The Zig Zag is a charming cocktail bar nestled beneath Pike Place Market, just down the stairs from Western Avenue. It's well known and well advertised by cocktail fiends the city over as one of Seattle's prime bastions of professional mixology. Whether it's a personal recommendation from Nathan Weber at Tavern Law or Playboy Magazine voting the Zag's senior bartender Murray Stenson as one of the top ten bartenders in America, I'm hard-pressed to find a Seattle lounge with more acclaim.
The cafe itself offers an outdoor area partially obscured by the entranceway stairs, mitigating the weird feeling of being put on display by whoever's serving you while still soaking up the rare Seattle sun. However, The Zig Zag's candlelit interior doesn't lag far behind in soothing ambience.
The drink menu might not have the relentless creative energy of Tavern Law, but with less diversity comes less pre-order jitters. If Tavern Law's cocktail menu focused on experimentation and ambitious concept drinks, The Zig Zag keeps its list of featured cocktails lean and mean for a deeper sense of mastery over drinks advertised.
I began with The Lawhill, a flighty rye and vermouth quaff steeped in maraschino and anise. It's not quite the cocktail that has critics lined up around the block, but it's a great alternative for those of you who've gotten utterly bored of the Manhattan.
The McCoy (Irish whiskey, tuaca, dry sherry, peach bitters) was so incredibly smooth that I seriously thought there was something wrong with my sense of taste for the first few sips. I was sort of reminded of the hard liquor equivalent of a Belgian White beer for how many hints of citrus, vanilla and peach were packed into a taste so unintrusive.The Albertini's Night features the illustrious Italian licor strega (or witch's liquor), an after-dinner liquor sprinkled throughout The Godfather and various other mob tales, likely for its distinct bright yellow appearance, nefarious name and a striking, multi-faceted taste. Brought together with orange bitters, the two liquors dance with each other perfectly. Strega, the digestif, was made into something perfect no matter how much food you just ate, while the whiskey gave a deeper body of flavor with hints of saffron, mint and licorice.
All of these cocktails were delicious, but not quite the knock-out I was looking for in a tucked-away bar suggested on high by most everyone. Once I'd all but run out of whiskey cocktails to order, I took to talking to bartender on-duty Erik for a suggestion.
There he mixed the most beautiful mint julep I'd ever laid eyes on. The dim candlelit glow of the bar shined on the fresh mint-ruled beverage perfectly. It almost felt like I was about to drink whiskey out of an especially gifted child's rainforest diorama.
The julep was gloriously refreshing. Picture the end of a really drawn-out, over-the-top heist movie where the hero and his embattled lover are relaxing on a white beach, now able to afford the greatest luxuries this world has to offer. Now imagine they're brought out, with care, the most meticulously crafted tropical drink ever to be served out of a hallowed-out pineapple. It's chilled, chock-full of fresh fruit and top-shelf rum -- and it tastes like a clammy mixture of dishwater and feta cheese brine compared to The Zig Zag's mint julep.
If anyone in Seattle can find me a drink that wipes out that sticky, languid summer feeling better than The Zig Zag's mint julep, I will eat my hat, then wash it down with another delicious mint julep. This drink was so satisfying I honestly came to an impasse as to what I could possibly do for next week's article. With the most cursory of research on any julep that could possibly weigh up to the Zag's, The Kingfish Cafe kept coming up. The Kingfish serves their mint juleps with a Southern twist -- stiff and packed into a mason jar. Next week, I will drink some.