David Nelson, the alarmingly young, intensely talented Bar and Restaurant Manager at Spur Gastropub, began his culinary career flipping burgers at Burger King. He first came to Seattle seven years ago to study philosophy at Seattle University, but found existential ease behind the bar at Ethan Stowell’s Union, where he worked from late 2003 to 2007. After stints at Campagne and now-defunct Marjorie, he opened Spur, in 2008, with chefs Brian McCracken and Dana Tough. Since then, Nelson’s sometimes foamy, sometimes fruit-muddled, always perfect cocktails have become known as some of the most innovative mixed drinks in town.
“My life is pretty much consumed with eating and drinking.” Says Nelson. “When I am not behind the bar I spend my time with my girlfriend, read philosophy books, or research spirits, wine, beer, and food. While it is true that we ‘eat to live,’ I believe that I live to eat and drink well."
Here, five questions with David Nelson.
What is the most underrated spirit?
These are technically not spirits but I would say fortified wines like port, sherry, lillet, and my favorite, Macvin Liqueur. Macvin is a fortified wine from the Jura region in France (east of Burgundy) which has been made for hundreds of years but is practically unknown in the US. It is a very cool ingredient to use and I just love the flavor.
What’s your favorite Seattle bar (other than Spur)?
I definitely won’t be the first or the last but I would have to say that Zig Zag is my favorite bar. [ Okay, that does it. I am heretoforth going to phrase this questions as “What’s your favorite bar other than ZigZag?” ] I have been drinking there since I could legally consume alcohol and it has always been my favorite place to go. The bartenders there have been like mentors for me as I have grown in the bar industry. The cocktails, the spirits selection, the masterful skill and professionalism of the bartenders, and the fact that the bar is owned and run by bartenders make it the best bar, in my humble opinion.
What drink do you order at that bar?
Honestly, I tend to drink whiskey with a beer on the side. But if I do order a cocktail, nothing beats a good sazerac.
What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen someone do in a bar?
Shaking a Manhattan is a huge faux pas, but what is even worse is lack of cleanliness. I once witnessed a disgruntled bartender, after pulling an order of his ticket printer, yawn, then pick and rub his nose for a minute or so (thinking no one was paying attention).
Then, without washing his hands or acknowledging the fact that people were in front of him and could see everything he was doing, he put his hands (the same had that was half-way up his nose) into his garnish tray, pulled out some lemons and limes, hand squeezed out the juice, and proceeded to make what they called their “house margarita.” I guess that is the house special ingredient. WASH YOUR DAMN HANDS BEFORE YOU TOUCH ANYTHING THAT GOES INTO MY DRINK!
Name three reasons you live in Seattle.
The awesome summer.
I love my job.