I have never had the honor of meeting Murray Stenson, the legendary Seattle bartender. I’ve, unfortunately, never been to Seattle. But I can say with all certainty that Murray’s long years behind the stick have influenced every word I’ve written on the topic of spirits and cocktails. You see, I’ve been blogging here since 2006, and writing professionally on this subject since 2009.
Stenson’s influence has been mostly indirect, unfortunately, but it’s certainly here. When I sat at Milk & Honey, in the company of several bartenders and a founder of Martin Miller’s gin, and we tasted a Last Word, Murray Stenson was there with us in a way of speaking. He didn’t create the drink, but he rescued it from oblivion and put it on the menu at Zig Zag. Just a few years later, I sat on the opposite coast and mixed one up myself.
When I wrote extensively about the Diamondback Cocktail, I mentioned its heritage and the fact that it, too, was resurrected and promoted by Mr. Stenson. So here are two excellent drinks that Murray forced out of retirement to trick them out for his guests.
But there’s more to a bartender than technique and recipe, and what truly sets Murray apart is his emphasis on hospitality, remembering his guests (and their previous drink orders) on return visits, and his willingness to share the love of his craft with his guests, with other bartenders, and with writers such as Paul Clarke and Chuck Taggart. The man has a true generosity of spirit, coupled with an open and transparent approach to his work.
But Murray needs some help; he’s got a heart condition that prevents him from working presently, and he’ll need an operation to correct it before he can return to his job. Bartending is a demanding job, physically and emotionally. Not only is bartending a tremendously laborious job, but it requires you to be “on” constantly. A night behind the stick can wreck even a young person, and Murray’s been at this for many years.
Bartending is not normally a job that carries health benefits, and Murray’s among the group without them, so the care he needs is not going to come cheap.
Some of his friends have set up a page where they’re asking for donations. They also have a Facebook page where they’re providing updates on his condition and their fundraising efforts. Do what you can to help, please. Finally, Paul Clarke has more information on Murray’s work and career on his site.
Paul could probably use some help of his own, frankly. Last night, Rachel Maddow tweeted this:
Cocktail enthusiasts rally for one of the greats: is.gd/PXjDZP Someday we won’t have to do this – everyone will be covered
— Rachel Maddow MSNBC (@maddow) October 23, 2012
Paul wound up with thousands of visits to his site in just a 20-minute period. I hope his web hosting was up to the traffic. But if you see Paul around, online or in person, offer him a drink.