Welcome to Cocktail 101, a new feature in which we reach out to one of Portland's premiere bartenders to ask him or her where and how they got their start. Because everybody's gotta start someplace.
In this town, it's a rare thing indeed for anyone to last longer than two years working in one restaurant or bar, but bar manager Jeff Seymour has been behind the stick at Mississippi's Interurban for four years, since the day it opened in November 2011. In that time, he's honed his craft by reading, experimenting on his own, and talking shop with other bartenders, but it all really kicked off when Seymour met a Southwestern "spirit master."
Initially, Seymour was a beer and wine guy who was dreaming of going to law school while running the bar at Ambrozia, a small chef-run, high-end restaurant in his native Albuquerque. One day a couple of regulars came in—a pair of well-to-do, well-connected brothers—and convinced the chef to open a restaurant, in what Seymour calls, a very "posh" part of town.
The result was Nob Hill Bar and Grill, and that's when Seymour met Michael Trujillo, a Southwestern "spirit master," who taught him not only the cocktail basics (when to stir, when to shake), but how to build a proper classic cocktail by binding a base spirit to sweetening, bittering, and binding agents. Some might find this crash-course primer, but Seymour wanted to know more—so much more that he eventually decided to abandon law school altogether (he hated it anyway) to keep learning how to make perfect drinks. "He [Trujillo] was so passionate about the spirit world," Seymour says. Passionate enough to be contagious.
After visiting the city during a trip to check out Lewis and Clark Law School, Seymour thought Portland could be a good place to call home and advance his craft. He rolled into town summer 2011 and got a gig at Bluehour. Later that year, he helped to open Interurban with Jeremy Mielen, now at Tasty n Alder.
But even with all the knowledge he's picked up, Seymour says there's one thing that a veteran barkeep can't teach. "You can teach anyone to make a cocktail," he says, "but you can't train anybody to want to be cool to a guest. It all comes down to hospitality. Do some people see it as glamorous? Possibly. But you've gotta love people and want to make them happy to make it all work." Except on his days off, you can find Seymour at Interurban beginning at 3 p.m.