It wasn’t until I got my first full-time job in Rochester, MN that I gave alcohol a chance.
Part of this was because I felt like I finally made it – I got the engineering career I wanted to make my parents and myself proud. The other part of it was that I had met some really great people, who happened to also order a drink when they went out. It wasn’t just too stay warm in frigid climates or because ‘hitting a bar’ was one of the limited options to stay entertained – although those most definitely were reasons.
It was because it was social, an event, and because of the way I came around to it; getting a drink symbolized freedom, celebration, and maybe even success.
Like most people, the first drink I had was some version of light beer.
And like most people I hated it.
It tasted incomplete, and diluted. “There has to be something better,” I thought, and when reading beer descriptions on a menu I came across something that had the words ‘roasted’ and ‘creamy’ – being a dessert person this sounded interesting.
So I ordered it, and a tall foamy glass of Guinness was served to me. My friends laughed, “you don’t like beer and you’re going to try that?” Yes, I was, and yes I absolutely loved it. It was bold, rich, full of flavor, and ever since then I’ve been a stout and porter type of guy.
I wanted to tell you that story so you know where I’m coming from when it comes to cocktails – the next great thing I discovered shortly after. At first I just liked the ones that didn’t taste like they had any alcohol – they were sweet, flavored with fruit juices, and often called Sponge Bobs. But then, I came across ones that were well balanced – proper blends of sweet, bitter, and even herbal complexities.
Here in Austin, you’ll find some great cocktails. Inventive, and crafted with fresh, real ingredients – no sour mix, please.
I find my favorite cocktails are often at my favorite Austin restaurants.
Maybe its by accident, but I think it’s because a great restaurant wants to deliver an experience with everything they serve. And maybe like me they think a cocktail is more than just a side, but something that elevates a meal.
A cocktail makes the evening more than just a night out, it makes it a celebration. Here are a few of my favorites in Austin.
Ingredients: Green Chartreuse, honey, lime, egg white & angostura bitters
When you walk into an establishment whose bar takes up as much real estate as its dining area, you know you’re in place that takes cocktails seriously. That’s what it’s like when you walk into Peche, and cocktails here are real, authentic, and just like they should be.
My favorite is the Silver Monk. It’s foamy, herbal, with a delightful sweetness that reminds me of the juice you find at the bottom of a tub of melted lime sherbet. It’s made with Green Chartreuse – something the bartender (John) tells me is the only liquor that a color was named after. Which leads to the other great thing about Peche. Take a seat at the bar and it’s knowledgeable staff will teach you something without even saying a word – how to properly chill a glass, how to curl a lemon peel and how long and hard to shake a drink for proper foam. Go early for happy hour and you’ll not only get half-priced select entrees, but you’ll have a chance for some one-on-one time with the bartenders. Tell them what you’re into and you may just find your favorite cocktail too.
Ingredients: Whole-leaf tobacco infused Cazadores Reposado, Vanilla infused brandy, lemon, grilled pineapple juice, mezcal essence, volcanic-saffron-infused salt rim
If you just glanced at this drink you could easily mistake it for a margarita – with its golden body and salt rimmed glass. But one sips lets you know this is a different beast entirely. The tobacco infused tequila lingers on your tongue. You feel the warmth permeate onto each of your taste buds and there’s something fantastic about it. It’s bold, it’s smoky, and the scent of grilled pineapple juice brings it all together. You don’t need to commit to a gourmet meal at La Condesa to enjoy it. You can simply go upstairs to Malverde and order one from the bar.
The El Cubico is named after the bull that hangs in the center of the bar. In a great bull fight, the matador is usually rewarded an ear from the bull and you’ll notice that Cubico is missing his right one. There’s nothing missing about the El Cubico though, it’s full on flavor that’ll charge you head on. Bravo!
