The Watering Hole: Artusi, 1535 14th Ave., 251-7673. CAPITOL HILL
The Atmosphere: The clean and minimalistic space is in direct contrast to the adjoining rustic and homey Spinasse. The delicate paper-like cylinder chandeliers dangling from the ceiling, the bright abstract paintings that line the pale walls, and the eclectic mix of early 90s hip-hop music (or whatever else happens to be playing on the bartender du jour's iPod) punctuate a pretty drinking parlor that modestly turns out some of the most delicious, well-crafted cocktails in the city. The egg shell-colored hex tiles on the bar provide a stark backdrop for the colorful drinks that await your arm's reach. Sibling Spinasse may get all the culinary glory, but Artusi is creating a welcomed booze-soaked rivalry.The Barkeep: Jonathan Hudak. He's lived in Seattle for the past nine years, ever since he moved up from Tacoma to attend the University of Washington where he majored in painting and drawing--a pretty great complement for his thoughtful bartending skills. Before Artusi, he worked at Eva, Tilth and Golden Beetle. "I worked in restaurants to subsidize my income during college and 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 made me a drink inspired by a cocktail called The Choke Artist from 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 it 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."
And what do you call it? Do you have a name for this cocktail?
"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 a name: The Luchador.
1.5 oz of tequila
3/4 oz each of Fernet Branca and Punta e Mes
About 4 dashes of Scrappy's orange bitters
The Verdict: The orange bitters and the Punt e Mes bring out the spiciness of the tequila 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 chokehold, but breathing is overrated anyway.