2015 Seattle Rising Star Bartender Seth Sempere of Spur Gastropub

2015 Seattle Rising Star Bartender Seth Sempere of Spur Gastropub
November 2015

Spur Gastropub
113 Blanchard Street
Seattle, WA 98121



Seth Sempere had a classical introduction to the industry: pizza delivery. Expanding his repertoire to bartending gave Sempere a glimpse into his future, especially when Fireworks—the Italian restaurant in Vermont that gave him his start—added a lounge.

Sempere was a Literature major with a penchant for travel. He and his girlfriend left Vermont for a road trip, and by the time they reached Seattle in 2011, it was the pour, not the pen, that pulled in Sempere. He applied his scholarly habits to mixing with more tenacity than ever, researching cocktail history and learning to draw connections between drinks and cuisine.

At Suite 410, Sempere was part of a team that made the bar’s reputation as a cocktail den. He then began working for McCracken-Tough restaurants, bartending at Coterie Room, and by 2013 managing the bar at Spur and showcasing his seemingly effortless ability to pair cocktails with the fun, refined gastropub menu. Sempere’s style is incredibly ingredient-driven, enabling him to use cocktails to not only mimic, but also to influence a dish.

Sempere spread his talents by not only participating in the tight-knit Seattle bartender community and mixing at rum bar Rumba, but also by winning the 2014 Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender competition. Not surprisingly, Sempere is the Vice President of the Washington State Bartenders Guild.

Interview with Seattle Rising Star Bartender Seth Sempere of Spur Gastropub

Sean Kenniff: How did you get your start?
Seth Sempere:
My first industry job was delivering pizzas and doing prep work in Vermont, at a place called Fire Works. They expanded to include a cocktail lounge, mostly beer and wine. In a town of 10 to 15 thousand people it was a big deal. I was a beer and wine guy. I never knew what cocktails could be, so I started doing my research and study the history.

SK: How did you make it to Seattle?
I moved here after a month-long cross country roadtrip with my girlfriend.

SK: How do you describe your style?
I'm an ingredient driven bartender. That works out really well when pairing with food. I'm so fortunate to work with Jeff [Vance]. He provides some challenging dishes to work with. He uses complex flavors and strives for balance, just like with a cocktail. When we're working together, I'm not just mimicking the dish with a cocktail. I'm changing the dish.

SK: Where do you look for inspiration?
I look to the seasons and things that are growing around me. I like Pike Place Market. Also, I'm motivated by wanting to please the guest's palate in front of me.

SK: If you could go have a drink at any bar in the world tonight, where do you go?
 Kipling's, a tiny pub in Brattleboro, Vermont. I learned more than I can remember about how to work hard, manage a crowd, respect a guest, and make people happy from Jill and Kip Record. They might not know it, but they are invaluable mentors of mine, and their bar is, to me, the bar of all bars. Everyone is at home at Kip's, and I miss it still, four years after I last sat down for a drink.

SK: What's your go-to bartending resource?
The Flavor Bible is one of my standards for parsing an ingredient, but mostly I look to my colleagues. There are a lot of crazy talented culinary professionals in this town, both behind the bar and behind the line, and those relationships are what keep me motivated and inspired.

SK: What do you think is the most over-rated cocktail trend?
I disagree with the premise that being old is the same thing as being good. Many of the classics are excellent drinks, but they're fundamentals. Strict adherence to classic formulas (with maybe a conspicuously substituted esoteric ingredient here and there) takes the charm and spontaneity away from the experience. There is so much more potential once we approach drinks as a culinary possibility rather than a set of prescriptions, and more opportunity to just have fun with the whole thing.

SK: Where do you see yourself in five years?
With my home life balanced with my work life. Right now, I'm excited coming to work every day and making people happy by making something with my hands. I hope in five years that I've found balance between health, family, and work.

SK: What do you drink on your night off?
Whatever's in the glass! But I love the world of fermented and distilled beverages, not least because there is so much variety to be had.

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