2015 Seattle Rising Star Bartender Tommy Stearns of Canon: Whiskey and Bitters Emporium

2015 Seattle Rising Star Bartender Tommy Stearns of Canon: Whiskey and Bitters Emporium
November 2015

Canon: Whiskey and Bitters Emporium
928 12th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98122



A few years of the industry grind was all it took for Bartender Tommy Stearns to realize that creating and slinging craft cocktails was his life’s mission.

Stearns took his first steps into the industry working as a line cook at PF Chang’s in Bellevue, Washington. Playing with flavors and ingredients was appealing to him, but he took the leap to front of the house, working his way from bus boy to server. One decisive day, the bartender no-showed, and Stearns was called into the game. A young and inexperienced bartender, Stearns managed to scrape through service, quickly realizing his destiny was behind the bar, living and breathing every aspect of the gig.

He pushed on, earning his stripes by working for a full spectrum of bars— from rowdy dives to refined lounges. His career took off when he stepped into a management role at Suite 410, where Stearns developed his first bar program. He then found opening shifts at Rumba and Canon, both Seattle mixology mainstays. Now full time at Jamie Boudreau's award-winning Canon, Stearns, who also heads the USBG for Washington State, represents the passion, talent, and technique bubbling up in Seattle, and is pushing to make the city as known for cocktails as New York or Chicago.  

Interview with Seattle Rising Star Bartender Tommy Stearns of Canon: Whiskey and Bitters Emporium

Sean Kenniff: How did you get your start?
Tommy Stearns:
I started off as a cook at PF Changs in 2003. I was young enough that I was making friends with the front of house, and I’d hear about the money they were making. I started doing some bar-backing shifts, and when the bartender didn’t show up one day, I stepped in. Then it was off to some dive bars, earning stripes and learning about the sides to bartending that have nothing to do with making drinks, hospitality and so on. I caught the craft cocktail bug and started thinking that this could be an actual career.

SK: What’s your five year plan?
I’d love to be making some of the decisions at a place like Canon. It’s a world class bar. I’d like to do some traveling. I want to go everywhere
Spain, Japan, Kentucky, Iceland. I’m also taking some accouting classes on the side, planning for the future and right opportunity.

SK: Tell me about your mentor, Vince Azanza, and what you learned from him?
Vince was the person who taught me it was about serving guests, not making drinks. He taught me how to read a bar top and to make efficiency and service my priorities, to let the guest dictate their experience, not the other way around. Vince gave me a solid foundation of skills that I still use every day, more than 12 years later.

SK: What’s the most important tip for controlling a room?
Pay attention. Make sure your eyes are up and attentive to what is going on in the room
be it a guest who is lost looking for the rest room or a late joiner to the party who maybe had a little too much fun at the last spot. Learn to spot problems before they manifest.

SK: What bartending resources to you look to most?
My peers. I learn new tricks, trade, and trivia every time. I sit at a colleague's bar top. There is a wealth of talented bartenders out there right now and the support from our community for each other is amazing.
Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh and the Gentleman's Companion by Charles Baker are almost always on my nightstand too.

SK: What do you think is the most overrated cocktail trend?
Let's just keep pushing. Like anything else, some trends will become more than that and some will fall by the wayside. But I love that we are all trying to keep moving forward and challenge ourselves to be better bartenders. That being said, we all need to remember that we are serving guests first, making drinks second.

SK: What trend would you most like to see?
I have been really enjoying the revival of some maligned classics like the Long Island Ice Tea, Grasshopper, and Singapore Sling. These drinks can be amazing, if made with nice ingredients and a loving hand. They also are fun, which is the whole reason we are out in the first place right?

SK: What's you favorite drink to make and your favorite to drink on a night off?
To make, a daiquiri with a Sazerac back. To drink, it's usually bubbles and booze: Spanish Cider, Calvados, Cava. Chartreuse. Beer and, well, anything. 

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