Behind the Bar

Five Questions for the Bartender: Keith Waldbauer

The bartender at Barrio does not want to see your soul get crushed.

June 25, 2009

Seattle’s cocktail cognoscenti will remember Keith Waldbauer from Union, where he bartended for three years before leaving to take on three new jobs: He’s an associate consulting mixologist for Kathy Casey—he flies around the country teaching restaurants how to properly prepare cocktails, among other things. He’s Vice President of the Washington State Bartenders Guild, and he’s a bartender at Barrio on Capital Hill.

He’s also, by all accounts, a really, really nice guy. If you have any doubts about that, check out his description of the worst thing he’s ever seen in a bar, below.

Here, five questions with Keith Waldbauer.

What is the most underrated spirit?
I consider rhum agricole (the rum produced on the island of Martinique) a very under-appreciated spirit—its relative scarcity is mostly to blame. Rhum agricole is produced in a similar way to cachaca, and has a caipirinha equivalent (called a Ti Punch, hugely popular in Martinique), so there’s an audience there waiting for its discovery.

What’s your favorite Seattle bar (other than Barrio)?
I’m going to name two. Zig Zag is an obvious answer, and the one all the bartenders you ask will say [and do say]. All the bartenders there are simply amazing and very open to sharing their knowledge. I consider Zig Zag my university, and also my favorite place in the city. I also have to give some love to Sambar. Jay Kuehner is one of the most talented bartenders I’ve ever come across. In terms of original cocktails, I’d place Jay at the top. I always leave his bar thoroughly inspired.

What drink do you order at that bar?
At both places, I leave myself in the bartender’s hands. That’s what you do with good bartenders.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen someone do in a bar?
I saw a guy demand a divorce from his wife right in front of me. He was pretty harsh with her. He left and you could just see her soul was crushed. I topped off her wine for free, then left her alone. I’ve seen bar fights, drinks thrown at people, all sorts of stuff. But to see someone’s soul get crushed right in front of you while they try to maintain their dignity…that’s hard.

Name three reasons you live in Seattle.
1. I’m from here. It’s home. You can’t replace that feeling. I’ve lived in some amazing places, but never felt that sense of home until I moved back.

2. From the two mountain ranges and ocean and Puget Sound to the cleanliness and style of our city, we live in an amazingly beautiful spot.

3. The people. Seattle folk are a quirky bunch. I love ’em.

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