Mixologist Jim Romdall
Vessel | Seattle
Jim Romdall is making some of Seattle’s most compelling cocktails, but his professional life took a few twists and turns before landing behind the serious bar where he belongs. Romdall grew up in Seattle and studied film at the University of Washington. Soon after turning 21, he got a bartending job where he was instructed, “sling drinks as fast as you can and cram as much alcohol into them without having them taste like it.” Jim excelled at his job, yet soon tired of breaking up fights and cleaning up messes. He wanted to make movies, so he moved to Los Angeles.
After a careful job search—between catching waves—he became a bartender at the fine dining restaurant Granita, in Malibu. He became immersed in the world of food, wine and spirits, and was soon promoted to bar manager. He remained there and indulged his passion for knowledge, flavors, and experiences until the restaurant closed.
Jim returned to Seattle in 2006. Vessel had recently opened and the bar manager there, Jamie Boudreau, was hiring. Classic cocktails? Sure. Romdall soon fell in love with the world of serious cocktail culture; he absorbed everything he could, and became bar manager in 2008. He is also one of the founding members of the Washington Bartenders Guild, established in 2008.
Romdall loves being on the forefront of the cocktail world and plans to stay there. He says his high ambitions are matched only by the amount of fun he’s having.
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Heather Sperling: How did you get into mixology? What was your first job in the industry?
Jim Romdall: I was a cook at Godfather’s Pizza when I was 16 for $5.05 an hour and free pizza! I did the college bar thing for over three years. Then I moved to LA and jumped into the fine dining scene for another three years. Down there I became the bar manager at Granita in Malibu. Two years ago I didn't really know anything about cocktails. When I moved back to Seattle I dove into the cocktail world at Vessel, and I haven’t looked back… It instantly became a passion.
HS: What is your favorite mixology resource?
JR: The Gentleman’s Companion by Charles H. Baker. No other book captures the stories surrounding the cocktails so well.
HS: What is your favorite tool?
JR: My twisted steel WMF bar spoon, I just can’t use others anymore.
HS: What is your favorite cocktail to drink and to make?
JR: It changes day by day! Right now, I’d say I like to drink a nice simple Old Fashioned. As for making, it’s usually whatever is new and on my mind, but I always like taking the time to make people a proper Ramos Gin Fizz.
HS: What ingredient or spirit do you feel is underappreciated or underutilized?
JR: Rye! Although it’s making a big comeback, it’s still not where it should be—it should be a staple behind every bar. Rye can stand up to other sweet ingredients. And a rye Manhattan is always worlds better than a bourbon Manhattan.
HS: Do you have anyone you’d consider a mentor?
JR: Jamie Boudreau definitely taught me a lot of what I know about cocktails.
HS: Where will we find you in five years?
JR: I'll probably still be here in some respect. There's talk of another bar venture. A friend and I want to start a truffle farm. And that will be the agricultural base to build a distillery.
HS: What would you make?
JR: I'd like to make a few eclectic liquors. I want to make and market my own bitters. We make our own bitters and tinctures here, and I want to refine them and make a couple products. There are so many herbal, bitter liquors coming out of Italy. Most of what people are distilling here are vodka and gin because they're un-aged. I'd like to make a whiskey, but I'd really like to make some fun liquors that showcase Washington. I'd like to make a crabapple liquor that doesn't taste like a jolly rancher. We've been experimenting with onions...it's odd, but that's Washington! Apples and onions.
HS: What is your cocktail philosophy?
JR: I love flavors and I love new things. I did a lot of pairing at the restaurant. I love finding a new ingredient and using that in a cocktail…taking a flavor and bringing it out in a cocktail, while staying true to classic cocktails.
HS: What is the Seattle bartending scene like?
JR: Seattle's bartender scene has really exploded. We're really open. We have the state-run liquor obstacle—the state liquor control board is a challenge. One of the main obstacles is trying to get product. We really work together on that front. It's really nice to be part of such a tight-knit community.
HS: Is there a technique you’re especially excited about right now?
JR: We've been going carbonation crazy. We have two carbonated drinks on the menu right now.
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