Talking (and writing) about cocktails is a tricky business. There are so many overwrought mixology trainwrecks out there that conversations about pairings, flavor profiles, or complex ingredients stray into insufferable territory awfully fast.
Bryn Lumsden wants to avoid this trap as he talks about his forthcoming spot Damn the Weather, and his goal of unifying the flavors coming from bar and kitchen. Fortunately Lumsden has a worthy ally in Eli Dahlin, who is coming over from Walrus and the Carpenter to be the chef de cuisine. Snail sandwiches? I'm in.
Another person shaping Damn the Weather's menu is Jay Kuehner. Customers know him largely from his years at Sambar, but Kuehner has basically attained folk hero status among Seattle bartenders, both for his aptitude with flavors, a gentlemanly demeanor, and a pretty badass outside-of-industry life (he recently curated a series of films on the frontier of Latin American cinema for Northwest Film Forum).
Kuehner showed up initially to help design the bar, but soon he and Lumsden started discussing how they might make ambitious drinks without, as Kuehner put it in one of their email exchanges, "the technical burden of molecular gastronomy, employing ingredient litanies, or fetishizing spectacular techniques."
Here's what they hit upon: Every day the menu will have an item Lumsden is calling a sequence, or active garnish. Rather than try to wrestle flavor combinations like cava, olive oil, green apple, and black lemon into a single cocktail, the bar will serve a wine or spirit (in this case, the cava) neat, along with a little plate bearing slices of green apple with olive oil and black lemon.
The idea is rooted in the culture of bar snacks—Argentinian picadas, Basque pintxos—and Kuehner's days at Sambar, where he became fond of serving neat spirits accompanied by a little burst of fruit, vegetables, herbs, or similar.
Other combos Lumsden is playing around with include grappa with honeycomb and chamomile, or white rum with cantaloupe, manzanilla sherry, and basil.
"Liquid is a weird thing," he says. Some combinations aren't best served by being jammed into the 3 ounces that constitute a cocktail. And some flavors just aren't appealing in liquid form. (The coolly vegetal crunch of a radish: good. The juiced radishes Lumsden attempted once in the spirit of research: unspeakably foul.)
The rest of the Damn the Weather menu will hold more traditionally composed cocktails (the one in the photo above looks particularly amazing) and small plates and food-drink pairings.
Lumsden and crew are in the thick of the buildout at their space on First Avenue in Pioneer Square, but he's hoping to slide into the soft opening stage by late May or early June. When that happens, Kuehner will do two shifts a week behind the bar.