When You‘re in That Bourbon Mood: tenOak

“You, please bite this apple.”

“You! Bite my ear.”

I gazed into the painting an imagined the woman on the left gently feeding the robotic horse with compassion, while commanding her cyborg lover to bite her harder. Balancing dissimilar dispositions is what makes us human. It’s what makes life interesting.  

Like the provocative paintings that titivate the walls in tenOak, the bar coyly invites you to try on a mood or two and maybe another one later. tenOak is a bourbon house, and nothing stirs the passion to distinct veins than a good whiskey buzz. You know what I’m talkin’ about. The way you dance with whiskey is the way it dances with you.

Sip a fine small batch, single barrel bourbon with reverence and soon enough you’re awash in a reflective, thoughtful, poetic, erudite or maybe even a melancholy mood. Now go and take that same spirit, but in a slightly dressed down, less pretentious form and shoot it with a pickle back. What’s going to happen? You might start off gregarious or flirtatious, then you do a few more shots and you move into rowdy, feisty and yeah even furious.

It’s like listening to a song by Boston, it’s “More than a Feeling.” That’s whiskey. When you’re ready for whiskey to fan the flames of emotion, tenOak is there for you.

It starts before even taking a sip, tenOak envelopes guests in bourbon. The bar is warm and comfortable with rich charred wood paneled walls reminiscent of the inside of whiskey barrels and copper accents on the bar are indicative of copper stills, mightily turning corn into dreams. Cold steel is juxtaposed with soft leather chairs and booths belying its intoxicating wish to have us hover between different temperaments. The design of the bar was influenced by its owner, Michael Girard’s travels and personal taste. I think he has spent some time with a bottle of bourbon.

Mr. Girard, who also owns Austin hot spots Cuba Libre, Imperia and Speakeasy, was kind enough to tell me about his latest business venture. He opened tenOak in March during SXSW and it really got going in April. The bar is situated in the heart of the Warehouse District on 4th and Colorado in downtown Austin and has the feel of a causal, neighborhood bar. It draws an after work happy hour crowd looking to dissolve the day with one of the more than 150 North American whiskeys and bourbons and signature cocktails while noshing on creative nibbles like a tempura fried peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Later the bar attracts a younger crowd ready for a party. To accommodate a livelier mood, tenOak just opened the Elixir Lounge, an extension of bar in the back with darker lighting, louder music and a DJ spinning until 2:00 am. The night club attracts people walking over from Dirty 6th and 4th street clubs.

Whether you go early or late, you won’t be disappointed by the huge selection of bourbon and whiskey. General Manager, Orion Ondriska, has assembled an impressive menu of booze and several signature cocktails based on bourbon, including Martini style drinks and a twist on the Moscow Mule. They are also in the process of making a barrel-aged cocktail, which will be available in about six weeks. It’s made with Gin and orange bitters and other secret, shelf-stable ingredients. It should be worth the wait.

I asked Girard what his favorite drink is, and he chose Garrison Brothers Texas Bourbon on ice. tenOak serves its whiskey with a single, solid hand-made 2” x 2” cube of ice so the ice doesn’t water down the whiskey. Ondriska explained that this is a precious commodity. They are pouring bottles from the second batch of Garrison Brothers. They have an annual allocation of 12 bottles, but they’ve been through 19 so far with a long time to go before the third batch is ready.

I was fortunate enough to get a glass of the oldest whiskey distilled in Texas (Dan, I’m angling for a visit to your distillery very soon. This is fair warning.). It was a perfect mood setter to start the weekend.  

Look Deep amber and copper like the evening sun rays streaming into the front of the bar. The iceberg jutting out was a pronounced landmark to guide me in drink after drink.
Smell A gentle sniff produced a nose full of spicy, peaty caramel with enough heat to wake up the senses.
Taste This true Texas lovely has pucker and a touch of sweet with a balance of tannins, spice, caramel, fig and toasted corn flavors. Its glycerin smooth with plenty of alcohol kick to keep the finish going long.  
Price $16 a glass


The Garrison Brothers had me settling into my seat ready to swim through a few moods. To keep it going I tasted a Balcones Brimstone Smoked Texas Whiskey made with 100% blue corn. Holy cow, it’s smoky like a scotch and honey sweet on the end. I’m going to have to go back and drink more of it and wander through the huge list of bourbons. tenOak is Austin’s Mecca for whiskey.

What’s your mood when you drink whiskey? Want to go to tenOak with me and find out?

tenOak provided a sample of Garrison Brothers Texas Bourbon for this review.

What are you drinking?

Published by

Matt McGinnis

As a marketing strategist for Pen & Tell Us, Matt McGinnis provides marketing, branding and communications counsel to food and beverage as well as other clients globally. He is also an avid beverage enthusiast, chronicling his interests as a Food & Drink contributing writer for CultureMap, as the Food & Drink columnist for Austin Man Magazine, and as a blogger for What Are You Drinking?. He is passionate about the wine industry having previously worked at a winery in Oregon and in wine sales. He has served as Guest Host of Sommelier Cinema at the Alamo Drafthouse, and is a Certified Sommelier in the Court of Master Sommeliers. His writing has been recognized as a Top 10 Food Blog by the Austin Chronicle in 2013 and 2014, with a 2011 Texas Social Media Award from the Austin American-Statesman.

One thought on “When You‘re in That Bourbon Mood: tenOak”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *