Going 10 Rounds With Top Bartender Jabriel Donohue
The head barman at the Mountaineering Club inside the Graduate Hotel Seattle tackles our speed round of questions.
What do you like to drink after a shift? “Rainier Beer and a shot of bourbon. I’m not picky.”
What is the all-time best dive bar jukebox song? “‘Mother’ by Danzig.”
After all these years bartending and creating drinks, do you still enjoy going out to bars? “Of course! Bars are centers of community and great bars, regardless of style, give you a sense of the city and neighborhood you’re in. The drinks we serve are a big part of what we do but they are insignificant to the environment and experience we offer. And when I’m going out, it’s the experience that I’m usually after.”
Name the first good drink you ever drank and where you had it. “I think the first great drink I had was a Satan’s Soul Patch at the Zig Zag Café in Seattle somewhere around 2005. It really opened my eyes up to the creative possibilities of where cocktails could go beyond the classic Martini or Margarita, which were pretty much the only drinks I could reliably make at the time.”
What book on cocktails or spirits is your go-to resource? “Right now, it’s sort of a triple feature of Jim Meehan’s Bartender’s Manual, Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Bar Book and Death & Co’s cocktail book. Meehan’s Manual is pretty much the most comprehensive book I’ve ever read as far as being a bar operator and I didn’t even fully appreciate its depth until I started working on opening The Mountaineering Club. The Death & Co book is like having a great conversation with other bar nerds, while you’re working on building drinks and then Morgenthaler’s Bar Book is my favorite resource for technique and execution.”
What’s your favorite cocktail and food pairing? “A Martini and oysters. It’s a classic that I don’t expect to see topped anytime soon.”
What drink are you most proud of creating? “The Problem Solver is my personal favorite. It’s probably not my best drink, but it’s had a showing at nearly every bar I have ever worked at and has definitely done the most travelling without me. The drink is a combination of over-proof rye whiskey, Cherry Heering, Bénédictine and Fernet-Branca. It was my first unabashed drink for bartenders back around 2010. I put a bunch of powerful flavors next to each other with no apology and I still love it.”
Is there one person (dead or alive) you’d like to make a cocktail for? “My Grandfather. He passed before my bar career was anything I took seriously but his preference for Martinis definitely reached me through the generations. More than anything, I would like to make us a couple and have an adult conversation with the man. He lived a fascinating life that has for better or worse had a dramatic impact on my own and I was too young to ask the important questions, or even know what they were, before he died.”
What’s your favorite shot-and-a-beer combination? “A Guinness and a glass of Highland Park 18 is pure heaven for me.”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “A neck pillow. Travelling for business usually means very little sleep on either side, so you’ve got to get it in on the plane.”
Jabriel Donohue is the head barman at The Mountaineering Club inside the Graduate Hotel Seattle.
Interview has been condensed and edited.