Behind the Bar

Five Questions for the Bartender: Kevin Lilley

Bottleneck’s drinkslinger knows your name.

May 6, 2011


A neighborhood bar—a real neighborhood bar—needs a neighborhood bartender.

He knows names, he busts balls, he pours your drink of choice before you’ve even darkened the doorway. Come in alone and unknown and within seconds he’ll have pulled you into a debate that two regs are having over an item in this week’s Stranger.

Kevin Lilley of the Bottleneck Lounge is one such bartender. How do I know? Because people kept telling me about him. “You know that five questions thingy? You should do Kevin. He’s my bartender.”

So here it is: A Seattle native, Lilley was a student at UW looking for a way to pay the bills when he landed a busboy job at Barça on Capitol Hill. “I’ve always been a bit of a night owl,” said Lilley. “When they told me that the day shift started at 4pm, I knew I had found my people.”

These days, he’s behind the bar at Bottleneck on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights.

Below, five questions for Kevin Lilley.

What is the most underrated spirit?

I really do think more people would like gin if they gave it a chance in a cocktail. I suspect that many people’s definitive gin experience was stealing it from their parents’ liquor cabinets and drinking it straight, at room temperature. It needs a little bit more love than that. But nearly any vodka drink has more character with gin.

What’s your favorite Seattle bar (other than Bottleneck)?

Quinn’s has a phenomenal beer program. The cocktails at Crush are constantly impressive. The Alibi Room is probably my favorite standby. I really love going to big bars on slow nights, it forces a camaraderie that Seattle seems to want to avoid. Sundays at Fado when Erik [Gust] is working, or any day of the week at Barça is great. And Sun Liquor. The new one is fine, but it’s the original that I find charming.

What drink do you order at that bar?

I love sour beer. I long for the day when I can find it as easily as over-hopped IPAs. There are some really great craft ciders these days too. But typically, I go for a shot of fancy tequila or rum and a lager.

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

I really have a hard time finding fault in people who are out to enjoy the evening. The worst crimes I have seen committed in a bar has been by proscriptive bartenders who would dare to suggest that their patrons “try something more interesting for their next round.” These guys should find a new line of work.

Name three reasons you live in Seattle.

1. This is where my friends and family live. And I’ve never stopped meeting new and awesome people. It’s one of the perks of the trade.

2. Someday, when we have an NBA team back at Seattle Center, I’m going to have season tickets and walk to every game.

3. I stlll have to finish that degree at UW. Distractions!

Click through the slideshow above to see some of the many faces of Kevin captured by photographer Lucas Anderson.

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