Back by popular demand, we’re reviving our Mixologist of the Month segment. Join us for a 7 question conversation with Zac Overman.
I grew up in North Carolina, and didn’t really drink until I was into my mid-20s. A lot has changed there in the past ten years, but at the time you couldn’t really get a good cocktail there. Or if you could, I couldn’t find it. I moved to New York in 2007, which really opened my eyes to how great a cocktail could be. This was in the middle of the craft renaissance there, with Pegu Club, Death and Co., PDT, Flatiron Lounge, etc, doing it and doing it as well as it had been done in a long time. I’d been making drinks at home in NC, but New York in the late 2000s really did it for me.
2. What compelled you to become a bartender?
I was a graphic designer at the time, and I got a job working for an online culinary magazine, which introduced me to lots of bartenders and chefs. I noticed they were having a really good time, interacting with people, and being incredibly creative, and I was getting tired of sitting at a desk all day. I somehow convinced St. John Frizell, owner of Fort Defiance in Brooklyn (a fantastic bar/cafe I frequented), to let me barback one day a week, and that was really all it took. I was hooked on the immediate gratification of giving someone a great experience and being able to watch that first sip of their first drink of the night. Unfortunately, Fort Defiance is quite a small bar and doesn’t have room for a full time barback, so I got a job barbacking for Katie Stipe at Vandaag, a genever and aquavit bar in the East Village. After a couple months I was bartending, and less than two years later I was back at Fort Defiance, where I managed the bar for two years before moving to Seattle.
3. What differentiates the bar at Sitka & Spruce from other bars?
Well, first of all you have the location. Melrose Market is such a cool space filled with super talented and passionate people. You’ve got one of the best butchers in town, a fantastic cheese shop, a beautiful wine shop, flower shop, home goods store, and then Sitka in the back, making some of the best food in Seattle. So you’re sitting at a bar in the middle of a working, bustling market. The energy is great. Then you’ve got a bartender and a cook behind the bar – one’s making drinks, the other is shucking oysters and slicing charcuterie. It’s a good show. I’ve done my best to reflect the cooking in the cocktails – after all, Sitka has been around for quite a bit now, and the bar is brand new. So you’ll see ingredients like urfa biber, chamomile, asian pear, pickled seaweed, etc, on both the food and drink menus.
4. Why do you think rum is enjoying such a renaissance?
Because it’s delicious? I think it had a bad reputation for a long time as a party drink, or not a quality product. But people are starting to realize you can get rums that rival fine whiskeys at half the cost. And it’s so good! You can’t tell me a VSOP Rhum Agricole can’t compete with a Single Malt in complexity and deliciousness.
You’ve also got the tiki boom happening, which I think is a reaction to the seriousness with which many bars took themselves over the past few years. Which is not to say that tiki drinks aren’t being taken seriously – it takes tremendous skill to execute them properly. All I’m saying is the Hawaiian shirt is a pretty fantastic alternative to suspenders. And I’m happy to report that people are starting to realize that tiki drinks aren’t syrupy sweet messes, too. We had bars like Painkiller and Lani Kai in New York, and Brian Miller doing Tiki Mondays, and Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco and now Three Dots in Chicago and Latitude 29 in New Orleans absolutely killing tropical drinks. And people are actually turning out for them! I ran a weekly tiki night called the Sunken Harbor Club at Fort Defiance in New York, and we had the most loyal, passionate regulars. In fact, you can still get tiki drinks there every Thursday. And now I’m doing it at Rob Roy on Monday nights – we’ve christened it Tangaroa Roy. There’s not a dedicated tiki bar in Seattle right now, but between us on Mondays, Sun Liquor on Tuesdays, and Rumba on Wednesdays, you can definitely get your tiki fix.
5. If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one drink, what would it be and why?
A classic daiquiri. No question. It does exactly what I need it to every time. Wakes me up if I’m tired. Relaxes me if I’m tense. It’s my mission to turn people on to this drink and make them realize it’s not a joke cocktail. A daiquiri is not neon red, orange, blue, or green. Unless you’re in New Orleans. Then it’s fine.
6. What’s a great easy rum drink that people can make at home?
See above. Rum, lime, sugar. Done. I’m also a huge fan of a rum old fashioned. A rum Martinez ain’t bad, either.
7. Who’s the most liberated spirit you know (past or present)? Who lives life the most freely?
Oh man, that’s a tough one. Maybe it’s the safari jacket I saw him wearing at Tales last year, but I’d say I’ve seen St. John Frizell at Fort Defiance slowly embrace the spirited lifestyle of his personal hero and Fort Defiance spirit animal Charles H. Baker, Jr.
Tune in later this month for a one of a kind Denizen cocktail from Zac.