Behind Bars

Five Questions for the Bartender: Matt Cannelora of La Bête

Basically the Johnny Cash of bartending.

By Brandon L. Bye July 26, 2012

Mr. Cannelora with a big ass bottle of beer.

I met Matt Cannelora three years ago in the party loft above Grim’s (which at the time was Grey Gallery and Lounge) and The Crypt. He’d just gotten back from Quinn’s with a second, third, and fourth bottle of tequila as requested by the half-naked pilates women party hosts.

He’s just the type of person you want to drink with, which, in my book, is exactly the type of person you want as your bartender.

Cannelora, who now sports a neatly trimmed Selleck ‘stache, has long been a fixture at Quinn’s, but recently moved to La Bête. “The level of talent at Quinn’s over the years was the best teacher I ever had,” he says, giving mucho credit to his former manager Jake Bennett who once claimed “bartender years are like dog years.” In his new post in the La Bête well Tuesday through Friday, he serves up everything from Rainier tallboys to fancy vermouths, and is busy upping his game with the cocktail list.

Here, five questions for Matt Cannelora.

What’s your favorite Seattle bar (aside from Quinn’s and La Bête)?
Barça. I’ve been drinking there since the week I turned 21 [he’s now 28]. My brother and I sat down and ordered a Crown and Coke and a Captain and Coke, respectively. The ridiculously attractive waitress, Athena, dutifully brought our drinks without comment. We flirted her up (we were each a good forty pounds heavier at the time) as best we could and when the time for the second round came, she said to my brother, “Do you like whiskey?” He said he didn’t really know. He had a Crown and Coke on the airplane and liked it. She said, “Well, how about I introduce you to real whiskey?” She brought us each a Jameson, neat. Two hours and several more “real whiskies” later she opened a pack of smokes for us, put one in each of our mouths, and lit them with a match—all one handed. The bartender that day was Stefan; he’s been my bartender ever since. I go there because everyone knows my name and I drink whatever Der Teufel puts in front of me. Which, during Harry Potter pub crawls, gets really [fucking], embarrassing.

What is the most underrated spirit?
Underrated spirit? The spirit of hospitality. I’m tired of patrons apologizing for ordering a mojito. Mojitos can be shockingly delicious. Any bartender that doesn’t like to make this or that cocktail should get a new job, and any bartender that engenders a feeling of guilt among his/her patrons for their call should be fired. Some people like to call three ounces of vodka shaken until watery with olive juice a martini; some people are squirrel-handed. ALL of those people keep us on the money-making side of the bar.

Do you have any pre-shift rituals?
Lots of espresso. Lots of cigarettes. Sometimes I eat.

What’s the worst thing you’ve seen someone do in a bar?
I was it: A hot chick, my friend Doug, and I all did car bombs out of litre steins with old-fashioned glasses filled to the top. Then we took our shirts off. None of that was the “worst thing”, however. The worst part was we put our shirts back on without taking off any more clothes. To shame. Go big or go drink at home. I think bars are where you’re supposed to act the fool; some bars are more proper than others, but the sentiment of going out remains the same: have a great time. As long as you’re not hurting anyone or infringing on another’s good time, it’s gravy.

Do you have a preferred hangover cure?
I’m all about preventative medicine. Either never let yourself sober up to the point of a hangover, or stay hydrated, lay off the sugary drinks, and finish with Orval. After nine months of bottle refermentation, Orval has reached 100 percent attenuation: zero residual sugar. Combined with a yeasty-sediment-goodness, chalk full of B-vitamins, you’ll be in good shape come morning. Or, like my friend just reminded me, there is the Rummy (me) original quote: "If you’re going to show up still drunk, you might as well show up still drinking."