One of Seattle’s best bartenders has a new home: Vessel co-owner Jim Romdall has landed at Rumba after the closure of his own bar, and he’s ready to talk daiquiris.
Bartender Jim Romdall might have had a bit of déjà vu last year, as he had to close down his own bar, Vessel, for the second time. Despite its swanky new digs—or perhaps because of them—the bar wasn’t able to make it in the big new space. Now Romdall has popped up behind the bar at Rumba, a critically-acclaimed spot that still somehow manages to fly under the radar of all but the savviest of cocktail geeks. We asked Romdall to fill us in on his new digs and tell us why rum—naturally, the focus of Rumba—is the spirit that should be in your glass right now. (Hint: if you’re thinking only of drinks with umbrellas or mass-market colas in them, he’s got news for you).
Question: You've moved up the street! Even though it's just a few blocks away, what's the difference between a Capitol Hill bar (Rumba) and a downtown bar, like the two incarnations of Vessel?
Jim Romdall: Rumba is in a fun spot right where the downtown and Capitol Hill neighborhoods overlap each other for a block. It means we get the traffic from both areas, but people usually have to seek us out instead of just stumbling in on a whim. This makes for a lot of familiar faces and a nice variety of people.
Q: After spending so much time building up to the opening of "your" bar (Romdall co-owned Vessel), how does it feel to get to work in someone else's bar?
JR: My job first and foremost is to make people happy and sling drinks. While it was certainly a unique experience to build "my" bar from scratch, as long as I get to do this, it doesn't matter to whom the bar belongs.
Q: What are you most excited about as you transition to a rum-focused bar program?
JR: Rum is a lot of fun to present to people. Many people have misconceptions about the spirit (I certainly drank more than my share of spiced rum and coke in high school), and it's great to open up their eyes to real world of rum. Others are really into rum, and for them Rumba is a mecca where I climb a ladder to retrieve a bottle that they've never seen before.
Q: What should a rum newbie look for when they come in--other than just asking you to help them pick a drink?
JR: The cocktail program is centered on the daiquiri, the king of rum cocktails. If the mention of this drink makes you think of something neon colored served in a giant glass with a crazy straw, it's time to introduce you to the real thing. Then we'll take it from there.
Q: After Rumba, of course, where else would you suggest people go in town to get a good rum education?
JR: La Isla in Ballard loves and specializes in rum, and if you go to any of the wonderful bars we have in Seattle that focus on spirits (Liberty, Zig Zag, Canon, etc.), chances are there's someone behind the bar who would be happy to talk to you about rum.
Q: What do you see as rum's place in the liquor world--both in general and in terms of the current scene?
JR: Rum is without a doubt the most diverse spirit in the world. It has very few regulations, which leads to rums that are vastly different from each other depending on the region where they're produced. This also leads to quite a few terrible rums being produced around the world, but we'll help you weed those out. As for trends, I think we'll continue to see more people, especially whiskey drinkers, discovering that they love Rhum Agricole, a unique style of rum made from sugar cane juice rather than molasses. Just like other spirits, we'll continue to see a huge rise in people sipping on straight rum.
Q: What ingredients do you think are really underused in rum cocktails that you're looking to expose to a wider audience?
JR: Fresh and real ingredients combined with flavorful rum. Thanks to the craft cocktail movement over the past several years, fresh juice can be found in bars all over Seattle. At Rumba we obviously juice fresh every day, but we even have fresh pineapple juice, which is infinitely more delicious than what comes out of the can. I'm looking forward to bringing in some other fresh fruits as they come in season that aren't as common in cocktails around town.
Q: Why should we all be drinking rum right now?
JR: Because you probably haven't in a while, and there's likely something on our shelf you've never tried before that you'll fall in love with.