Dana Tough and Brian McCracken’s three (soon to be four) establishments, but the restaurant has a lovely little bar in the back corner and behind that bar you will find Seth Sempere, dispensing the “short but sweet” house cocktail list, a lot of classics, as well as cocktail pairings and plenty of off-list creations. Other nights he’s just a few blocks away, working at Suite 410.
Sempere grew up outside of Boston and lived in Vermont for years, until late 2011 when he visited friends in Seattle and simply decided to stay. Though he didn’t have much of a learning curve in his new city, the cocktail culture in Seattle is a little different than at Sempere’s past gig in Brattleboro, population: 12,000. “If you’re going out here, you expect to get a good cocktail; you’re not going to be surprised when you do.”
Here, five questions for Seth Sempere.
1. What is the most underrated spirit?
That's kind of a tough one since these days it seems like everything is getting its due. On the whole, though, I think that rum is a spirit for which time has come. I thought I hated the stuff for a long time until I realized I just don't like Captain Morgan. There is so much variety in the rum world, everything from super funky—and sometimes almost peaty—Jamaican pot-still rums to grassy, floral agricoles. I believe there's a sipping rum for every spirit lover, and rum's mixability goes far beyond a splash of Coke or a mojito.
2. What’s your favorite Seattle bar (besides Coterie Room and Suite 410)?
One reason I love Seattle is that we have a glut of great spots to eat and drink, and no shortage of hospitable and talented cooks, servers, and bartenders. That said, Rocco's in Belltown is my go-to spot after a shift. They've got a great beer selection, a beautiful back bar, good pizza until 2am, and an awesome staff. Usually they have Duchesse de Bourgogne on draft—and she's my girl. Cafe Mecca because "honey, they're all doubles."
3. What drink do you order in that bar?
If I'm looking for a cocktail I'll usually get a Sazerac from Ben at Zig Zag. For an aperitif and some mean charcuterie I love Cure on Capitol Hill. If I find myself across the water, I always stop by the Naga Lounge in Bellevue to see what Jason or Jun are up to.
4. Tell us about your worst shift ever.
I can't really think of a single worst night. A lot—good and bad—can happen in a 12-hour shift, and even on the craziest nights there is a kind of joy in the adrenaline it takes to crank out hundreds of cocktails. But being called a Nazi for cutting someone off, having to chase people out of the bar with a big stick, and all the times my credit card system has crashed right when the happy hour crowd is ready to cash out all come to mind. Also, there are reasons why bathrooms are for customers only, and those reasons usually require gloves. And I'd like to let couples know that making out at the bar when you and the bartender are the only three people in the room really isn't cool.
5. Do you have a preferred hangover cure?
I'm a firm believer in proper hydration, so lots of water the night of. This is something I kind of insist on with customers, too, so I always greet them with a glass. If, as happens now and again, I've really overdone it, a pot of coffee, a bitters and soda, and a long shower usually set me straight enough to have breakfast by 4pm.
Find Seth at the Coterie Room Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday, and Suite 410 Thursday and Friday.