Two years ago I was hit by a truck on my bicycle and broke my neck and back. I spent two months in a neck brace, off work, collecting a very small percentage of my income from Employment Insurance, and the promise of (hopefully) one day collecting an insurance settlement. Considering I live in Canada and did not receive a bill for my ambulance ride or hospital visit, I’m fortunate that I’m not completely bankrupt. It also afforded me the luxury of a visit to see my sister who lives in Seattle, and a chance to meet Murray Stenson.
My unfamiliarity with the Pike Place area at the time meant I arrived at Zig Zag at five minutes past five o’clock and every barstool was occupied. No matter, I was wet, and hungry, and had nowhere else to be, so I sat down at a table for dinner and waited my turn. The service was immaculate, cocktails made by the service bartender, superb; and I still talk about the tender pieces of alligator in that gumbo…but I was there to hand deliver a bottle, and to meet Murray. I feel privileged to count myself in the tens of thousands who have had the pleasure of sitting at Murray’s bar, but more than having said I’ve been there, I wanted to meet the man I have to thank for my current place in life. I was there to pay my respects.
My good friend, former roommate and bar manager at Pourhouse Christopher Flett, along with our current bar manager Jon Ledwidge made a journey to Seattle years ago, to discover what was going on in cocktails in a neighboring city. They went to Seattle not knowing what to expect or whom they would meet. They ended up at Murray’s bar and into a friendship that would help guide the growth of them as bartenders, and in turn, our city’s cocktail culture. I’m not saying the Christopher and Jon are responsible for craft cocktails as they are in Vancouver today, far from it. But I am saying that they are two of countless other bartenders who’s careers have been influenced by him whether they know it or not; and most are well aware. Ask any bartender in town, and they’ll be able to tell you the impact that Murray has had on them, someone who has trained them, or someone who’s sat at their bar. Murray helped mold not only barmen, but shaped an entire culture of discerning palettes, and did so like most great men; with great humility.
“When I met Murray I did not yet understand the process of making classic cocktails. Yet he still treated me with the same level of generosity and respect that a peer or equal would. That was Murray. My path to maturing as a bartender would have been greatly inhibited were it not for the friendship that followed.
I have always maintained that Murray’s bar would still be full, even if he made bad cocktails. This is because Murray is not just a great bartender, but a great individual… gracious and welcoming. There is something here that many aspiring bartenders should take note of.
I once brought a friend to Zig Zag to meet Murray. Upon introduction he exclaimed, “So, you’re the legendary Murray!” with a faint grin on his face, Murray modestly replied, “no, just Murray.”
Unfortunately, Murray has been diagnosed with a heart condition that has left him unable to work, and requiring heart surgery. As he lives in Seattle, WA and medical expenses are quite extraneous, bars and bartenders across North America and worldwide have united to raise funds in support of Murray. Pourhouse will be putting a cocktail from a previous list back on the menu and donating $2 from each Stenson cocktail sold to aid in raising money for his heart surgery. The Stenson was an homage Christopher paid to Murray at the thought of his potential retirement last year. It reminded me of the cocktails Murray made for me when I was at his bar: rich, dark flavors…and strong. I invite you to come in and have a drink in his honor, to toast the man who has greatly influenced what we do and aspire to, or to get stories from the mouths of our barmen themselves, and to help us aid Murray.
If you’d like to know how the fundraising effort is going, or to donate personally, visit murrayaid.org