Greg West moved to Seattle three years ago from San Diego with a desire to make good drinks. But he found it tough to penetrate the city’s network of destination cocktail spots. Instead, West worked his way up, starting “in bars where people fought and got drunk and got sick” and moving on to Oddfellows and, briefly, 5 Corner Market Bar. Now you’ll find him at Hunger, and West must be doing something right: A Seattle Weekly poll late last year proclaimed him of the readership’s favorite bartenders.
Later this year, West will get the bartending equivalent of a promotion from cubicle to corner office when Hunger moves down Fremont Avenue to a space nearly three times the size. But until then he continues to ply his trade at Hunger’s comfortable little bar, where he relishes riffing on drinks, making his own bitters and other components, and concocting drinks on the fly based on conversations with customers. And West promises not to judge you on your order: “I just hate that pissed off Seattle bartender demeanor.”
Here, five questions for Greg West.
What is the most underrated spirit?
I think obscure liqueurs are underrated. I just tried an evergreen liqueur the other day and it was both bizarre and amazing. We need to challenge the way we think about cocktails and explore different avenues to continue pushing limits and create fun and interesting cocktails.
What’s your favorite Seattle bar, besides Hunger?
I’m a nice bourbon, whiskey, and cheap beer kinda guy; you’ll find most bartenders to be the same. So with that in mind I’m a big fan of Sun Liquor and the Distillery. They have a great selection.
What’s the drink most people order from you right now?
You know…I recently put a scratch cocktail option on the menu. What that cocktail might be depends purely on the customer, which is the way it should be. We have seen tons of success with this. Also it keeps me on my toes and helps me to keep pushing the limits of what we think a cocktail is. I recently had someone drop off a bag of ghost chilies to the restaurant so I made a cherry/ghost chili bitters. It was great in everything. It was so good it didn’t last a month.
Favorite place to eat, and what you like about it
I really enjoy LloydMartin on Queen Anne. My good friend chef-owner Sam Crannell opened there a few months ago and his food is quite wonderful. He is pretty daring and makes just about everything from scratch. Plus, with the ever-changing menu, you can’t go wrong.
What’s the worst thing you’ve seen someone do in a bar?
Oh Lord. Back home in San Diego I worked at this dive bar called the Surf ’n Saddle. One night this “gentleman” was obviously intoxicated and really wanted to give me a hug for some reason. I respectfully declined. A few moments later he decided to take his pants off and climb over the bar. The only thing I could do protect myself was to grab the soda gun and threaten a hosing down of Coke. He stopped, looked around, realized the entire bar was looking at him. Most would have run at that point. Not this guy. He lifts his shirt up (he’s naked from the chest down) and starts doing “windmills” if you know what I mean. I had no choice but to spray this man down with said soda gun until his friends finally pulled him off the bar.