Welcome back to The Barkeepers, a column dedicated to the men and women who work behind some of Seattle's hottest bars.
[Photos: S. Pratt]
While many service industry veterans dread the thought of opening a new restaurant, barkeep Tyler Stamon thrives in the fresh paint. These days, he makes his home behind the bars at Ballard's Stoneburner and Pioneer Square newbie Damn the Weather. And while his name might not ring a bell to some cocktail snobs, he doesn't mind a bit.
With years of working with some top sommeliers in his glass, Stamon has more than enough varietal verbage tucked away to share. Though his own spot may be in the future, his current digs give him a front row seat into the ultimate food/drink pairing: killer chefs matching up with super-talented bartenders in a new era of dining.
You've been at the gigantic Stoneburner about a year, and the tiny Damn the Weather for a couple months. What do they have in common?
Erik [Carlson, Stoneburner bar manager] and Jason [Stoneburner] are both finally getting a crack at doing their own thing. It's cool to be in the same spot as someone whose career is finally coming together, who can put all their knowledge into one thing and you're right there, being part of it, while it's blowing up. It's cool to be in Stoneburner right now.
It's the same thing at Damn the Weather, with Bryn [Lumsden] running the show, and Eli [Dahlin] getting to cook his food, getting into his own kitchen where he can make his vision come to life. It's the right people, the people who have been in the wings for so long. Yeah, there are people who have the name, but are they in the bar or the restaurant everyday working it? These are people who have put the consistency into those other places you know, helped actually put them on the map in the past, but never got the name recognition. Now, they get their chance.
Speaking of Erik and Bryn, it seems like you kind of have the best of both worlds with you. Do they have similar styles?
Erik and Bryn are about as far away in personality as you can get. Bryn is very quiet, he's a total intellectual, just thinks about things a ton, obsesses over them. Erik's totally that same way, but he's intense, he's a pusher. He'll bulldog something and make sure something gets done.
Working with Erik, it's fun to watch, he's always trying new stuff, bouncing around. Bryn's figuring it out, he has the approach down, and I'm more of a sounding board for both of them, somewhere in the middle.
Stoneburner's now a year old, and Erik [Carlson]'s done this before, he's opened bars. With Bryn, it's more of a flowing conversation. He's never really worked in a restaurant, he's worked in bars, like from the Rob Roy end of things. The whole food and wine thing, that's kind of foreign to him. It's more of a conversation of "what do you think about this?" versus Stoneburner.
I think that place is going to pop off. It's just good energy. Bryn and Jay [Kuehner] are a great example of two bartenders I've worked with where there's just a constant flow of information, just passing ideas back and forth, with no judgment. And if someone sees another, better way to do something, we just adapt to it, no machismo. We all think alike too, as far as what bartending is and how it happens. Like, we're all super on the same page. And Bryn's the nicest guy. I worry about him as the manager because he doesn't want anyone working harder than him, he wants people to be really happy, and he's really into the family aspect of the bar. Which is fucking rad, I wish more people were into that, that if you're buying a bar, you're buying a family. Especially in a small spot, like Damn the Weather. That's what it is, and that's when you get the most out of it, when everyone's in it together, and no one's just in it for themselves. Everyone has a good time.
Sounds like you're in a good position yourself. How did you get there, briefly?
I bounced around a bit on the outskirts before I got my chance to work with some great sommeliers and a super alpha crew at Purple, in the beginning. I started from the bottom, which was fine with me, because I could learn everything from the ground up. I did the Purple thing for a while, in Bellevue too, then Lot 3. Traveled for a bit because I was getting kind of disillusioned, feeling like the family aspect wasn't really there.
When I got back from South America, turned my phone back on, and had a call from Cameron Williams who was opening Marche with Daisley Gordon and Cyril [Frechier]. That's where I kind of began my "masters level" courses, as far as wine education. Then, one day I ran into Jim Romdall around town, and he told me he was reopening Vessel and offered me a chance to get behind the bar. I was super intimidated. I was good on the food, good on the wine, pretty good on the cocktails. It's hard to find places with all those things, and then a lineup of incredible bartenders.
What is the weirdest or hardest part about bartending that you still like?
It's like cold calling people. You never know who's going to sit down or what they're going to say, but it's still fun. I've had people take out their shit on me in really unexpected ways, and I can just roll with it, and sometimes they even come back and apologize. One guy was going through a divorce and having trouble at work and all that, but you don't know that, he just sits down and it's up to you to kind of take one part of his life and make it okay. I don't know if I'll ever do anything else.
Then, there's a point in the night, or just the whole night, where you're behind the sticks and everything's going perfect, you're on a high, and it's just effortless. You're just making people happy and you can feel the rest of the restaurant kind of clicking, and you're kind of the epicenter in there, you start it off. And then there are nights when everything's going wrong and you kind of can't fix it, but you just have to keep banging against it, and it'll eventually work out.
What's your favorite part of opening a new place?
When you start, everyone's kind of in the same place, you kind of don't know where they're at, even if you've heard their name. It's cool to see stuff grow, to get up to speed so fast. I think it's cool to see someone hired as a busser get up to being a server, and then become the best server, to elevate their own understanding.
What do you hate?
People's negativity. It's so hard when customers want to come in and rip on day two, and you're like, "listen, I've literally been in this restaurant for 12 hours, with three training shifts, and you want to rip on it like it's a 3 star Michelin restaurant? Get over it." People freak out when they're out of their comfort zone...everyone thinks they're a critic. The whole point of going to a restaurant is so you can experience people's take on food and drink, what they think a restaurant should be. Granted, service is service, but just relax, let yourself experience it.
What would you serve to someone who walked in and wanted to learn, but seemed kind of intimidated?
Wine is so temperamental, but so much fun to talk to people about. [Stoneburner/Bastille wine director] James Lechner and Dawn, Cyril, Chris, they taught me wine isn't a snobby or intimidating conversation. It's just juice and there's so much to learn and that's what's the most fun. And being able to have the ability to communicate with people and listen to what they want and read what they're saying and get them into the glass that's going to fit them or even move them along and have them try and enjoy something they would never approach alone. It's cool because you can taste it and break it down as far as flavor profiles and everything, which I think is missing from spirits sometimes.
Do you want your own bar? You've already opened everyone else's.
Owning a bar and running/maintaining a bar are completely different things. I need more copies of me to help out (laughs.) I think I'd rather own a restaurant before I owned a bar. It goes back to the fact that most of owning a spot is babysitting. I'd have to have a lot of people I trust.
I mean, at some point, everyone has to think seriously about tossing their hat in the ring. It just goes from all the things that I just told you I love, kind of go out the window, because now I'm on the other side of things. But if a really good friend of mine who cooks wanted to open something where we could both cook and bartend four days a week and someone else could come in the rest…that could be feasible. It's always a possibility, I've definitely considered it. I'm still young though. I might still do a 100 different things before then.
Are you the bartender who Jason Stoneburner mentioned keeps getting hotel keys slipped to him from guests?
I don't know what you're talking about… (Laughs) I mean, you don't have to oblige the lady, you can just say "thank you."
· All Damn the Weather Coverage [-ESEA-]
· All Stoneburner Coverage [-ESEA-]
· All Barkeepers Coverage [-ESEA-]