Back when Ian Cargill was punching the clock as a line cook and server at Lola, one of the bartenders asked him why he didn’t try his hand at bartending. “Err, I don’t know anything about drinks,” says Cargill. “It’s not about the drinks,” responded said bartender, “it’s about personality, presence.”
When you belly up to Cargill’s bar you get the feeling anything can happen. He’ll tell a joke or an anecdote about making new friends from randoms at Zig Zag. The guy next to you will fall into the conversation; and before you know it, the three of you are drinking gin and playing roulette at the Muckleshoot Casino after hours. Cargill is a charmer, and it’s no surprise he’s made a name for himself. Look for him at Tini Bigs on Sundays and Mondays, and at Vito’s on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but please don’t ask him, in that shit-people-say-to-bartenders way, “what’s good?” “That’s the worst thing you can ask,” says Cargill, “it’s booze; it’s all good.”
While Cargill enjoys mixing up and down the menu and “making good drinks well” his talent doesn’t lean on a mad-scientist, 12-ingredient mentality. His talent, like most bartenders worth a dram, like his Vito’s accomplice George St. John, is that he treats the bar like his home and the bar-goers (the well-behaved ones anyway) like friends he’s invited over for a high time.
Here, five questions for Ian Cargill.
What is the most underrated spirit and why?
Nothing is underrated for use in cocktails these days. I find that people are very eager to try just about anything in a cocktail, and there is nothing wrong with that. But have you tried a different whiskey or vermouth in your Manhattan?
What’s your favorite Seattle bar and why?
Besides Vito’s? Seriously, I don’t know why more people aren’t there more often. I told myself I would never work at Vito’s so that I could always drink there. I still can, but it’s different after you work at a place. The Zig Zag will always be the Zig Zag and it’s a fantastic bar… also Quinn’s and Rob Roy make me happy. I also hear of a restaurant opening in Fremont later this year that will be pretty cool.
What cocktail trends do you see coming this spring?
I think there will be a scaling down and streamlining of how cocktails are made. The restaurant business fundamentals don’t change because your drinks are more complex and take more time. There is also a trend I’m seeing where we are going back to hospitality and not focused so much on just the mixology. Nobody needs to go out for a drink…they go out for something to happen. The person sitting next to you is almost always more interesting than that garnish floating in your drink.
I am also hoping to see more restaurants and bar owners spend more time on the design and layout of the bar. I’m getting really tired of working behind bars that were given no thought to the people who have to work behind them. A bad bar design costs a business money, and often times it’s simply a matter of where the equipment is placed.
What drink (or type of drink) do people order most at your bar and what do you wish people ordered more of?
Old Fashioneds have become quite popular, and anything with rye. Also, muffulettas and beer.
What’s the worst thing you’ve seen someone do in a bar?
Do you want the puke story, the fight story, or the angry-86’d-drunk-who-called-me-a-racist-while-they-were-falling-down-drunk story?
A guy stumbles out of the bathroom and storms up to another man sitting at the bar and tells him that is his seat. The drunk yells at me asking where his drink went. I didn’t have any idea where his drink went because I never gave him one. Then he decides to try and fight the sober gentleman who is sitting at the bar. It ends with the bouncers dragging him out the back door like a limp fish.
These are adult beverages. If you don’t know your limits, you should drink at home. Oh, and if you say the words “the rest is for you,” make sure you have at least paid enough to cover the bill.