First Call: Rob Roy's Zane Harris Is Old Fashioned

Zane Harris and his Old Fashioned
First Call is a weekly Voracious feature in which we ask a bartender to make us his or her favorite drink.

Locale: Rob Roy, 2332 Second Ave, 956-8423.

Manning the bar: Zane Harris, Rob Roy's new co-owner, along with Anu Apte.

Slinging drinks since: Well, my parents have been in the restaurant business my whole life, but legally...since I was 21.

After I explain the rules of First Call, Zane says, "Well, it's not so important here what I drink. What we want to do here is make the right drink for you." Well, then. I guess I'll play your game, Zane...this time.

"Okay," I tell him, "I usually drink whiskey. And I don't like sweet, foofy drinks."

Harris returns a few minutes later from the far end of the bar -- after doing something with bitters and an orange peel -- with a translucent, orange-tinted beverage. "This," he says, "is a properly made Old Fashioned." It comes with a brandied cherry garnish, and the fruit looks nothing like the neon red cherries you find at the grocery store. These are smaller and look like actual, real cherries. Harris says he makes them himself with Kirschwasser brandy, sugar, and Cognac, and they are delicious. "The Old Fashioned," Harris says, "is one of the most misunderstood drinks ever."

Where did you learn all this? Maybe bartending school? "No," Harris says. "You can't learn this stuff in bartending school. I just read a lot of old cookbooks." He pulls a vintage out-of-print bartending tome out from behind the bar as proof.

However he might have gained the knowledge, it's not surprising to find out how much Harris knows about cocktails. Both Harris and Apte came to the Rob Roy from Vessel, one of Seattle's most well-known craft cocktail bars. It's a classy bar. It can also seem...well, hoity-toity. The duo left Vessel to take over the Rob Roy on August 11, but the Rob Roy won't become a carbon copy, Harris says. Instead, his goal is to build a nice neighborhood bar that locals who are nonplussed by Belltown's meat-market scene can frequent if they want to be able to have a conversation and a high-quality cocktail.

So Harris and Apte have mostly dispatched with the Rob Roy's former DJ lineup. They're also adding a kitchen and booths behind the bar. The only thing the place won't have is beer on tap; the tap lines would need to be very long, and, Harris says, would be too hard to clean.

Better yet, Harris says he's not planning on alienating people who order something simple. "If someone comes in and orders a vodka soda, I'll make them a vodka soda," he says. If you do order a boozy Coke, you'll know that at least it's made with real cane sugar -- the bar brings in Mexican Coke to avoid high-fructose corn syrup. Even the grenadine is homemade, with pomegranate and raspberry among other ingredients. So though it's good to know you could get a vodka soda here, why would you want to?

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