I’ve been writing about beer, wine, spirits cocktails, and sometimes food on What Are You Drinking for more than five years now. The intent is to share information about great drinks, the stories of the people who make the drinks that we love, and fantastic places to enjoy drinks. In 2015 I wrote 57 new stories for the blog.
I’m always interested to see what people are most interested in reading. This year, among my top 20 most read stories, 11 were about wine or the wine industry, 8 were about cocktails and spirits and 1 was about beer. A little less than half of the stories published on the blog were originally written for another outlet and then reposted here.
It turns out that my two most read stories this year were written in 2013. A comprehensive story about whiskey has lasting interest. The second most read is about Deep Eddy Ruby Red Vodka, which is a crazy popular brand.
Here are the top 20 most read stories on What Are You Drinking in 2015 that were written this year:
Paula Rester, sommelier at Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group’s Italian concept Maialino and former Congress Austin sommelier, is moving back to Austin and will rejoin the La Corsha Hospitality Group team in a new position to begin on December 1, 2015.
“I’m thrilled to be home in Austin and to be moving into this expanded role with my La Corsha family,” says Rester. “This last year in New York has been a whirl-wind of a ride, a crash course in all things food and wine with one of the best groups of people in the business today. As sommeliers, we always can’t wait to share what we’ve learned with our guests, and I’m no exception! It’s an honor to be trusted with the responsibility of curating the wine lists for some of the best restaurants in the city.”
Before decamping for the big city where she served as Maialino’s sommelier since September 2014, Rester did a couple stints at Congress, the jewel in the La Corsha crown. She helped open Congress in 2010 and held court as the captain and commis sommelier at Congress until January 2012 when she left to become the general manager at Vino Vino in Hyde Park. While ruling the wine roost, Vino Vino was named one of “America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants” by Wine Enthusiast magazine. Incidentally, Congress and the Lake Austin Spa Resort were the only other two places in Austin to also score that award. In October 2012 Rester returned to Congress and has put her stamp on the wine program as the wine director.
“It’s wonderful to have Paula back and I know she’ll be fantastic in her new role,” says Scott Walker, vice president of operations at La Corsha Hospitality Group. “We are growing very quickly as a company and to have Paula return to create, educate and maintain the various wine programs is a great benefit to the company, our employees and our guests.”
Rester has plenty of excellent fine dining experience and book learning to give her loads of somm street cred. She is a Level II Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers and a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators. Rester knows that every visit a guest makes to Congress Austin is potentially for a very important meal and one worthy of her full attention. She brings her education as an actor at the University of Texas and her experience as a nightclub jazz singer to work with her every evening. That combination makes for an incredibly interesting dining experience.
In her new role, Rester will oversee wine programs at Restaurant Congress, Bar Congress, Second Bar + Kitchen Downtown, Boiler Nine Bar + Grill, the new Second Bar + Kitchen Domain, and the soon-to-be renovated Green Pastures.
Jameson Black Barrel Irish Whiskey is an official partner of Movember again this year to help raise awareness for men’s health. Movember is the movement where dudes around the world grow a mustache in the month of November to raise money for health issues like prostate and testicular cancer and mental health. Yep, it can be a pretty ugly time with millions of guys sprouting porn staches, but its an incredibly important cause to help change the face of men’s health.
Jameson will donate $100 to the Movember Foundation, up to $100,000, for every person who joins the Jameson Black Barrel Network from now through the end of Novmember 2015.
To get guys to join, Jameson sent out fancy pants shaving kits with top quality lotions and potions from Baxter of California, and is sponsoring free clean-ups every Tuesday at barbershops in New York, LA and Chicago.
In Austin, Jameson Irish Whiskey is co-hosting a Movember Shave Off event at Whisler’s on Thursday, Oct. 29 from 6 to 10 p.m. The shave off features the “Jameson Barbershop” upstairs in Mezcalaría Tobalá, along with a special Jameson cocktail menu. There will be special Movember drinks including a Black Barrel Old Fashioned, Jameson Buck, Jameson Caskmates on the rocks and the Black Barrel on the rocks. No cover charge.
Get involved by donating money, growing a stache and drinking along with Jameson.
Jameson Black Barrel Old Fashioned
2 parts Jameson Black Barrel Irish Whiskey
3/4 part Benedictine
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters
2 dashes orange bitters
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice and stir. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass and garnish with an orange slice.
Disclosure: Jameson sent a bottle of Black Barrel and sweet-ass shaving supplies at no charge.
Celebrated sommelier and director of wine at laV Restaurant and Wine Bar, Vilma Mazaite, is launching a new wine and food festival in Austin called “Celebrate Burgundy” in early 2017. A press release issued by laV’s PR agency, says, “The festival, designed to be a leading wine and food event focused on Burgundy wines and regional French food will be led by Vilma Mazaite.”
Mazaite has tons of wine cred having been named a “Best Sommelier of 2015” by Food and Wine Magazine earlier this year. Her expertise in French wine is well recognized and is on display in the massive wine list at the restaurant. She traveled to Burgundy in September to plan the festival with some of the region’s most notable wine producers.
To allow her time to plan and host the festival, Mazaite, will leave her role as director of wine and will serve laV as Executive Consultant.
In the press release laV’s General Manager, Jamie Wagner says, “We believe Austin is ready for a world class wine and food event and there is no one better to lead it than Vilma. We’re excited to start Celebrate Burgundy and look forward to working with others in the Austin food and wine community to make it a reality.”
The release added a comment from Mazaite saying, “I am very proudof what we’ve done at laV and am excited to be starting our next venture. I believe we can create a unique wine and food experience in Austin. We’ve already begun securing participants from Burgundy and have been met with great enthusiasm from several producers.”
The venerable Paramount Theatre in downtown Austin will light its new blade sign today to celebrate its 100th anniversary. The new 50 foot tall sign is an exact replica of the original one that was removed in the 1960s.
In honor of the sign lighting, The Townsend, located at 718 Congress Avenue, which is located directly across the street in the glow of the Theatre marquee, has created the Blade Reviver #2 cocktail. The drink is served with a short fact sheet detailing the 100 year history of the Paramount Theatre in honor of this historic event.
The Townsend is hosting a private event after the relighting tonight, Wednesday, September 23. The Blade Reviver #2 will be served at the bar and available nightly (open 4:00 p.m. to 2 a.m.) through Sunday the 27th.
“The Blade Reviver #2 is refreshing, but with an spicy earthiness and an old-world funk that I think really beautifully connects this drink to a mythical Austin of generations past,” says Justin Elliott, food and beverage wrangler, The Townsend
The Paramount will be celebrating with multiple parties tonight with prime views of the relighting ceremony, including a street party on Congress Avenue in front of the Theatre. After the vertical sign and the glowing flame is relit, the party will continue inside the Paramount with a special Patty Griffin CD release show. Tickets to the celebration are available at www.austintheatre.org.
Just hearing the phrase “happy hour” gets people salivating. We love sipping delicious, inexpensive drinks and nibbling delectable bites while relaxing with friends. What a perfect way to end a workday.
Austin is loaded with great places to eat and drink. Austin Woman/What Are You Drinking combed the city to find some of the best happy-hour deals on food and drinks, and the most relaxing places to enjoy them. Although there are many great happy-hour offerings in locations throughout the city, our list features establishments that are centrally located and accessible, no matter where you live in the city.
Chef Andrew Curren and the ELM Restaurant Group opened Italic, the downtown Italian hotspot, earlier this year. The bright and cheerful place to meet friends quickly became a popular happy-hour destination, with $1 off draft beers, Italian house wine for $4 a glass or $16 for a 20-ounce bottle and $2 off the house Negroni. A huge bonus is that focaccia sandwiches are complimentary with drink orders.
“We have excellent prices on appetizers like the prosciutto and baked ricotta, which are about half price,” says Assistant Manager John Tillery. “We have a fantastic atmosphere with a minimalist design that lends itself to an upscale feel without being pretentious. There are a lot of great places in Austin and we want to set ourselves apart with great guest service.”
Tucked inside the American National Bank parking garage, this clandestine bar isn’t exactly easy to find. Nevertheless, early in the evening, it’s full of creative types and downtown office workers unwinding in the dark, cozy bar in the round. Garage has a selection of custom and classic cocktails at happy-hour prices—about $4 off—and $1 off beer and wine. In addition, an in-house charcuterie tray comes with recommendations for pairing with the vintage cocktails.
“The bar is like no other place,” says Bar Manager Chauncey James. “You can get a really well-made classic cocktail at a very reasonable price in a cool space. Our bartenders know what they are doing. We have a fun time on Monday and Tuesday, in particular. It’s like Sunday, part two.”
1201 S. Lamar Blvd.
Do you remember when Odd Duck was a farm-to-food-truck destination in South Austin? Now, this Bryce Gilmore creation wows locals and critics alike with its inventive American cuisine. Enjoy the Afternoon Snack menu Monday through Friday from 2:30 to 5 p.m., offering discounts on select nibbles. Happy hour runs Monday through Friday from 2:30 to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 2:30 to 10 p.m., with $5 Moscow mules and 25-percent discounts on bottles of wine and bottled or canned beer.
