Behind the Bar

Five Questions for the Bartender: Ben Sherwood

Marjorie’s long-time barman on white dog, beer bars, and the world’s worst Valentine.

April 1, 2011


Benjamin Sherwood was a student at the University of Maine when he first discovered drink-mixing. He bartended for the campus catering company from the tender age of 18.

Meanwhile, he pursued his love of adventure sports—skiing in Colorado, sailing around the Pacific Ocean for years at a time. During one stint at sea, he made friends with a fellow sailor from Seattle. He told me Seattle was the place to be, I moved here, and a decade later I am happily behind the Marjorie bar, says Sherwood.

At that Capitol Hill cafe he makes venti-sized cocktails—try a negroni or anything else involving vermouth—Tuesday nights and Thursday through Saturday. Wednesdays, he work as a table server “to keep in shape.”

Here, five questions for Ben Sherwood.

What is the most underrated spirit?

Aside from vodka, they all are a bit underrated. But having just been out tasting some white dog whiskey in Woodinville I am feeling the moonshine right now. Give me a nice bottle of un-oaked whiskey, citrus, bitters, and a hot day, and we can have some fun!

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

If I am in a beer mode (which I often am) I love the Hopvine up on 15th Avenue East: great beer selection, heavy on the India Pale Ale. If I’m feeling the cocktail I like to belly up in front of David Nelson at Il Bistro or Jay Kuehner at Sambar. We are lucky in Seattle, there is a pretty high good-bartender-to-capita ratio here.

What drink do you order at that bar?

At Hopvine, I start with the Rogue Shakespeare stout and move on to tasty IPAs. With David I get a whiskey served whatever way he deems appropriate. With Jay, well, that crazy bastard just makes me happy. He’s an alchemist.

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

Everyone has the puke story, the fight story, the thrown glass story…I like the oblivious story: it was a sold-out Valentines day, five course dinner. No idea what happened, but on course two a lady starts crying, I mean bawling. She stands up, smacks the dude she’s with, and walks out. This is a nice meal, not cheap, coursed out with wine pairings. The gentleman stays and finished the last three courses—his and hers. Dude, really?

Name three reasons you live in Seattle (bonus points if you don’t use the words “mountains” or “water”).

Well, you took away all the best words and I feel that I really need the bonus points, so here goes: I’m within an hour’s drive of basically any world-class outdoor activity; the food scene has been good since I got here and continues to develop each year; and the drinks, the beer, and the wine consistently impress. That forces all us old farts to get better with age. Boom! Bonus points won!

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