Behind the Bar

Five Questions for the Bartender: Charles Veitch III

Bastille’s barman on Fernet-Branca, bike-riding, and the drawbacks of life in the digital age.

March 9, 2011


Connecticut native Charles Veitch—whose demeanor is more gentlemanly history professor than blustery bartender, if we’re talking stereotypes—says he first started mixing drinks in the city of New Haven while studying organic chemistry, an academic background that still strongly influences his approach to wine and spirit studies.

He then worked as a sommelier, fell in love with Northwest wines, and moved out here.

It was in part his polite and erudite manner, I’m guessing, that landed him a gig as a server at Campagne. He went on to run the restaurant’s bar program.

Working with Cyril Frechier, the wine director, was an amazing opportunity says Veitch. However, the natural pull behind the bar was inevitable. When Spur opened in Belltown, he joined the staff there.

Since moving to Bastille in Ballard, Veitch—who confesses below to a bit of a Fernet-Branca obsession—has had the chance to focus on another of his great loves: absinthe. Click through the slideshow to see him getting his louche on.

Here, five questions for Charles Veitch III.

What is the most underrated spirit?

Tough question. To the fraternity of bartenders it may sound funny, but Fernet-Branca is still horribly underrated in my book. I walk into a bar and just assume that they will have a bottle on the shelf, or at least hidden away for those of us that do know. Unfortunately, that’s all too often that’s not the case. I have a blast exposing guests at my bar to this amazing elixir. How could anyone not fall hopelessly in love with a spirit that is named for a fictional doctor, rumored to contain opiates, and excusable as an AM beverage if your breakfast is too big? Fernet and I have become good friends.

What is your favorite Seattle bar (other than Bastille)?

I love the Roanoke. No it’s not closed. Trust me. It’s really near my house and is a great stop after a tough ride up the hill. I also frequent Quinn’s. Of course I’m a fan of all the other heavy hitters that need not be mentioned, but the one that I’m surprised doesn’t come up more often is Spur. I may be biased, but they just get it right there.

What drink do you order at that bar?

I’m usually drinking something with Campari at Roanoke, and they are sure to keep Fernet in good supply for me at Quinn’s.

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

Well, the worst thing I’ve seen recently was when this guy on a date got caught by his wife after her friends, just a few seats away, started texting her pics from their phones. Can anyone say PINCHED?

List three reasons you live in Seattle.

I’ve never felt so challenged, creatively stimulated, or welcomed by such a large community of bartenders and restaurant professionals the way I have here in Seattle.

I love to bike and walk, these are my major forms of transportation. Rain doesn’t scare me and there is nary a day so cold that I can’t just layer up for the commute.

Lastly, when the weather does finally shape up everyone appreciates it and takes advantage. Too many industry friends from the east coast take the sunny months for granted. I’d rather be on my bike or hiking than hiding inside in the A/C.

Charles Veitch works the front bar at Bastille every Friday and Saturday night, and the back bar most every Sunday night. He occasionally works Sunday brunch, when it is absolutely appropriate for you to order a shot of Fernet.

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