The elegant fine-dining destination laV draws crowds with its drinks and food specials during happy hour. It offers an “après-midi” happy hour from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., Tuesday through Friday in the wine bar and cocktail bar. Offerings include 25-percent discounts on select bar bites and $7 glasses of sommelier-selected red, white or sparkling wine, as well as $8 craft cocktails. Tuesday and Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m., laV’s massive selection of wine, the largest in town, is half off by the bottle. Well, anything less than $500, that is.
“laV is always full of fun people,” says Sommelier Vilma Mazaite. “Coming at happy hour is a good way to sample laV. We’re a wine-driven destination. We want people to try something amazing they haven’t had before. During happy hour, for the price of one, you can have two bottles, so you can experiment.”
Swift’s Attic has great deals on food and cocktails. Happy hour generously runs from 2 to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, with all kinds of deals. There are $6 specialty cocktails, $5 select wines, $2 Bud Lights and Mickey’s and $1 off domestic drafts. Monday nights, there are $3 pints all night long. The cocktail selection is inventive, with creations like the Champampaloma, made with TY KU citrus liqueur and sparkling wine. The happy-hour food menu is loaded with delectable treats like the braised pork cheek bao sandwich.
“Swift’s Attic is a great place for drinks and excellent food after work,” says Co-owner CK Chin. “Everyone can have the Swift’s experience at great prices. There isn’t anything on the happy-hour menu that is over $10.”
On any given afternoon, the bar at Péché is full of people wearing a mix of ties and T-shirts. The sounds of lively conversation dance with jazz music, letting that New Orleans bon-temps vibe seep into every pore with every pour. Happy hour rules all day on Sunday and Monday and from 4 to 7 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. Cocktails like the Lions Tail, made with bourbon, lime, allspice dram and angostura bitters, are $5, and food noted on the menu with an asterisk is half price.
“The specials are the draw,” says bartender Scott Doherty. “You can get one of the best cocktails in town for $5. It’s a super great deal.”
Lenoir may be considered a chic fine-dining haunt, but its backyard wine garden is uber chill. Pull up a picnic-table bench and enjoy bar snacks for $2 off and half-price punch made with vermouth and Spanish grenache wine from 5 to 7 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. It’s a lovely spot to enjoy half-price bottles of pinot noir all night on Thursdays.
“We originally opened the backyard as a place to wait for tables in our dining room,” says Co-owner Jessica Maher. “Now we offer small plates and bar snacks with delicious drinks in a super casual atmosphere. It has a private feeling, with the shade of huge oaks. Bring your dogs and kids and let them wander around. It’s a great place to hang out.”
This contemporary steak and sushi restaurant inside the Hilton Austin draws convention visitors and locals with its beautiful ambiance, delicious drinks and killer happy-hour deals Monday through Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. Go for the half-price signature sushi, like the salmon ikura and tuna togarashi, as well as the chef’s tasting menu with fantastic nibbles. Pair that lovely sushi with discounted wines by the glass. Better yet, visit Friday, when all bottles of wine listed at less than $100 are half price.
You’re just as likely to meet a local as you are a tourist in one of the bars at the W Austin Hotel. Regardless of where guests are from, this spot makes for great people-watching in a stunning setting. The primetime reverse happy hour draws gorgeous Austinites to the cozy, cool Living Room Bar seven days a week from 7 to 10 p.m., with half off signature cocktails, as well as a specialty-nibbles menu. Wednesday through Sunday, you can shake it to tunes spun by local DJs during the primetime happy hour. Grab your bikini and head poolside each Thursday from 5 p.m. until sunset during the summer for happy hour on the Wet Deck and $7 drink specials. If you prefer to stay dry, the Trace outdoor patio has happy hour every day from 5 to 7 p.m., with deals on bar nibbles, Texas beers and cocktails, and half off selected wines by the glass.
Belly up to the bar in the historic stone building, or while away the last hours of sunlight in the outdoor courtyard at Whisler’s. This Eastside cocktail den has happy hour every day from 4 to 7 p.m., and from open to close on Monday. Whisler’s has a select menu of classic cocktails for bargain prices and beers for $1 off. The bar doesn’t have a kitchen, but the swoon-worthy East Side King food truck Thai Kun is parked just outside.
