One of the trickier parts of working in the restaurant industry is the occasional celebrity encounter. When you recognize a guest not because you’ve served them before, but because they’re on TV or they play baseball, things get murky. Generally it’s considered inappropriate to draw attention to their fame, but even this isn’t an ironclad rule, as some famous people enjoy being recognized. In any case, it can put the staff and the kitchen on edge to know they’re serving a celebrity, but of course it’s also thrilling and exciting.
Recently I had the chance to make a drink for former vice president and Nobel Prize, Oscar, Emmy, and Grammy award-winner Al Gore at the Dahlia Lounge where I work, and I was surprisingly nervous. Fortunately, he ordered as straightforward a drink as I could want: a vodka martini. It got me thinking, though: Which local celebrities would I most want to see sit down at my bar, and what would I make for them?
RUSSELL WILSON, Seahawks quarterback: After a phenomenal rookie season, Wilson and the Seahawks are taking the NFL by storm this year. Given his legendary work ethic, it’s unlikely that Wilson would actually take time out from studying game film and training to stop by the bar, but hey, it’s my fantasy!
The drink: While the Touchdown is an easy fit based on its name, it’s disgusting and my bar doesn’t stock Red Bull, so it’s out. Instead, I’ll suggest The Last Word. Like Wilson, it’s complex and elusive, blending gin, lime juice, maraschino liqueur, and green Chartreuse. Given Wilson’s penchant for late-game comebacks and his ability to blend running and passing, it seems like a good choice.
MIKE MCGINN, Seattle mayor: Before he became mayor, McGinn was a regular in my Saturday-morning basketball game. Now that he’s got bigger things on his mind than passing me the ball, I’d be more than happy to see him sit down at my bar if he needs a reprieve from the campaign trail. We’ve even got a convenient bike rack right outside the restaurant if he wants to ride on down.
The drink: As a dyed-in-the-wool Seattleite, Mayor McGinn seems like the kind of man who’d appreciate a locally sourced cocktail. As such, I’m opting for a local spirit, and a cocktail that befits a politician: a gin martini made with Captive Spirits’ Big Gin. A Seattle favorite, Big Gin is flavorful and complex—and it also gets a bit cloudy once it’s stirred, just like McGinn’s political future.
BRANDI CARLILE, musician: With a soulful voice and a heartfelt style, Carlile is one of my favorites in the realm of country and folk. Her Live at Benaroya Hall album is a classic, and she’s also an active philanthropist. Just getting a few moments to talk to her across the bar would be great.
The drink: Given her long-standing association with country and folk music, whiskey seems like the natural choice. I’ll go with the Old Pal, a blend of rye whiskey, Campari, and dry vermouth. It’s spicy and powerful, just like Carlile’s music. Plus, her voice is rich and timeless, and it makes you feel like you’re, well, old pals.
GABE NEWELL, software tycoon: The man behind Valve Corporation, the company that’s almost single-handedly changed the way digital distribution works,thanks to their Steam platform. The maker of some of the most iconic computer games of all time and a constant innovator, it’d be an honor to have him sit at my bar.
The drink: Since Newell and Valve have been incredibly tight-lipped about a potential third installment of their Half-Life series (my favorite video games of all time), I figure the only chance I have to get any information is to get the founder and CEO drunk. Thus I’m pouring him as many Mind Erasers as I can . . . vodka, Kahlua, and soda water have been known to loosen many a tongue.
DINA MARTINA, performer: Best known for her hilarious, raunchy, and utterly unpredictable live shows, Martina is also a bit of an underground sensation within the Seattle restaurant community. I think my co-workers might get more excited about her walking in than anyone else on this list.
The drink: Let’s see here: cool, complex, and a bit fiery. Sounds like a Hot Charlotte to me, a blend of cucumber, gin, and Tabasco sauce.
As always, if you have any thoughts, comments, criticism, or suggestions, send them to the address below or tweet at me directly @zgeballe.