The Watering Hole: Artusi, 1535 14th Ave., 251-7673, CAPITOL HILL
The Atmosphere: This clean, minimalist space stands in direct contrast to the adjoining Spinasse. The delicate, paper-like cylindrical chandeliers dangling from the ceiling, the bright abstract paintings lining the pale walls, and the eclectic mix of early-'90s hip-hop (or whatever else happens to be playing on the bartender's iPod) punctuate a pretty drinking parlor that modestly turns out some of the city's most delicious, well-crafted cocktails. The bar's eggshell-colored tiles provide a stark backdrop for the colorful drinks that await your grasp. Sibling Spinasse may get all the culinary glory, but Artusi is a welcome, booze-soaked companion.
The Barkeep: Jonathan Hudak has lived in Seattle nine years, ever since he moved from Tacoma to attend UW, where he majored in painting and drawing—a great complement to his thoughtful bartending skills. Before Artusi, he worked at Eva, Tilth, and Golden Beetle. "I worked in restaurants to subsidize my income during college, so I just became inevitably fascinated with food," says Hudak. "I like working in smaller houses better, and that just leads you to more intense focus on ingredients, I think. I just use the same approach I do to make art: using your ingredients and experimenting with the medium."
The Drink: Hudak makes a drink inspired by a cocktail called The Choke Artist from the Greenwood bar Oliver's Twist. "The Choke Artist was interesting to me because they do a rinse of orange bitters. It's really aromatic and it's tequila-based," says Hudak. "I took that cocktail and sort of made a variation. [Oliver's Twist] uses Cynar and I like Cynar a lot, but I also like Punt e Mes, which is a little more bitter. So I'm doing Fernet, Punt e Mes, and reposado tequila and an orange-bitters rinse. I like really bitter cocktails."
But does he have a name for it? "I don't. Give me a moment, I'll have a name for you." After conferring with Artusi creator (and Spinasse chef) Jason Stratton, Hudak comes up with The Luchador.
The Verdict: The orange bitters and the Punt e Mes bring out the tequila's spiciness, which creates a really well-balanced cocktail that has every reason to taste medicinal, but instead tastes wonderfully bitter, in the style of a Negroni. It'll definitely put you in a choke hold, but breathing is overrated anyway.