It isn't often you find a people going on about how a bartender changed their life for the better, but there aren't many bartenders like Murray Stenson.
“Everybody has a ‘Murray changed my life’ story,” said friend Evan Wallace, who counts himself among the many.
Stenson, the venerable barman widely celebrated as “America’s Best Bartender,” helped Wallace launch his line of champagne preservation devices.
“He is just so kind and gracious,” said Wallace. “I've seen homeless people walk into his bar, obviously without a penny to their name. The first thing Murray does is look them in the eye and treat them like they’re the president.”
Stenson is known for his uncanny memory, remembering the name and drink of nearly every customer he serves. He is a master of the perfect cocktail, but far beyond that, he’s the perfect mix of personality, wit and heart. And it’s that heart that has people so concerned. Recently Stenson started fainting. He fell and broke his arm and has been unable to work. Then came the news that Stenson, the guy who’s made it his life’s work tending to others, needs heart surgery.
He has no insurance
“I’d do anything for him,” said Ben Dougherty of Seattle’s landmark Zig Zag Café, where Stenson worked the bar for years. “This place wouldn't exist if not for the influence of Murray.”
Now, Doughterty, and a bunch of Stenson's friends and customers, are raising the bar of loyalty that the humble Stenson set so high.
“He is a person who conducts himself in a way that I aspire to be,” said Dougherty. “That’s the true measure of a man. Without him, I wouldn't be here.”
A Facebook campaign has gone global and raised $35,000 in just four days. As Wallace sits sipping a champagne at the Zig Zag, his phone buzzes.
“That’s another $1,000 just since we’ve been sitting here,” he said.
Never a fan of the spotlight, Stenson turned down KING 5’s request for an interview, but he did say he hates putting friends in this situation. He conceded, though, he has no choice but to let them pick up this round.
And they're happy to oblige.
“Everybody just wants to see Murray moving again,” said Wallace. “We need to get him back behind the bar.”
Update: Since KING 5 aired the story about Murray, donations have spiked. Fundraisers have now reached the $50,000 mark, which includes a $10,000 donation by an anonymous donor. Friends said Murray's surgery is likely to cost $150,000-$200,000.
Multiple fundraisers are being planned from Seattle to Portland and other locations across the country and globe. You can find the one nearest you and other ways to donate by checking out the following links:
(photo from R. Holden / Eater Seattle)