Welcome to Girl Walks into a Bar, a weekly Gut Check feature that spotlights local bars and bartenders. This week Alissa Nelson profiles Sanctuaria bartender Matt Seiter. Below is a Q&A with Seiter, followed by a video of him mixing a Rum Fire cocktail.
Bottles cover this corner of the bar at Sanctuaria; bar manager Matt Seiter is conducting a lab course on housemade infusions. The pupil is instructed to take a taste from a snifter of falernum, a syrupy liqueur with a bouquet of almonds, spice and citrus. "Now this is our infusion," Seiter says in a neutral tone, sliding forward a small snifter of the homebrew, the alcoholic high notes of which fill the air above the drink. A rainbow of bitters wait their turns, from a jewel-toned hibiscus to a delicate honeysuckle-orange hue.
Seiter understands the value in a hands-on education in spirits. While developing the cocktail program for Chicago bar In Fine Spirits, he spent weeks with liquor distributors, tasting different boutique boozes.
"It was very eye-opening," Seiter says. "I was, like, wow, there are better things than these mass-marketed brands -- and there's a lot of them!"
(The experience also left him with a high regard for good public transit: "That was a very drunken time in my life, because I was being paid to taste all of these different types of booze.")
Seiter brought the same approach to the bar program at Sanctuaria, in the Forest Park Southeast/Grove neighborhood. Though the bar's Latin American theme dictated a focus on rum and tequila, Seiter took the cocktail menu in a different direction by steering clear of mass-market brands, to the surprise of his bosses. "The day before we opened, the owners were watching us put the bottles of booze up on the bar top and were like, 'Whoa, where's the Bacardi? Where's the Grey Goose?'"
The skepticism didn't last long. "After a month they stopped asking if it would work and started asking what was next," says Seiter.
What's next includes a venue for tethering Seiter's back-of-the-house experience to the bar, with Sanctuaria's first cocktail dinner in September. The evening's menu will pair five courses with five cocktails featuring liquors from Chicago's North Shore Distillery.
Make sure that you have your public transit route all planned out beforehand.
Click through for a Q&A with Seiter and a video of him mixing a Rum Fire...
In three words, describe your bartending style: Mixology-minded. Classic. Educational.
Favorite drink to drink? Budweiser with a whiskey back.
Favorite drink to make? Any drink that contains gin when the person says they only drink vodka. Having them not know that there's gin in it and they go, "Wow, this is so good, what type of vodka do you use?"
Drink you hate making? Budweiser with a whiskey back. If you're going out -- at least to a place like this -- venture out. Get something that you're not going to get somewhere else.
What makes you ignore a customer at the bar? It's not my job to ignore customers.
Can you spot trouble when it walks through your door? Everybody's trouble. I really try not to judge people by the way they look unless they're stumbling. Otherwise, please come in, sit down and enjoy a cocktail with me.
Worst/best thing you've ever seen happen in your bar? Watching staff interact with people and get excited about booze and cocktails and get excited about not carrying big name brands and watching them educate customers and bring them something new. The worst thing -- the dumbest thing I've ever heard directed at me -- was that we had a woman come into [previous employer] Trattoria Marcella one night and she wanted something very fun and refreshing. So I made her this cocktail with rum and orange juice and espresso beans. She put it up to her lips, didn't even try it and said, "Ugh, that's much too strong. I'll just have an Absolut martini straight up."
How do you keep yourself occupied on a slow night? Play with booze. We mess around with cocktail ideas, flavors we've never melded together. Try to memorize some of the older quotes and toasts to do with alcohol.
Who would you most like to have a drink with? My Uncle Eddie. He passed away a little while ago, and he was a great role model. Uncle Eddie liked to drink and he liked to have fun, and I like to drink and to have fun.
Where are you most likely to be found when you're not in this bar? Almost any bar in south St. Louis.
Best hangover cure? To not get drunk the night before. But if you do, a glass of water, a slice of bread and four Advil before you go to bed.
Worst pickup line you've ever heard? I've heard it in jokes a bunch of times but in person only once, and it didn't go so well for the guy. It was, "Nice shoes, wanna fuck?"
Most unusual liquor you've ever seen? There's one that we have behind our bar called Creme de Renee. I got it when I was down in New Orleans. It's by Bols. They only make six bottles a month, and I got to meet the guy who came up with the recipe - his name is Timo and his girlfriend's name is Renee. It's made with roses, blackberries, currants, raspberries and strawberries. There are some other botanicals in there that he wouldn't divulge. I'd say that one is pretty neat because it's so unique and you can't buy it. As far as unusual, I make a browned-butter sage liqueur. Come back in the fall, we'll have it.
Best/worst drinking holiday? Best drinking holiday is any day that ends in a 'y.' The worst drinking holiday is probably Lent. I don't know why people give up alcohol during Lent. Give up chocolate, give up sugar. Don't give up booze.
Drunk food of choice? Slingers from Courtesy on Kingshighway.
Three adjectives that describe your bar: Weird. Unique. Different.
My bar is the only bar in St. Louis that... Does not carry mass-market brands.
Sanctuaria 4198 Manchester Avenue; 314-535-9700