If you ask Casey Estrada to mix you a custom cocktail, the Meet the Moon bar manager will respond with a series of questions: Do you want a spirit-forward cocktail or something with more citrus? Sweet or bitter? A darker spirit like whiskey or a lighter spirit like gin? On ice?
His mind works like a flow chart, fusing classic cocktail flavors with his own creative twists while composing a beautiful and balanced drink to please whoever sits across the bar. “There’s a lot of cocktail-making going on in my head before I actually pour any ingredients together,” Estrada admits. Some of these make it onto Meet the Moon’s drink menu—like the Eastern Medicine, made with blended Japanese whiskey, fresh lemon juice, and a ginger-honey syrup that Estrada’s been perfecting for years, or the Rye Manhattan, with Italian amaro, sweet vermouth, and two more bitters for extra depth.
“I think the modern diner wants to be challenged a little,” Estrada says. But rather than hit patrons over the head with wild flavor combinations, he’s mastered the gentle dance of swapping in a new spirit or infusing a recognizable drink with an unexpected flourish to make it current and unique.
Estrada pushes the envelope when he can, though. One of his favorite creations is the Man in Black—a split-based cocktail of bourbon and mescal. “[It’s] very deep from the bourbon, mescal gives it a nice smokiness, you get the heat from the habanero [tincture], and a nice spice characteristic from the amaro,” Estrada explains. “And this is all balanced out by the crème de cacao.”
This sophisticated lingo and inspired mixology didn’t just arise overnight. After bartending for more than a decade, Estrada finally got the chance to showcase his creativity when he began managing the bar program at Leschi’s new neighborhood eatery, Meet the Moon, seven months ago. Beyond dreaming up new recipes and gauging what his patrons like and dislike, he’s developed a knack for pairing cocktails with Meet the Moon’s food menu—a process that involves matching flavor, style, body, and spice notes. “I also like playing with acidity because it awakens the palate,” Estrada explains. After pairing bold, bourbon-based cocktails with the BBQ meatloaf or spicy fried-chicken sandwich, or light effervescent ones with the Dungeness crab roll or arugula and grain salad, he’s always on his toes when it comes to the rotating Chef’s Taco of the Day. As spring commences, Estrada is gearing up for “sunshine drinking,” with more citrus cocktails and a boost in traffic. Meet the Moon patrons can look forward to his bright new daiquiri—a delicate blend of pineapple rum, dark rum, fresh lime juice, and simple syrup.
With a bar top full of regulars and an arsenal of ideas, Estrada’s style is constantly evolving as he educates and emboldens his clientele while staying true to his creativity and craft. He’s helping put Meet the Moon on the map—and bringing new life to Leschi’s cocktail game.
“It’s easy to get lost in a city as big as Seattle,” Estrada says. “But to be able to find my place and … contribute in a way that adds to the sense of community is my favorite part of the job.” 120 Lakeside Ave., 707-9730, meetthemooncafe.com