“The place is unique,” says bartender Victor Bernal. “It’s been a part of Austin for more than 100 years. We have great drinks at reasonable prices. Whisler’s Old Fashioned is our most popular drink at happy hour and all the time. It’s been proclaimed Austin’s No. 1 Old Fashioned.”
Parkside is a culinary oasis in the midst of Dirty Sixth. It’s a treat to watch chefs artfully prepare ceviche and raw-bar staples behind a long stainless-steel bar. They will toss you a plate full of oysters, along with Champagne, for half price every Wednesday until 7 p.m. Happy hour runs Monday through Friday, 5 to 6:30 p.m., with half off all beer, liquor and the entire bar food menu. The Garden, made with TY KU soju Korean rice liquor, jasmine liquor and orange blossom water, is blissfully refreshing and a perfect accompaniment to ceviche.
“We have an excellent deal on some of the best raw seafood in town,” says General Manager Kevin Pearce. “Our oyster platters are a great deal and the bar burger and steaks are fantastic.”
Where a funky strip mall used to stand on South Lamar Boulevard, the Lamar Union now houses the refurbished Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and several shops and restaurants, including Vox Table. This new spot is quickly gathering accolades for its farm-to-table cuisine, as well as its creative cocktails. Happy hour runs from 5 to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday at the bar, with $4 draft beer, $5 select fortified wines, $6 classic and house cocktails, half-price wines by the glass and half off items on the happy-hour food menu. The Herb is the Word cocktail, made with Fords Gin, lemon, herb-tea syrup, Cocchi Americano and yellow chartreuse, goes well with the Tongue + Cheek bun with Yorkshire pudding.
It’s fairly common for music venues like the Continental Club and Cactus Café to have an artist residency with guest bands playing shows on consecutive nights or weeks. It’s not a common thing to have a guest bartender residency, but newly opened cocktail bar The Townsend is doing just that.
The cocktail lounge and live music venue situated on Congress Avenue kicks off its bartender residency program with Adam Bryan running the show through July 23.
It’s not new to have guest bartenders, but this is the first week-long residency at a bar in Austin. For the three-week old Townsend, it’s quite a coup to land a buzzworthy bartender. Bryan is well-known in Austin for launching the cocktail program at East Side Show Room, working behind the stick at Midnight Cowboy, and serving as bar manager at Bar Congress.
“People have been asking me who was going to be the first guest bartender,” says Justin Elliott, The Townsend partner and food-and-beverage wrangler. “We wanted to take our time to get the right person, because this is a part of who we are. We knew when it’s right, it will be right to offer a residency.”
“I was the guy that showed up,” says Bryan.
Elliott continues, “Adam and I have spent a lot of time working together at East Side Show Room and Midnight Cowboy and have an in-the-trenches mentality. He called and said he was coming through town. The timing worked out. It works really well for Adam to be our first, because we are bringing in someone we trust and with whom we share values.”
Bryan was attracted to the residency because he and Elliott value simplicity in drinks. The Townsend’s approach to doing things differently with a classic cocktail lounge in the heart of downtown also caught his attention.
“For six or seven years the culinary landscape in this town has put on its big pants,” says Bryan. “To see the people involved in making that happen now establishing their own programs in their own spaces is really great. To be able to come back to Austin after being gone for a handful of months and see someone I respect doing just that is a great fit for me.”
Steven Weisburd, principal partner at The Townsend, dreamed up the residency program as a way to bring in talent from the hospitality industry and shake up the creative cocktail menu for customers. It’s a part of The Townsend’s royalty program in which bartenders earn a 1 percent royalty fee each time a drink they created is ordered.
“Our residency program won’t be limited Austin-based bartenders,” says Weisburd. “We want to be innovative with ideas at the Townsend so that we are not just another in a sea of bars. The way we approach our royalty program, the way we do art and music, all are a part of how we are respectful of talent and craftsmanship in several areas. It is a way to celebrate talent in an innovative way.”
Bryan has created a special three-drink menu that will be available from 7-11 pm during his residency. The menu incudes the Rosella Reyes, made with Ancho Reyes; the Velpar, made with Treaty Oak Rum and St. George Absinthe; and the Pedro y Lola made with Tequila Ocho Reposado and Pedro Ximenez Sherry. Each drink is priced at $12.
“The Velpar is an old drink from the early days of the East Side Show Room,” says Bryan. “I wanted to use a local spirit, and Treaty Oak had just been released. I appreciated those guys’ gumption and wanted to showcase that taste. There is a good story behind the name too. Treaty Oak Rum is named for the Treaty Oak tree in downtown Austin, which someone had an attempted to destroy with Velpar poison to kill the tree. At the time the drink was made, absinthe was misunderstood, so that fits in there too.”
