Behind Bars

Five Questions for the Bartender: Aleko Lilly

"Vodka’s like tofu—you can add any flavor to it and it will carry the day."

By Rachel Breiwick August 26, 2013

Taking a beat at Barrio, new dad and bar manager Aleko Lilly. Image via: Heavy Restaurant Group.

Tequila is a key spirit at amber-lit Mexican restaurant Barrio, but bar manager Aleko Lilly prefers vodka as the base for drinks. (He's not alone either.)

When he's not shaking cocktails at Barrio, Lilly can be found with his family in taprooms at local breweries. Where else are you supposed to go with a little one in tow?

Here, five questions with Aleko Lilly:

What's the most underrated spirit?

Without a doubt vodka. If you make a whiskey cocktail, it's always going to taste like whiskey, which is great, but sometimes you just want a cocktail to taste like the other ingredients. But vodka’s like tofu—you can add any flavor to it and it will carry the day. Not to mention everyone will drink it because it’s vodka. (Also, a lot of the newer vodkas from local distillers use different grain combinations and refrain from filtering all the character out of it, which makes them great.)

What is everyone ordering lately?

A relative of the Manhattan from way back, a Deshler Cocktail. It’s a combination of rye, Dubonnet, Cointreau and Peychaud's bitters, and until recently, was a drink that I thought very few people knew about. Who knew, but it seems like obscure classics are all the rage these days.

What is the craziest thing you've seen at a bar?

I've seen plenty of crazy, little of it worth ever mentioning or repeating. Craziest of all though is bartenders who believe they're more important than their guests. Anyone in our profession who acts that way has lost the plot. Stop, please. Our job is to facilitate enjoyment, not be the star of a one-person show. 

What's your favorite Seattle bar?

Taprooms at breweries. Due to the arcane nature of liquor laws, and now that my wife and I have a baby, our drinking opportunities are limited as we can't sit at bars anymore. Getting to visit any of Seattle's breweries and enjoy a beer with the little one—and not be looked at askance—is refreshing. At some places you can bring your own food as most of them have outdoor seating and tables—some even bring in food trucks. Special shout outs to Hilliard's, Fremont, and Schooner Exact for being generally awesome.

What would you say that you do differently from other bartenders?

A few things:

  • I only ever shake cocktails with my right hand. 
  • I don't believe in metal-on-metal shakers.
  • I make Old Fashioneds with a sugar cube. 
  • I think salt is better in cocktails than on the rim.
  • I treat ingredients as though I were in the kitchen and not in the bar.
  • I have never actually read a cocktail book. 

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