Behind the Bar

Five Questions for the Bartender: Michael Kostin

"It is never a good idea to throw anything at a bartender," cautions the man behind the stick at Naga Lounge.

January 13, 2011

Michael Kostin on the job.

Photo: Ari Shapiro of Dauber Art Photography

Michael Kostin’s first restaurant job—which he secured at age 16—was as a dishwasher at a Bellevue restaurant. The next year he joined the navy and became a nuclear chemist on a submarine stationed out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

“Even while I was in the Navy, I worked part time in restaurants and bars,” says Kostin. " I got out in 1995, and decided to stay in Hawaii."

Kostin became a fulltime bartender in 2000; in ’06 he moved back to Washington to be closer to family. He now lives in Bellevue and splits his shifts between Naga Lounge and Taste in the Seattle Art Museum.

Here are five questions for him.

What is the most underrated spirit?

Cachaca is a very misunderstood and underutilized spirit in most bars, if they have it at all. Brandies—brandy, cognac, Armagnac, and pisco —are underrated as well.

What’s your favorite Seattle bar (other than Naga and Taste)?

At the risk of being cliche, I have to say Zig Zag. Zig Zag is the reason I made the crossover from being a high-volume bartender to becoming a craft bartender.

I spent many nights sitting in front of Murray’s well watching him work and asking him questions about the drinks he was making and the spirits he was using to make them. The staff at Zig Zag is a big part of the reason I was able to earn a bartending position at Naga.

Other Seattle bars that I like: Little Red Bistro, Liberty, Rob Roy, Sambar, Moshi Moshi, Spur, Tavern Law/Needle and Thread, and Vessel (before it closed).

What drink do you order at that bar?

I tend to pick a base spirit and have the bartenders just make me something, or I go with a bartender’s choice.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen someone do in a bar?

The worst thing I have ever seen someone do in a bar is throw a beer bottle or a glass at a bartender “to get their attention”. It is never a good idea to throw anything at a bartender for any reason, and it is the quickest way to get cut off and thrown out of a bar.

Name three reasons you live in Seattle.

The cocktail and food scene. Although I loved living in Hawaii, I knew I had to leave to further my bartending career beyond the high-volume bartending I was doing. Seattle has a thriving and vibrant cocktail and food scene. Plus, being in Seattle puts me in close proximity to other great cocktail and food cities like Portland, Vancouver BC, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

I am a city person. I lived in Olympia for four years when I moved to Washington, it was too small of a town for me.

The sense of community among the craft bartenders of Seattle. I can’t put into words how great it feels to be accepted into the bartending community of Seattle. It is something I have not experienced before among bartenders.

Visit Michael Kostin all day Saturday and Monday at Naga Cocktail Lounge, and during occasional fill-in shifts on Wednesdays. He works brunch at Taste in the Seattle Art Museum on Sundays, and is also there Tuesday for lunch.

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