The Watering Hole: June, 1423 34th Ave., 323-4000, MADRONA.
The Mixologist: San Francisco transplant Nick Vrignaud.
The Atmosphere: June is the kind of neighborhood bistro where everyone from the bussers to the management will circulate regularly with water to check on you and your meal. It’s more like dining in a friend’s very busy, oddly laid-out, casual dining room than a high-end eatery.
The Drink: A shot of Fernet Branca with a ginger ale back. “It’s very much the restaurant insider’s drink,” Vrignaud explains. “Some people call it Jägermeister for grownups.”
I’ve barely managed to take in a sip of the sweet, herb-laden, almost coffee-esque Fernet before Vrignaud pulls it to the side. He’s just realized I’m planning to tuck in for dinner at June after the drink. “Fernet is, like, on the way out the door,” he explains. “Let me make you a Sazerac.“
Like many mixologists, Vrignaud has educated himself on the origins of the cocktails he slings from behind the bar at June. The Sazerac, he explains, is best made with a strong, spicy rye, rather than the smoother bourbons favored by many mixologists. Vrignaud makes his Sazerac with Wild Turkey. He also eschews the twist, simply zesting the lemon over the glass.
The Verdict: I’m not the kind of purist who insists that today’s cocktails resemble their Prohibition-era iterations. That said, Vrignaud’s Sazerac was zesty, bright, and impressively worth the $11.
After paying for the drinks, I headed to my table for dinner, Fernet in hand, thrilled to have such an ideal after-dinner digestive. An hour or so later, my companion and I were wrapping up a meal of tender geoducks, oil-covered radishes, flavorful mushrooms, and delectable chicken.
Just as I was turning to the after-dinner drink I’d been saving, Vrignaud appeared at our table. He carried three tumblers, a bottle of the dark liquid, and glasses of his recommended ginger-ale chasers. He set them down and asked us about our meal, pouring two fingers of Fernet into the tumblers.
We drained our drinks together, and happily stumbled into the night air. Bitters aren’t for everyone, but however you feel about Fernet Branca, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better bartender to drink with than Vrignaud.