Help Murray Stenson

It’s not an exaggeration to say that if it weren’t for Murray Stenson, my career, and my life, would be disappointingly different.

Murray Stenson. Photo by Dan Crawford.A longtime Seattle bartender — most recently at Canon, and for much of the decade before that, at Zig Zag Cafe — Murray first got in touch with me in the summer of 2005, when this blog was only a couple of months old and my readership numbered, maybe, five cocktail-centric individuals with questionable taste in Internet browsing. Murray had stumbled across my blog via a comment I’d left on Chuck Taggart’s site, and invited me to come down to Zig Zag to geek out a bit about cocktails.

I did, and we did, and really, nothing’s been the same for me since.

Type “Murray” in the search window to your right and several pages of results will come up, with good reason: in the more than seven years that have passed since our first encounter, I’ve sat across the bar from Murray Stenson more than I have any other individual bartender on earth. During that time, he taught me about cocktails and spirits and all the assorted mechanics of mixology, but more importantly, he taught me how all this stuff isn’t what really matters.

Over the years, as I sat on a barstool across from Murray, he might occasionally mention a drink I wrote about on this blog or, more frequently, would introduce me to an obscure oldie that I’d then run home and blog about. But the blog post Murray remarked about more than any other was one from 2006 that had absolutely nothing to do with cocktails and absolutely everything to do with those sparkling, magic moments that happen when friends, acquaintances and strangers are all together in the unique social environment of the bar.

Without Murray, this blog would be depressingly flat. Without Murray, my skill — and my career — as a drinks writer would be weaker. Without Murray, my Wednesday evenings — which for years were (and to a certain extent, still are) my regular nights at Zig Zag — wouldn’t have been one of the highlights of my weekly calendar; they would have been, well, Wednesdays — the blandest night of the week.

Over the years, Murray demonstrated his endless patience with me, not just by tolerating my incessant cocktail-geek questions, but by putting up with me as I started bugging him with questions for articles I was writing. I used Murray as a source many times — for Imbibe, for the San Francisco Chronicle, and probably for stories I’ve forgotten ever writing. Over time, I shoved him more into my journalistic spotlight, as I did in profiles of Murray for Imbibe and for Shake/Stir, and in an essay I wrote in 2009 for the New York Times.

This is all to say that Murray’s given me a lot. And if you’re at all interested in cocktails and bars — and really, why are reading this blog if you’re not? — then he’s given you a lot, too, because this story I’m sharing about how Murray’s influenced me can be echoed by dozens of bartenders, bloggers, cocktail enthusiasts and others who enjoy relaxing in a bar, not only in Seattle but around the world, as well.

Now, it’s time to give something back to Murray.

Here’s the scoop: Murray has a heart condition, and may require intensive surgery. As with bartenders everywhere, Murray doesn’t have medical insurance, and he’s unable to work while incapacitated with this condition. Evan Wallace, a longtime friend of Murray’s, set up a MurrayAid page on Facebook, where people like me and you (hint, hint) can make a donation via PayPal to help defray Murray’s medical expenses. UPDATE: There’s now a website for the coordinated efforts to help Murray: Also, donating directly through PayPal, as described on the website, ensures your full donation will go to help Murray, without Facebook taking a cut.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Make a donation to MurrayAid. (duh)
  • Help spread the word — Murray doesn’t use Twitter or Facebook, but you probably do, so inform everyone in your networks of this issue and point them toward the donation page.
  • Cocktail bloggers: roll up your sleeves and write. Mix yourself a Last Word and post something on your blog about Murray — even if you haven’t dusted off your blog in months, break it out now and get your readers to donate.
  • Bartenders & bar owners: consider hosting a benefit or having a special that will raise funds to help Murray. “Like” the MurrayAid page on Facebook and post details of your event there. There are already benefits planned at Zig Zag Cafe on November 4 and at Paratii Craft Bar in Ballard on October 27 & 28, and those are only the events I know of right now — get on board, and make sure the word gets out. UPDATE: If you’d like to host an event, please coordinate with Jamie Boudreau from Canon in Seattle — an organized effort is a more effective effort. Jamie can be reached at drink[at]canonseattle{dot}com.

