When Mike Duncan isn’t sampling bourbons or playing pickleball with other restaurant industry folk he can likely be found behind the bar of Fremont’s RockCreek. In front of scenic photo panoramas of rivers and streams are shelves which Duncan has stocked with spirits that build the sort of inventive light cocktails that let Eric Donnelly's seafood dishes shine. However, if you want to make Duncan’s night, just ask for him to get creative with some cognac cocktails that’ll pair well with the octopus starter.
Here, five questions for Mike Duncan of RockCreek
What is the most underrated spirit in your opinion?
I think that there are a lot of spirits getting a lot of recognition these days. There is really only one spirit left unturned and that is brandy or cognac. You can see amaros, sherries, gins, and mezcals at every bar but brandy and cognac are still empty in the back bars of Seattle.
What is your favorite Seattle bar and what do you order when you go there?
I'm going to keep it real on this one and say Belltown Pizza. It's definitely my home bar here in Seattle. If I get the chance to order before they put a Maker's Mark on the rocks in front of me, I'll usually order a Miller High Life and a shot of tequila reposado.
With bartending how do you stay inspired?
I feel like there are just so many cocktail lists with so many offerings and everybody can so easily access all ingredients these days with the great purveyors we have. Every cocktail list is out of control, so there is inspiration left and right. But really I stay in tune with what's going on in the national scene by reading lots of articles in magazines and blogs from bartenders that are leading the way around the nation. I read a lot from Jeffrey Morgenthaler out of Portland and the crazy things coming out of Chicago, a place called The Aviary, they're just on a whole ‘nother level. It's fun to see what they're doing on the molecular side of cocktails.
Outside of the cocktails, when I'm working at a place like RockCreek, there's chef motivation left and right out of the kitchen. That rubs off on me too, working with such a talented kitchen team that Eric Donnelly has put together.
Do you create cocktails specifically for dishes the kitchen comes up with?
I try to keep the bar program in line with what the kitchen program is doing. We started the premise of the restaurant with lighter spirits being forward- more aquavits, piscos, and gins. We have a pretty large selection of gins at RockCreek and we try to make cocktails that are more on the lighter side. These lighter cocktails are meant to be in towards the first course with oysters, shellfish, and what not.
What do you do differently from other bartenders?
Over my tenure bartending around town I have brought hospitality first. That's kind of becoming a cliché I know, but bartenders can too easily get caught up in trends and what is the next cool thing. If you just show people a good time over and over at the bar top no matter what you're pouring them that usually speaks volumes.