Editor's note: Nosh Pit will occasionally check in with bartenders we interviewed in the early days of our Five Questions for the Bartender series.
The last time we spoke to Jim Romdall was back in 2009 where he was the bar manager of the esteemed (but dearly departed) cocktail bar Vessel, where he helped create an early community of cocktail geeks. These days you'll find Romdall at Rumba up on Pike, where he has developed a new love for rum drinks. He’s also watched the tastes of Seattle’s cocktail clientele drastically change over just six short years.
Here are five more questions for Jim Romdall.
How have cocktails evolved since your early days at Vessel?
Oddly enough since Vessel’s inception in 2006, I don’t think cocktails have evolved that much, it’s everything else that’s evolved. We’re talking hospitality backbars, technique, knowledge, but most of all clientele has evolved. The whole bar world is very different but cocktails themselves have still stayed the same, or if not just gotten more widespread.
What's different about the clientele?
The number one drink that’s called for in Seattle is an old fashioned. That’s astounding. That’s amazing. That’s fantastic. Ten years ago no one really knew what a refined old fashioned was. It comes with the resurgence of cocktails in general. People in Seattle like spirits, they like bitters, they like whiskey, and quite frankly people just like old fashioneds. Put anything on your menu and call it a modified old fashioned, it will be the number one selling drink. Seattle’s clientele will try anything. The weirder the drink is, they’re going to order it. They like innovation, they love trying something new. They may not order it again, they may go back to ordering an old fashioned afterwards, because that’s what they’re drinking.
What’s special about rum?
It's the worlds most diverse spirit; there’s not a lot of rules when it comes to making rum. A lot of rums add sugar, some don’t, some are aged, some are colored—the the different ways of aging rum in the Caribbean rum are vast, using molasses versus cane juice. That spectrum is just huge. Even for bartenders who know a lot about spirits, rum is often their weakest category because it hasn’t been prevalent in our world. Most people who come into our bar for the first time drank Captain Morgan's and Malibu 10 years ago. I did the same thing! I drank tons of Captain Morgan's in college and high school. Working here is just a blast because I expose so many people to new flavors.
Is there trend you just can’t get into?
Realistically, it’s the Moscow mule trend. Back in 2006, if you were the best cocktail bar, people’s perception was you made the best cosmopolitan. That may be true because you’re actually using fresh lime juice, and such. Now there’s a whole new crowd of people who are Moscow mule connoisseurs. Go ahead, drink the drink, it’s a delicious drink, it’s very easy to drink, but it’s like being a connoisseur of a screwdriver. It’s a very simple drink, it’s a highball…please, keep ordering this because it’s probably the highest profit margin drink I’ve ever made. It costs nothing to make. As soon as people see that [on the menu], that’s what they’re going after. It’s harder to bring them out of that comfort zone.
Has anything ever happened to top the pinball incident?
Well, ok then.