Before cocktails, Nik Virrey’s first love was coffee. A former barista, roasting (and teaching the ways of) coffee beans was his specialty until moving on to more enticing liquids at Liberty where he had an opportunity to “study and dance with bottles and bottles” of spirits. Virrey appreciated the endless ideas that came from mixing drinks. Now as the bar manager at Capitol Hill’s new kaiseki restaurant Naka, Virrey tells us his favorite classics, and how his drinks can pair well with a dinner menu.
Here, five questions for Nik:
How did you end up at Naka?
My good friend Cameron George let me know that based on commitments to Barrio and his mentor Casey Robison, he would have to forego the opportunity at Naka. His excitement about the possibility lead me to meet with chef Shota and manager Jason Lock. The meet was extremely natural and after I deemed us likeminded in mission and vision, I signed on with no hesitation. It was a classic example of how Seattle bartenders share opportunities. It’s what keep our community so tight.
How did you work specifically with cocktails for Naka?
The goal was to open with a minimal menu with the option of unlimited variation. We decided to take two classics—the cosmopolitan and the gin and tonic—and make them to the best of our ability. The cosmo uses housemade citrus vodka and triple sec using the Oleo Saccharum method. It is so damn tasty. Our gin and tonic on the menu is the GiNakaTonic, which uses a housemade tonic celebrating the principal botanical components of our local favorite CopperWorks Gin. The theory is to create things, classic or otherwise, to the best of our knowledge. Not to mention the fun things we do with charcoal and carbonation, check out the house specials such as the Gospel and the Sundress.
You’re creating cocktails for a place with a menu that doesn’t isn’t normally cocktail compatible. Is the bar developing its own distinct persona?
Correct. The bar’s more like a brother to the restaurant, being the sister. They have distinct feels to both and each catering to the environment desired—it’s beautiful, really. You can dine in the main room and experience to the culinary aspect of chef Shota just as easily as you can pull up a stool to the bar and have our team take care of you in all things liquid. And of course we can pair cocktails to the cuisine. The menu was not built for that. Those drinks are custom requests created per individual dish. It’s hella fun to discuss with chef and Jason how best to accentuate flavors or pair with restraint. The process is rad. We use the menu more or less as a guide, like a suggestion but what we’re really doing is having a conversation of what would pair well. I’m quite happy with the distinction.
What is your favorite drink?
I’m a sucker for the GiNakaTonic. It’s fun, delicious, and very different than drinks I’ve had before. Plus, it’s summer and everyone should at least be having one GinTonic a day. #Science. And it’s carbonated as a total beverage, which is the most bubbly, refreshing thing, RIGHT?
What is Seattle’s drinking culture to you?
I love it! We’re as varied as Seattle’s weather. It’s a little dance…I’m enjoying it. We’re getting returns on the industry’s work over the past years of investing time and sweat to elevate our bar culture, which is simply great. The level of knowledge and passion that is becoming the norm in the scene is exciting and encouraging.