Behind Bars

Five Questions for the Bartender: Babirusa's Ben Perri

"Besides pumpkin everything, which I don't think I'll have in my bar, a really simple three-ingredient bourbon drink is going to be very important this fall."

By Jeremy Buben October 24, 2014

After more than five years behind one of Seattle's most storied bars, the Zig Zag Cafe, bartender Ben Perri has traded the marquee cocktail bar for a neighborhood bar. With the cocktail program up to him and a steady stream of regulars from around the Eastlake neighborhood stopping in, well, regularly, Perri now tends to a more laid-back crowd that he knows by name. Babirusa, next door neighbor and sibling bar to Blind Pig Bistro, now serves up Perri's cocktails alongside its unconventional bar fare, with the evening's selection hand written on the large chalkboard above the kitchen . It's always a good sign when guests walk in and exclaim what they'll be having before they even take their seats.

Here are five questions for Ben Perri of Babirusa.

Babirusa's Scotch sour.

What makes a good neighborhood bar?
 Especially in a place the size of Babirusa you can tailor the bar to fit your customers, and that's the most important thing. You have to make sure the people that come in get what they want, no matter what. But also, you have to make yourself happy behind the bar; so you have to have a good balance between knowing what your customers want, what your regulars want, knowing what your friends want, and being able to do what you want to do behind the bar.

 What is the most underrated spirit in your bar?
 I'm going to have to go with sherry. Sherry is not a spirit, it's a wine basically, but I think its underutilized, under appreciated, it's confused by a lot of people for what it is. There are so many different levels of sherry from super dry to super sweet, almost like an ice cream topping, which I've actually done before. I've taken the Pedro Ximenez sherry and poured it on top of vanilla ice cream, it's probably the best thing in the whole wide world. It can be a main ingredient, it can be a role player, or it can just be by itself and I think that's extremely underrated and undervalued.

 You've been around Seattle bars for quite a while; do you have a favorite?
 I do, if I'm going to spend a night out or a day off it's going to be The Dray in Phinney Ridge. The people there are amazing, they know everything about their beers, the food is great and they play soccer all day long.

What's popular this fall?
 Besides pumpkin everything, which I don't think I'll have in my bar, a really simple three-ingredient bourbon drink is going to be very important this fall. It's going to be a nice fall—it's been beautiful already—and a really simple bourbon drink that you can taste all of the ingredients in will be the big thing. I'm going to push to make that happen.

What's the worst thing that you've seen someone do in a bar?
 Wow, there are so many I would be breaking bartender code if I told you any of them. It's almost like when you go to Las Vegas, whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, the same exact rule applies behind the bar. Whatever I see stays in my head unfortunately; that's why I run, so when I run I get rid of all of these awful things that I've seen in my 13-year career.

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