Murray’s done so much for the cocktail community over the years, and as I blathered above, he’s done a lot for me. Let’s help him out in this time of need.

19 Responses to Help Murray Stenson

  1. Great post, Paul. Brought tears to my eyes. Murray has changed the lives of so many, and for the better.

    The main coordinator for all events Murray right now is Jamie Boudreau of Canon (Murray’s current employer). I know that Canon has something in the works, and there has also been interest from many other bars and cities. I’ve spoken with Ann at Tales of the Cocktail, and Ted and Ben spent the last day or so talking to everyone at PDXCW. Some groups are already donating their day’s profits.

    Anyone who wants to get involved should contact Jamie Boudreau. If you don’t have his contact info, contact me at and I’ll get you in touch with him.

  2. Maybe it would help even more people if, along with fundraising for Murray, some effort was made to organize for benefits? Maybe the owners of these establishments could donate some percentage of the money they saved by not paying premiums for staff? A heart condition is scary & I wish him the best. I’m sure too though that all these workers, all these Murrays, need health insurance & sick leave etc

  3. From the Spokane contingent, I alerted Paul Harrington’s wife tonight based on a post from Cannon and I think they are going to get into the fund-raising here in Spokane too with Last Words. We all love Murray so much. I have never met a more involved bartender, teacher-guru and amenable human. We can all do this for him and perhaps let him retire home to Colville.

  4. I only met Murray once, and in a haze before I even got in the door. But as I told you the next day, it was glaringly obvious that this was no mere mortal bartender. Here’s hoping he is still in Seattle, and happily working again when next I ge tout there.
    And I’ve done the blogging thing. The post will be up about the time all you west coast types crawl out of bed.

  5. Thanks for this post. I have known Murray for over ten years and was greatly distressed by this news. I’m spreading the word.


  7. I feel terrible for Murray. There is high-risk pool insurance in WA that he can qualify for even with his pre-existing condition. Soon, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, insurance companies will not be able to deny you because of your pre-existing condition.

  8. Paul,
    Great post. Thank you for getting the word out. Some of us have worked very closely with Murray over the years and are deeply concerned about him. He has given so much to the community and I expect that everyone who he touched will help out in their own way.
    Shame on you Patrcia K. Barr for calling out all of his previous employers, assuming that none of them offered their employees health insurance. There actually are restaurant owners who insure their employees.

  9. We used to go see Murray at Il Bistro after our shifts at Kells, down the road. He introduced me to good tequila and rum after I told him I hated those liquors but loved whiskey and scotch. He took the time to educate. He was also behind the bar when my now-husband first took my hand over drinks 14 years ago and we’ve been together ever since. I wish nothing but the best for Murray and hope that people pull together to help.

  10. It’s as I’ve always said, the difference between a good bartender and a bottle jockey is the difference between a physician who’s a healer and one who’s a body mechanic. You can have plenty that will do admirably at the latter but never well at the former. A good bartender is part shrink, philosopher, bullshit artist, and – more so than anything else – a good listener. There’s a reason it’s called the ‘Prince of the trades’. I’ll tilt one to you, Mur, and here’s hopin’ you make it…the good lord willin’ and the crick don’t rise.

  11. My first Negroni, My first Armengac, My first array of Single Malts…….Murrr the Blurr.
    I met Murray at il Bistro. He taught me Bartenders are the key to the Universe and so much more. This world is so frustrating…a man who has helped and given so much has to fight for simple Health Care. He has always been there with a smile, a fresh glass, or a suggestion with finesse and wit 🙂
    I hope to heck we can be there for him.
    Murray get well soon!
    Evan…you are a Tango dancing angel.

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