Note: First Looks give previews of new drinks and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
Six months ago, Radiator Whiskey's bar manager, Sara Rosales, was hiding her craft-cocktail making tools in a kit under the bar at the Holiday Inn where she worked, awaiting that special customer who would come in and ask her for a real drink. Dan Bugge, veteran restaurateur and owner of Seattle's venerated Matt's in the Market, was that person—and he was on the look out for just the right cocktail aficionado to head up the bar program across the hall at his latest venture, Radiator Whiskey.
Rosales's palate for bitter liqueurs and the deep, rich flavors of whiskey, plus her eagerness to move up to a bar with a real cocktail program fit perfectly with Bugge's vision: to bring originality to a bar by hiring from outside the old boy's club. Not to mention she made him a mean Manhattan that day.
At Radiator Whiskey, the giant barrel façade that dominates the back of the bar has taps not only for the eponymous house spirit (aged from local 2Bar Whiskey) and a few other rare whiskeys, but also barrel-aged cocktails. Wood dominates the decor: the tap handles were built from chair legs by the chefs, Tyler Palagi and Charlie Garrison. The bar shelves were made from shipping pallets, and apple wood makes its way all over the menu, smoking both meats and the rye that is the base of the Frisch cocktail.
The Frisch is one of the five variations on the classic Manhattan (others include the Einstein, Oppenheimer, McMillan, and Bohr, with a wink to the science/history geeks out there), which make up half of the printed cocktail list, with the other side offering signature cocktails, like the Showgirl, which was named for the view out Radiator's windows onto the Déjà Vu's marquee. When Rosales told the gentleman's club's manager about the drink, he left her a stack of free passes to the club to hand out when she served it. With Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Ramazzotti Amaro, and house-made rhubarb bitters, the flavors are exactly the deep, bitter ones that epitomize the Radiator menu.
"Amaro and whiskey don't make salad cocktails," Rosales says, explaining the cocktail list's affinity for the kitchen's rich smoked meats: pairing drinks to lamb neck sloppy joes or beef lip terrine is all in a day's work for her. Italian bitter liqueurs fit well as a slightly sweet tool in her kit of alcohol for Radiator, which also includes peaty Scotches, smoky mezcals alongside whiskey.