Veteran barman Andrew Friedman moved to Seattle from Cleveland in 1991 for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Liberty isn’t free, Friedman discovered. In fact, his iconic craft cocktail spot, Liberty Bar, is rather costly to operate.
Eleven years after opening one of the city’s first craft cocktail joints, Friedman has declared his independence from the bar, selling it to two of his bartenders and proteges, Brandon Paul Weaver and Andrew Dalan.
The sale closed last week for an undisclosed amount after over a year of negotiating, according to Friedman.
“I decided it was time for the next generation to chart the course for the future of Liberty,” Friedman said. “It's a very tight crew at Liberty. It was very easy to come to an agreement on the sale.
“I am very happy to see the next generation that has worked cooperatively take over, to see what Liberty will become.”
Friedman pointed to the increasing minimum wage as a factor in selling. He says his bartenders, for whom tips comprise the bulk of their wages, made more annually than Friedman did (he did not bartend regularly and did not collect tips). The additional hikes in the minimum wage in the next three years would wipe out any projected profits, he claims. The new owners will continue bartending and earn gratuity to leverage their income.
“I knew the clock was ticking on Liberty as an ongoing enterprise at $13 an hour,” Friedman explained. “At $15 an hour, it means over a $100,000 increase in operating costs on wages alone. [Weaver and Dalan] know moving into the future they can build a sustainable model.”
Photo by Gabi Porter Photography. Andrew Friedman didn't even drink before founding Liberty Bar.
The visionary Friedman was at the ground floor of the craft cocktail movement in Seattle when he opened Liberty in 2006. Friedman didn’t even drink alcohol before he opened the bar. He built the seminal bar with the aid of Robb Sheldon, Liberty’s first bar manager who now runs the boozy show at Zocálo in Pioneer Square.
“(Sheldon) did a great job educating me and the opening staff,” Friedman said. “He taught us how to make a craft cocktail. He taught us about hospitality and how to take great care of our staff.”
Friedman also founded the Washington State Bartenders’ and Distillers’ guilds, making Liberty the epicenter of liquor enlightenment.
“I didn't like alcohol. Then, I learned very quickly I really like this bourbon stuff,” Friedman recalls. “I would say that Liberty was lucky to start at a time when the interest in spirits and cocktails was just starting. Together, with my love for spirits, we were able to create what became one of Seattle's best cocktail bars.”
Liberty has since grown to carry over 700 spirits, including one of the largest selections of whiskey in the Northwest. The cocktail menu features close to 50 different variations on libations.
“Liberty has been a major factor of the so-called cocktail revolution in Seattle,” Dalan said. “Andrew has been an outspoken advocate for our community. It’s a great honor that he trusts me with his life’s work.”
Friedman will devote more time to his spirits distribution company, Scout Spirits, wholesaling whiskey, mezcal and Sons of Vancouver Amaretto. The lifelong entrepreneur has previously owned an English as a Second Language school in Bangkok, multiple coffee shops and worked at tech startups in Seattle. He recently founded Industry Spirits (along with Ba Bar bar manager Michael Chu), which produces custom well spirits, including vodka and gin, for bars and restaurants.
Nine years ago, Friedman hired Dalan as a bar back and dishwasher on the recommendation of Heavy Restaurant Group Spirits Director Casey Robison. He also worked at Capitol Hill’s Tommy Gun and the now defunct Clever Dunne’s on Capitol Hill and Tini Bigs on Lower Queen Anne.
While Weaver has tended bar at E. Smith Mercantile, Ba Bar and others before landing at Liberty three years ago, he actually got his start in the coffee industry. He was the director of education at the boutique Slate Coffee Roasters and held management positions at Zoka Coffee Roasters. He started his own roaster, Foreigner Coffee, earlier this year. He is currently in Milan participating in the Milano Latte Art Challenge.
Together, Weaver and Dalan are responsible for Liberty Bar 2.0. Don’t expect any major changes—the sushi bar and espresso service aren’t going anywhere—although Dalan plans to pare down the cocktail options slightly. Liberty employs more than 20 staff, including six bartenders, and Stephen Brenden will remain bar manager. Liberty will also maintain its regular hours, daily from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m., including a 4-7 p.m. happy hour.
“Continuity is my main motivator,” Dalan said of his new role as co-owner. “Our senior bar staff has been in place for over two years. I see myself as more custodial. ... We have a house style and we are going to stick to it.”