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September 22, 2013 at 12:11 AM

The return of Murray Stenson

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Legendary barman Murray Stenson will be mixing drinks now at Il Bistro, at least twice a week. PHOTO by ERIKA SCHULTZ/ THE SEATTLE TIMES, 2009

Look who’s back. The city’s most beloved bartender Murray Stenson will start working at Il Bistro next week.

He is scheduled to work Sundays and  Mondays. If you can’t wait to catch up with him, Stenson will be floating around Il Bistro in the next few days to chat with the staff and get reacquainted with this old bar at Pike Place Market. So you’ll likely see him behind the bar a few hours this week.

Stenson, of course, is mostly known for his work at Zig Zag Café. But there’s another place that’s close to his heart – Il Bistro, where he held court from spring 1990 to a memorable Valentine’s Day in 2002. (More on that later.)

 Il Bistro has been serving craft cocktails since 1975 with a long list of luminaries behind the bar, including Dave Nelson, Charlie Joy, Jeff Rosen, Jim German and the late Richard Young.

It’s also one of the city’s most romantic bars, with dark lighting and a quiet ambience, (though that will change when hundreds of  Murray fans will jam into Il Bistro next week to welcome back “Murr the Blurr”)

When we last heard of Murray, he was working at Canon after leaving Zig Zag in spring 2011. Then last fall, he suffered a heart attack. It was big news around the country.

Murray is one of the country’ first rock star bartenders. He made an obscure cocktail called “The Last Word” famous, and he helped mentor more than 100 bartenders around the country. How much is Murray loved? The bar community from as far away as Australia and England raised more than $200,000 to help pay for his medical bills.

Even before his work at Zig Zag, where he was named the “Best Bartender in America,”  Murray had a cult following. Regulars loved him, and he was loyal to them.

On Valentine’s Day 2002,  a married couple who were Il Bistro regulars came in for a quick drink.  A staffer denied them a seat, declaring that the bar is only for dining couples on Valentine’s Day.

That couple came into Il Bistro four days a week, for a year, Murray protested. But to no avail.

An angry Murray turned in his keys at the end of his shift and quit in protest.

The next day, two young guys named Ben and Kacy called Murray and asked  if he would work at their little bar, called Zig Zag Café.

Comments | More in Drinks, Food news, happy hour, Pike Place Market | Topics: cocktails, Murray Stenson, Tan Vinh

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