If you met Keith Saunders at the Crow’s Nest, he may not have known your name, but he probably knew your drink. In fact, he probably invented it.
For more than eight years, the talented Saunders has concocted cocktails — he created every drink on the menu at the Crow’s Nest and Fletcher’s, and nearly every one at the Whale’s Tail — and hosted popular tastings of vodka, whiskey, scotch and wine at the Captain Cook Hotel.
But Oct. 5 marked his last day as head bartender. Recovering from my initial shock and my “Who’s going to make me a Scooby Snack?” anxiety, I spoke to him about the new developments in his life.
Several factors contributed to his decision to leave. There was a death in the family in August, followed by an addition to his family. The Crow’s Nest also recently extended its hours from 11 p.m. to midnight. “I needed a more flexible schedule,” said Saunders, 44, said over the phone.
Saunders also admits that he was simply ready to move on. “It eventually became confining,” he said of his position. “It wasn’t a bad experience, I just outgrew where I was.”
So where’s he headed? Nowhere, in particular, for now, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be busy.
“I want to do something fresh and new but still based on what I’ve already done,” he said. After 25 years in the lounge and restaurant business, doing fun things with drinks remains his passion. So now he’ll expand his efforts in tastings, cocktail creations and working with local charities.
He recently designed a signature drink for the Tesoro company called the T.S.O. (TSO is the company’s stock market listing), using El Tesoro brand tequila, Chambord, sweet and sour and champagne. Tesoro CEO Bruce Smith liked it so much that he donated $5,000 to the Fort Richardson Officers’ Spouses Club. The drink will soon join the Crow’s Nest menu.
He’s also currently working with popular tequila creators Patron Spirits, designing a line of drinks to market to the Lower 48.
Saunders has created classics for innumerable locals and tourists, but what’s his favorite? He loves The Katrinka, a mix of orange vodka, fresh pineapple, Cointreau and pineapple juice topped with champagne.
“I’m taking that wherever I go,” he said, then added, “Whatever I made at the Cook stays at the Cook. There’s no copyright, it’s for everybody.”
So the drinks remain, but Saunders, sadly, is off the menu. “There’s never really a good leaving stage — it’s very sad,” he said. “My customers, I feel, are like my family. But I realized I need to make my own opportunities. I made one at the Crow’s Nest, and now I want to take it further.”
Will he still make appearances as the Crow’s Nest?
“Not initially,” Saunders said. “It’s great for people to see who the new person will be and how it’s going to be, it’s not fair for me to be there and have people ask me to make drinks.”
Saunders has a comfortable cushion of savings from his work at the Crow’s Nest and is excited about his future, but for the moment he’s taking it slow and enjoying his new schedule.
“To be honest, I have a 10-year-old who needs me,” he said. “And I like that, I like being able to be there.”
-- by Jessica Bowman