Chris Zulueta behind the counter at Le Zinc. Courtesy of Chris Zulueta.

He's a Tennessee native, but bartender Chris Zulueta's approach to spirits is perfect for Seattle's tastebuds. At Le Zinc he focuses on complexity and versatility—particularly with gin and fruit brandies. He's also not afraid to get creative with flavor, like crafting cocktails with Lillet and and IPA.

The drinks at Zinc are Parisian-esque and absolutely loaded, not to mention the absinthe fountains and hand-churned salted butter. During the daily 4-6 happy hour, signature cocktails are half the usual cost, wine and beer pours start at $3, and shockingly heaping plates of Penn Cove mussels go for half price, between $7-8 (we're talking between 40-50 mussels a plate, with four different preparations). Check out Le Zinc's menu to be kept abreast on the freshest offerings; Zulueta says every day he shows up there are at least one or two new things.

Here, five questions with Chris Zulueta:

What's the most underrated spirit?

Though it's traditionally used as an after-meal accompaniment, I feel that the intense aromatic, fruit-driven qualities of Eau de Vies adds richness and complexity to cocktails without the residual sugar. Also, I find the resurgence of gin intriguing in that it hasn't made a lot of ground amongst our imbibing society, even considering our cocktail Renaissance that began in the early 2000s. I do have a love affair with gin, as most bartenders do, for the versatility of the spirit and how well it plays with other ingredients (every other spirit we associate with sipping or shooting neat). For bartenders, the loathing of vodka was a far-cry to a golden age—and I get it—but my perspective changed when I read an article that Dushan Zaric posted last year. 

What's your favorite Seattle bar other than Le Zinc?

Rumba, Vito's, and Baitshop are places I tend to go to the most. Rumba has over 300 kinds of rum and a staff that puts summer in a glass. As far as Vito's is concerned, it has an old school feel, and it is a Twilight Zone experience with very suave bartenders who truly care about creating a bridge to their clientele through a well executed cocktail. I also want to mention that Baitshop has me hooked on their frozen concoctions—aka Painkillers.

What would you say that you do differently from other bartenders?

I am a mimicked collage of all my favorite bartenders.

What is everyone ordering lately?

I find Moscow Mules, Negronis, Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, and Mojitos are the standards. At Zinc, a lot of customers want absinthe in their cocktails, or since it has been so hot outside lately, absinthe frappes and whiskey smashes!

What is the craziest thing you've seen at a bar?

Back home in Tennessee, I worked at bar where I had to cut off a gentleman who was picking fights with other customers. I politely asked him to leave and told him I had already called a cab, but he stormed out onto the street. I went outside to see if he was ok, and he was in his parallel-parked car and resumed to shift the running car in reverse only to smash the car behind him—and then again when he put it in forward. Fortunately, he was stuck. When the police arrived they tried to calm him down and he eventually fell asleep behind the wheel. Moral of the story is to not mix drugs with alcohol.

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