I visited Nathan Layman at Needle and Thread happened to be his birthday. Several of my fellow bar patrons apparently already knew this, and the mood in the tastefully lighted room above Seattle’s famed bar Tavern Law was celebratory but chill. The women next to me appeared to be having an after-work libation while putting off their commute home to the eastside. Next to them a tattooed hipster was waiting for her date. Upon his arrival, we learned it was his birthday too.
Sitting in the corner, my eyes scan the walls. Walls that make me feel like I am sitting in the belly of a guitar. The shape of the room is like the shape of a woman, all hips and curves and secrets. Dark wood antiques and Prohibition-era memorabilia thoughtfully curated fill the old-time interior. Music from the ‘20s and ‘40s plays softly in the background, fitting the ambiance and drink menu perfectly. Nathan stands behind the counter, suit-vested and spectacled, working his craft with stir spoons and tending to numerous steel shakers that line his bar.
I ask Nathan what his signature drink is and he tells me about the third concoction he ever created from scratch. It’s called Remembering Christina and with a title like that, I am of course, intrigued. Made with mango puree, Aperol, lemon juice, simple syrup, and rum—Nathan’s drink can be found downstairs on Tavern Law’s main menu. As a craftsman, he requests that you try the drink as it’s intended – rum complementing its banana notes—and please, please don’t request vodka in place of the rum.
Robert S. Donovan via Compfight
People in the cocktail industry know that women like their vodka, particularly a vodka soda, because it’s low-calorie and easy to drink. However, people in the industry know that there are ways to order a drink so it will taste good and not put your palate to sleep. As someone finding her way in the world of cocktails, I am bellying up to the bar to learn some tips and tricks from the men and women tending the bar, while educating myself and you, dear reader, on what to drink besides a vodka soda.
My first tip: trust your bartender. Like any great relationship, communication is key. Bartenders love it when you tell them if you like savory, sweet, spicy, or bitter drinks. Pick your base spirit and trust them to make you something good. A bad bartender will roll their eyes at this request, but a good bartender will nod their head and be up for the challenge. Be nice to your bartender and tell them what you did and did not like about your first drink when they go to make your next one.
Nathan sagely informed me that “booze is akin to sex.” When we first start out, we fumble our way through it, listening to friends to get tips on how it’s done, and are afraid to ask questions – but we get better with practice. Drinking and developing a decent palate for cocktails is much the same way. Consider the vodka soda the missionary position. Sure you might fear what you don’t know and be worried about looking stupid, but would you want to do the missionary position for the rest of your life?
I intend for all of us to discover more about cocktails together. I am not a cocktail expert, but I do have a history with cocktails and you will learn about me via my future tips and missives from the bar counter. Advance thanks are given to the bartenders who will be generous with their knowledge and patience while they educate us. If you want to visit Nathan Layman and try Remembering Christina (yes, it was named after a former girlfriend of his), you can find him at a new location, Belltown’s Local 360. (Update: Nathan is now the bar manager at The Tin Table on Capitol Hill, across the hall from the Century Ballroom.)