Nor’easter & Up in Smoke
(from left to right): Nor’easter, Up in Smoke
Nor’easter Ingredients: Bourbon, Lime, Maple, All Spice Dram, Ginger
Up in Smoke Ingredients: Mezcal, Branca mentha, Grapefruit
I’m not really a bourbon guy, but the Nor’easter really does things right. The lime and ginger give the cocktail brightness, and the all spice dram (an allspice flavored liquer) give it an herbal finish that is all too smooth. It’s a storm of flavor that you’ll definitely want to chase.
Also shown is the Up in Smoke. It’s like an old-fashioned with smoky mezcal instead of whiskey. If you’ve never had mezcal before, this is a good drink to get acquainted with it. I find it a perfect complement to the robust fare served at Contigo.
Smoke & Mirrors
Ingredients: 12 yr Scotch, Duque de Carmina, Benedictine, Sarsaparilla bitters, Flamed orange
I’ve been meaning to try Midnight Cowboy for a while. It’s just a little bit higher maintenance to get into (as it usually requires an advance reservation and a two hour, two drink per person commitment). Do yourself a favor and make a reservation one evening. It’s a unique experience wrapped in black tufted leather and marble. It’s quiet, cool, and there’s plenty of time for real conversation over real cocktails. Of the four drinks we tried, I enjoyed the Spice of Life and the Smoke & Mirrors the best. The Smoke & Mirrors is prepared tableside, meaning they wheel a small bar cart down a just-as-narrow aisle to your table. Ask the knowledgeable bartender about the Benedictine or the Scotch, and he may even offer you a sample. You may take your first sip of this drink with some trepidation, as its mixed with alcohols known for their age and character, but you’ll be surprised to find it smooth and easy, with a scent of toasted citrus. There definitely is some magic taking place in the glass.
Ingredients: Organic Vodka, Lime, Basil
The hippest hotel in Austin is likely Hotel St. Cecilia. Named after the patron saint of music, it oozes cool, and like the neon sign out by the pool, the place just has “Soul.” If you’re visiting Austin, this is a place worth the splurge – it’s located right downtown, stylized by the local design icon Liz Lambert, and captures the essence of Austin. The bar at Hotel St. Cecilia is special too. Order their take on a gimlet and sip on a mix of everything that makes a cocktail great. Have a seat, slip slowly, and soak in the ambience. Life is good here.
Ingredients: Dos Equis Lager, fresh lime juice, house-made Michelada mix, kosher salt rim
Michelada’s are like Bloody Mary’s to me, a drink best enjoyed at brunch. The Michelada at Takoba will wake you up once it’s set down on your table – as it’s served in a foreboding goblet lined with lime pulp and salt. Even before taking a drink you know it’s not like any Michelada you’ve ever had, and the spice that pricks your lips long after it’s gone makes sure it’s a Michelada you’ll never forget.
Cheers to Instagram
The cocktails above are a few of my favorites in Austin.
But of course, there are several more great places to try – like these indulgences I’ve shared over Instagram when I’m only armed with my iPhone. Any of these spots is a great place to start a night, try them spontaneously and with a group of friends…
Clarks Oyster Bar (from left to right): Stowaway, Lillet Spritz, El Diablo
Hillside Farmacy – Spicy Paloma
Weather Up(from left to right) – New York Flip, El Diablo, El Interamericano
Josephine House – Fruit Cup
Drink Well - Royale with Ease
El Chile Cafe – Cantaloupe Margarita
Bar Congress / 2nd Street Kitchen – Try the Scarlet Lantern, Lechuza, or my favorite version of The Moscow Mule
Haddington’s – Try the Devils Moustache or Park Merry
Perla’s – Try the Tombstone or The Sistine Chapel
Fino – Try Danny’s Sangaree or Mission Trail
Swift’s Attic – Try the Reunited or The Grog
Tigress Pub - Try the Aviation or Brown Sugar Snow
East Side Show Room- Try the St. George Swizzle or The Gilmore
What are your favorite cocktails in Austin? Let me know in the comments.
If you just stumbled here from the Austin Food Guides, join me here on MetropoChris most Friday’s for an exclusive Friday Afternoon Cocktail recipe.
For the days in between follow me @metropochris, to see what I’m drinking, where I’m eating, and whatever else I find worth celebrating.