kristinsmall.jpeg
Photo by Eric Greenwalt
Ms. Naranjo gracefully upholds libation traditions.
The Watering Hole: Vito's, 927 Ninth Ave., 397-4053.

The Atmosphere: "The Sopranos crash the set

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Vito's Clears the Bar Set By the Classics and Segues Sweetly Towards Fall

kristinsmall.jpeg
Photo by Eric Greenwalt
Ms. Naranjo gracefully upholds libation traditions.
The Watering Hole: Vito's, 927 Ninth Ave., 397-4053.

The Atmosphere: "The Sopranos crash the set of Swingers" would be the easy shorthand, given Vito's original incarnation as a gangster haunt in the early 50s and its 2010 resurrection as a cool kids' cocktail lounge. However, the precisely calibrated balance between old and new struck by current owners Greg Lundgren and Jeff Scott (co-proprietors of artful libation nook The Hideout, located just around the corner) saves Vito's from losing it sense of history (wood paneling and a saucy, Sicilian menu remain), while improving upon what wasn't working (the dance floor has been repurposed as a home for a grand piano). Twenty-something, tattooed lovebirds now canoodle over Vito's legendary cannelloni, but life-long regulars keep their space at the bar with deserved dignity.

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The Barkeep: A smoldering brunette brandishing fresh-faced beauty and an unaffected, engaging demeanor that suits the Vito's vibe perfectly, Kristen Naranjo is a veteran of the Seattle bar business. She accumulated serious trench time slinging tequila and Tecate at Cha Cha (both new and old locales), and shouting over crowds swarming the bar at Neumos, but then moved away from high volume--literally and figuratively--and began working for Lundgren and Scott. After four years of bartending at The Hideout, she started managing the whole operation, expanding those duties to include supervising the bar at Vito's, hiring on several new staff and revamping the cocktail menu. Her selection on the evening I visited was the Tom Handy, a menu mainstay.

The Drink: "It's a take on the Sazerac," explains Naranjo, deftly rinsing a chilled double rocks glass with absinthe before swirling a long-handled spoon around rough-cut ice cubes and two parts rye whiskey, one part cognac, a whisper of simple syrup, and a brisk sprinkling of Creole bitters. "It's a really simple preparation and a totally stunning cocktail," she continues, confidently placing the finished product in front of me with a generous swath of lemon peel kissing the frosty glass rim.

The Verdict: The wheel has not been reinvented, and that's a good thing. This is the perfect whiskey cocktail to usher in the fall chill. It warms initially via the obvious effects of cognac, but then unexpectedly refreshes, thanks to the beautiful harmony of dry rye and the slight anise that comes through the absinthe. Don't mess with classic success.

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