Bartender Doug Wargo can be found most evenings at Seattle's largest beer hall Von Trapp's, where he'll try to make a case for his contention that flavored vodkas deserve a retrial, and deny there's such a thing as "the best Negroni."
Here, five questions with Doug Wargo:
What's the most underrated spirit?
I think there are some incredibly interesting flavored vodkas being released right now that aren’t getting their due attention. Pinnacle was really on the innovation forefront when they started combining their existing flavors with the whipped variety to create orange whipped, chocolate whipped, cherry whipped et cetera (which is Latin for delicious). But Smirnoff has taken it to an entirely new level with their latest releases. Experiencing “iced cake” is akin to being sexually aroused by M. C. Escher’s “Relativity.” How do they even get the cake in there?
What is everyone ordering lately?
At my bar, as you might expect, it’s all beer all the time—which sounds a bit boring until you see a 21-year-old college student who has been here enough to actually have a preference of German Dunkelweizens, or Flemish Sours. In the short time that we’ve been open I’ve seen a real progression in the habits of our regular clientele. The guys who were coming in three months ago, complaining that we don’t have Bud Light, are now asking about new beers on draft and really exploring quality beer instead of just settling for the most familiar, lowest common denominator. It’s refreshing and it’s an incentive for me to keep learning and searching out new beers to offer.
What is the craziest thing you've seen at a bar?
Von Trapps definitely has its fair share of crazy, especially on the weekends, but nothing will ever compare to the shit I saw while bartending in Guatemala. I saw a notable drug dealer brandish a massive nickel plated revolver at my bar; a 60-year-old Canadian ex-pat get cocaine nose bleeds (three to four times a week) during happy hour; my boss had a turtle tattoo on his ass, which I saw during business hours many, many times. There’s a pretty long list, but the one that sticks out the most is when a guy looked me dead in the eye and said he was going to wait outside for me after work and kill me. In Seattle that kind of talk can be mildly upsetting. In Guatemala it means you’ve probably got a 50-50 chance of getting home alive.
What's your favorite Seattle bar?
Sun Liquor is high on my list. In addition to being a few blocks from my house, it’s also just damn comfortable. Every person I’ve ever encountered behind that bar is fantastic. They’re knowledgeable, friendly, attentive, and personable. I want to be Chelsea Anderson when I grow up. When I’m feeling particularly flush I like to sneak over to Canon after work and spend an hour or so with a hard-to-find glass of Scotch.
What is the best drink you make?
You’d have to ask the people at my bar. For instance, there is no “best” Negroni. At it’s core, its one of the simplest cocktails in existence, but you can also take it a thousand different directions. It’s what you do when you get to know your audience that makes people say, “Bartender X at Bar Y makes the BEST Negroni ever!” For a time at Quinn’s there was a whole crew of people that would stop by late at night, and it seemed like all they drank were Negronis. I started experimenting with them and before long I had about a dozen different variations that were specific to a dozen different individuals. I like learning a person’s palate and preference, and extrapolating from there to give them something they’ll love. That’s the long answer. The short answer is: I pour a mean-ass shot of Fireball.