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October 22, 2012 at 12:14 PM

Cocktailers rally to aid famed bartender Murray Stenson

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Drinkers and bartenders in Seattle and throughout the world owe a lot to cocktail legend Murray Stenson. Now, they say they want to give something back.

News spread swiftly through the bartending world over the weekend that Stenson, of Canon, the “Best Bartender in America,” has “a heart ailment that prevents him from working in the profession to which he has given so much,” according to a Facebook “MurrayAid” page and website established by friends. Stenson, “as with bartenders everywhere,” doesn’t have medical insurance, wrote Paul Clarke, a contributing editor to Imbibe magazine, and supporters are raising money to help pay for medical expenses expected to include surgery and an extended recovery.

Stenson has crafted cocktails here for decades, including long stints at the Zig Zag Cafe and Il Bistro.

As one supporter said this week, “If you drink cocktails in Seattle, you know Murray Stenson…Even if you’ve never set foot here, you may have felt Murray’s influence.” The New York Times noted today that he’s “considered an early and influential figure in the ongoing cocktail renaissance.” Or, as cocktail historian David Wondrich said of Stenson’s best bartending award, “He should be knighted, but this will have to do.”

Dozens of bartenders from Seattle heard the news while enrouted to Oregon for Portland Cocktail Week, a five-day festivity of cocktail contests and seminars.

“He’s somebody we have looked up to for so long. He’s like an indestructible human being. He’s been bartending for so long and to hear about his health is so devastating for me and all the bartenders I’ve talked to this weekend,” Jim Romdall, bar manager at the cocktail den Vessel, told my colleague Tan Vinh in Portland.

“He set the bar for service and drinks and we all learned from him.”

Northwest bars are starting to line up to hold fund-raising events, including one at Canon tentatively set for Oct. 30, while the Zig Zag Cafe plans to donate all proceeds Nov. 4 to the fund. Seattle Weekly says efforts have even gone global, with events planned as far away as Australia. There’s a list being compiled on the MurrayAid page.

File photo of “Murr the Blurr” by Erika Schultz/The Seattle Times

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