Taking some time off from work in the finance world, Matt Johnson, in his spare time, decided to help out behind the bar at his local watering hole in West Seattle. And that’s all it took—he was hooked. Burying himself in the history of classic cocktails, Johnson decided to try making drinks full time. Eventually he stinted behind the bar at the Metropolitan Grill. It was then a conversation started with his best friend, Jeff Gilbert, about opening a bar, because “that was every teenage boy's dream…to own a bar,” says Johnson.
Gilbert and Johnson opened the Feedback Lounge at Fauntleroy and California in 2009. The lounge has a split personality—just they way they had planned. Gilbert’s work in the music industry draws bands and artists to the neighborhood bar, while Johnson—finance man gone cocktail connoisseur—serves up the “best drinks you’ve never had.” Fans of his cocktail club would agree.
Here are a few of Matt Johnson’s favorite things:
Drink to make at home: A big, powerful gin, a splash of Benedictine, soda, and bitters. No shaking or juicing. Both of those things are infinitely messier at home for me, for some reason, than when I’m behind a bar.
Way to relax: Watching TV and reading a book at the same time, with some whiskey nearby. I’m very classy.
Place to eat or drink on an off day: I just had a great experience at Pintxo. My wife, some friends and I basically ate our way through their whole menu the other night and it was excellent. The Upstairs, which is its actual name, is a kind of hidden gem with great staff, great drinks, and an atmosphere that reminds me of a friendly neighborhood New York City bar.
Cocktail I'm most proud of: The booze geek in me wants to say some super bitter, stirred rye drink, but I gotta go with St. Basil because it’s allowed me to get people to try something new, earn some trust, and get in people’s heads a little bit. THEN I can serve them the bitter, strong, brown glass of hooch I really wanted them to drink in the first place, and they’ll enjoy it.
Work gets exciting when: During the rush, when everyone is moving quickly, gracefully, and anticipating the next move while maintaining a level of service to the customer that makes them feel like even though we’re in a hurry they're not a burden, but a guest. Also, when one of us has to intervene with a guy who won't take a hint regarding leaving a lady alone - I hate that shit.
My motto these days: With a two-yearold Norwegian/Latina ruling our lives, the closest thing I have to a motto is ‘Those are vegetables – please just try them please’.
I can't live without: Soppy, grand theme answer: wife and daughter. Food-and-drink-related Answer: pasta and Old Weller Bourbon.
Guilty pleasure: Mike’s Hard Lemonade, the one with berry flavoring also added.
Most underrated spirit: In the Northwest, rum – especially really good rum.
Hangover remedy: When I was young, Pedialyte and soda water. These days, coffee with bitters and one of the well-made, bitter coffee liqueurs that are available now—ones that don’t start with a ‘K’. Oh, and biscuits and gravy.
Best advice received: The most important thing is balance, in everything.
I love music because: It’s a kind of a parallel to my world of spirits and cocktails – I know enough to know I love both worlds, and I know enough to know I have a HUGE amount left to learn and experience.
Biggest bar-related pet peeve: The garnish tray is not a buffet. I don’t care about the eating of the bourbon cherries or olives; I care about the touching of them.
Work outfit: Jeans, nice shirt, bar towel, comfortable shoes.
The craziest Feedback Lounge story that can be committed to print is: I can’t tell you, but not because I CAN’T tell you. I just suck at retelling those kinds of things. Depending on who you believe, we do have a ghost – I’d love to hear some of his stories, but, well, you know.