The Best Damn Gin and Tonic: Haddingtons

Oh my god, there’s Bill Clinton. I have no idea how he did it, but he has teleported himself straight out of the Arkansas Governor’s mansion from 1978 to right f’ing now. He’s sitting at the table right behind you. No seriously! Don’t look now, but I’m pretty sure he’s here with Deborah Winger. And two other couples that are also from the past and in way too conservative suit and Windsor knotted tie get ups.

That’s a conversation I had with Beautiful Wife at Haddingtons, the new American tavern on west 6th street in Austin. She didn’t even turn around. Instead she challenged me to name two movies that Deborah Winger has been in. “Schindler’s List and Days of Thunder. Duuuuh!” Alright, so I don’t really know who Deborah Winger is for sure, but that chick had ‘80s hair and a dress that Deborah Winger could have worn in Top Gun.

What I do know is that less than two weeks after it opened, Haddingtons had a fat crowd in that blurry time between happy hour, dinner and get ready to go to an early event hour. We looked around and most people were sucking down signature cocktails or beer. The big digit wine list wasn’t getting many takers despite a respectable selection.

The cocktails are where it’s at. Bill Norris, the top mixologist at Haddingtons, has gained quite a bit of notoriety for his inspired drinks at Fino. Now at Haddintons he’s put together a good list of nine inventive house cocktails and six classic cocktails.

What do I mean by an “inventive house cocktail”? How’s this treat ya? The Duck Fat Sazerac is made with duck fat infused rye, Peychaud’s bitters and an absinthe rinse. It’s served cold and neat for a tidy $9. What the duck! That’s as decadent as anything you’ll find on Bourbon Street. Well, maybe not. Did I ever tell you about the time I. . .

The classic list has some of my favorite cocktails like the Moscow Mule made with vodka, house-made ginger beer, and fresh lime for $9. We chatted up our waiter to get suggestions for our drinks. He was a knowledgeable guy and gave us some good tips. Beautiful Wife ordered the Aviation, a concoction of gin, maraschino, lemon, crème de violet poured in a little Helsinki Martini glass for $10 crackers. She didn’t warm to it, so I got to drink it. Lucky bastard, I am.

After waiter boy’s description of the classic Gin and Haddingtons Tonic, I had to have it. They mix Citadelle Gin with homemade tonic. That’s right, they make their own tonic with quinine. Quinine is the stuff in tonic that gives it a bitter taste. Typically it is a white powder from the bark of the cinchona tree that grows in the Andes mountain range of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. Juan Valdez’s brother personally stripped the bark for the Haddingtons quinine and because it’s fresh it gives off a slightly pinkish hue. This is no run of the mill highball. Here’s what you get.

Gin and Haddingtons Tonic

Look Sunset over the north Atlantic, salmon belly pink, slightly hazy and prominent cubed ice, garnished with a lime wedge.
Smell Kate Middleton after a bath; fresh ginger, grapefruit and lavender softly wafting as I bend closer for a deeper sniff.
Taste This tasted unlike any gin and tonic I’ve ever had. The fox hunt can wait. I’ll sit right here in my lodge a savor the mild grapefruit and lime zest mingling in a gentle effervescence before easing into a long pine sap finish that ends in a clean mint leaf close.
Price $9

Haddingtons is a cozy place, but deceptively large. There are two bars and nice nooks to slip into for private, lurid conversations over drinks that melt away your cares. The décor is supposed to invoke British-influenced turn of the century America, but it just feels like a London gastro-pub to me. Wide plank wood floors, dark wood wainscoting on the walls, enough stuffed, ceramic and painted pheasants to make any hunter salivate and stylish light fixtures all set a mood of an upscale, yet drunken Brit pub.

Oh, and we ate some food. It was decent. The service was fine. We’ll go back for those fantastic gin and tonics.

What are you drinking?