Escrito por: Ian Cameron
Jim has just reopened Vessel, a Seattle institution, relocating the bar in a larger site in a downtown Seattle location after a year-and-a-half of downtime, and is presenting a 'community bar programme' where different bartenders curate cocktail menus every single night of the week.
When Vessel first opened in October 2006 we took cocktails to another level. There were only a couple of other bars doing doing classic cocktails. I came on board in March 2007 after moving back to Seattle from LA and it really was the talk of the town. In a way, the city didn't know what to do with it - a great venue with really complex drinks, high-end spirits in the well, an ice programme and no vodka drinks, which was all before its time. It was a high-end showcase, grown-up bar.
We did a lot to try and educate people and show people what different drinks could be. We got known for teaching people and in the five years that it was open we watched the city really embrace cocktails. The city became known for custom-made drinks - we definitely did that before other cities. A lot of credit has to go to Jamie Boudreau, he was responsible for some key decisions before I took over - guest bartenders, the ice programme, a lot of those 'firsts' were him.
I took over running the bar in April 2008, and it's always been something like a love affair. Everyone that worked there was so dedicated, we practically created a family of people that worked there. But then we ran into lease issues and could not agree terms with our landlord. In a way we were a victim of your own success - and though the bar was a critical success it was never a cash cow. I remember breaking the news to the staff. It was rough but they handled it pretty well and they already knew something was up.
Plenty of times I wrestled with myself about whether to reopen Vessel or do something completely different, and wondered whether when we opened the door whether anyone would be outside waiting. But in the end we felt there was a huge amount of affection for the bar, it seemed to retain a huge amount of interest even while we were closed. Ultimately it was about finding the ideal space, and reopening with the same name allowed us to do everything we couldn't do before. We're in a bigger space, and we've designed the bar as it should be, starting from scratch rather than taking somewhere over.
My business partner is the designer, but we still had nightmares along the way as we had to custom make everything. We also added square footage by building a mezzanine, and that itself created a three-month delay. The build time was eight months in the end and of course we were anxious about getting the project done on budget. There are definitely similarities with the design, as my business partner designed them both, so it's definitely recognisable to anyone familiar with the old one.
I didn't even think about the drinks side of things until we were ready to open. That's what my day job is so I wasn't phased by that. But because Seattle had changed so much while we were closed so we've gone from a venue where we changed the menu quarterly to one where the drinks menu changes every night, with two bartenders offering their own lists every night. Ideally I get the menus a week ahead, in order to buy in any obscure ingredients, but naturally that doesn't happen! At first it seemed daunting, but now we have a system of sorts.
The new Vessel has gone down really well, but because we are so new I don't think people have totally grasped the concept that the drinks on offer change literally every single day. I would really hope that that maintains people's interest in us. There will be a house menu but it will come after the two bartenders' showcase drinks. Soon, from Sundays to Wednesdays, there will always be a guest bartender on from another bar, initially from Seattle, then extending nationally as soon as I know that that works. And I'll be behind the bar two nights a week.
We're three-weeks-old now and sure we've had some ups and downs but there have have been more ups than downs. Filling the shelves felt pretty good, but the icing on the cake was seeing bartenders working the bar - no amount of screwing things to the walls or building floors could match that. I do know we are absolutely making more money than we did at the old site. Some of our old customers have been coming back, and one of them paid us the biggest compliment when they said Seattle wasn't the same without us.