Behind Bars

Five Questions for the Bartender: George St. John

This barkeep offers up classic libations and good conversation at both Vito’s and Mulleady’s.

By Allecia Vermillion April 5, 2012


While working a shift at Vito’s last year, George St. John struck up a conversation with a customer, who just happened to be Mulleady’s owner Travis Stanley-Jones. The upshot: St. John now splits his time between the First Hill icon and the Magnolia Irish pub also known for its impressive cocktail program.

Before arriving in Seattle seven years ago, St. John tended bar in Salt Lake City, navigating liquor laws that make Washington seem downright progressive. “You couldn’t have two drinks in front of you,” he recalls; hence a shot and a beer would have to arrive at the table separately, and servers couldn’t bring thirsty patrons a second beer until the first one was empty.

While he enjoys making (and drinking) old fashioneds and Sazeracs, St. John says his bartending talents don’t lie in his ability to make a good drink, though his bosses might disagree. “My skill is in interacting with other people,” he says. “That’s the school of bartending I came from.”

Here, five questions for George St. John.

What is the most underrated spirit?

At Mulleady’s it’s any other Irish whiskey than Jameson. We have quite a lot of really tasty stuff that a person doesn’t see in bars so very often, but it’s difficult to convince the average drinker to stray. I would also mention Laird and Company’s Bonded Apple Brandy. Everyone knows this product and it isn’t hard to find in cocktails, but I was astounded when I went to go check out the distillery, which is about 10 miles from where I grew up, outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. It’s like a time capsule from the 1930s, ancient equipment run by three Virginia good old boys, and not a computer on the premises. It should be a national historic landmark, and they are just quietly cranking the stuff out.

What’s your favorite Seattle bar (besides Mulleady’s)?

The Polar Bar at the Arctic Club Hotel. Viktor has bartended all over the world for the last 25 years, and embodies the vision I had of the sort of bartender I wanted to be when I first started working in bars as a dishwasher in 1989. Traveling the world and trying to figure out what sort of drinks these provincial types are going to go for.

Favorite place to eat, and what you like about it"

Bar del Corso in Beacon Hill. The pizza is really good, but the other stuff, sides and appetizers and what-all, oh man, it’s that stuff that makes it really amazing. The owners lived in Italy I think and learned some tasty business. I like to go on Friday night at 8pm, the wait is epic.

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

Do bad things happen in bars? My fellow bartender Terry at the Dead Goat Saloon in Salt Lake City picked up a handful of nickels and dimes that some dude left her as a tip and threw it real hard at the back of his head. Wait, that’s the most awesome thing I’ve seen in a bar. A guy threw up all over my shoes once when I was sitting at a bar in Burlington, Vermont.

What are most people ordering from you these days?

Rye cocktails.

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