Bryan’s cocktails will only be available for a short time, but Elliott thinks they may make a cameo appearance after the residency. He is toying with fun ideas to bring back various recipes from guest bartenders in an end of the year roundup or something like a throwback Thursday.
The Townsend is currently in discussions with several notable bartenders from around the country to take over the bar for future residencies.
This story was originally published on CultureMap.
Ah, the Negroni. As sexy as a silky red dress. The folks at Imbibe Magazine and Campari love it so much, they have organized an entire week, Negroni Week, to celebrate it while raising money for charitable causes around the world. This year, the third annual Negroni Week will be held June 1-7 at 33 bars in Austin.
Participating bars will mix Negroni variations and donate a portion of proceeds to a charity of their choice. More than 1,300 bars participated in 2014 and raised more than $120,000 for local charities.
The Negroni cocktail traces its origins to Florence, Italy starting in early 20th century and it has grown to be a staple because of its simplicity and balance of sweet and bitter flavors. The classic recipe is one part each of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. How could you mess that up?
Each gin had its strengths and the majority were downright delicious. The Waterloo Gin stood out as a favorite in our blind tasting. When blended in the Negronis, the individual botanical recipes of each gin brought out different flavor characteristics of the cocktail. The Austin Reserve Gin showed the best, with a lovely balance of booziness, herbal, citrus, sweet and bitter flavors all in one glass. Yum.
Many bars in town carry one or more of these local gins. In addition, several bars have created special recipes that substitute one or more of the classic ingredients in delicious variations on the Negroni. A few of our favorites include:
RosèSbagliato at drink.well. a unique twist that includesAmaro Montenegro, rosè vermouth, grapefruit liqueur and sparkling rosè
There is no shortage of places to get a drink in this town. But for the discerning tastes of Austin’s cocktail crazy residents, not just any bar will do. The best bars in town pay attention to every aspect of your happiness with a stellar drink list, proper glassware, excellent ice and an enjoyable atmosphere, capped off with a knowledgeable and passionate staff providing flawless service.
On May 12 at Brazos Hall, the fourth annual CultureMapTastemaker Awards will celebrate the best culinary and beverage talent in Austin. A panel of food and drink experts selected 11 of the finest spots in town that set the bar for excellence. Meet the CultureMapTastemaker Awards nominees for Bar of the Year.
The soaring ceilings and sophisticated design make this intimate bar feel anything but small. Tucked between vibrant Second Bar + Kitchen and elegant fine dining restaurant Congress, Bar Congress is one of the more refined cocktail bars in town. Downtown residents, intrepid suburban cocktail aficionados and tourists flock to the bar for its excellent selection of wine, apéritifs and cordials, whiskeys, tequilas, rums and expertly prepared cocktails. Let yourself sink deep into the cozy banquet and pretend you’re Dean Martin. While you can order delicious food, the cocktails are definitely the star of the show.
Don’t miss drink: The Tequila Daisy, made with SiembraVallesplata tequila, Fino sherry, Marolo chamomile grappa, honey, grapefruit and lemon.
A jewel of the vibrant North Loop neighborhood, drink.well. is a quintessential neighborhood bar serving American cuisine and skillfully made cocktails to a steady flow of regulars. The bar attracts a crowd with its seasonally rotating menu of inventive drinks, themed drink nights and well-chosen selection of beer, wine and spirits. Husband and wife team Michael and Jessica Sanders impress guests with their cocktail craftiness. The Sanders have also become a power couple among Austin’s bar professionals because of their tireless pursuit of improving the scene.
Don’t miss drink: The Carl Rides Again is a nod to one of drink.well.’s regulars, featuring Bonded Bourbon, a New Orleans-style coffee liqueur, Cocchi Rosa vermouth and smoky molé bitters.
East Side Show Room
Sitting at the bar of this East Sixth Street icon, one feels transported to Paris in the 1920s. The artistic interior design, French bistro menu, vivacious live music and long list of pre-Prohibition cocktails combine for a sublime experience that will leave you smiling. East Side Show Room has been a fixture on Austin’s best of lists since it opened in 2009 and has served as an incubator for some of our city’s best bar and restaurant talent. Led by Bar Manager Julianna Fry the bar team is sure to impress with a huge selection of spirits and drinks made with seasonal ingredients.
Don’t miss drink: The Riverman, a spring sipper that mixes Old Granddad 114, Kronan, yellow chartreuse, lemon, grapefruit and Mint & Abbott’s bitters.
Named for its inconspicuous location hidden inside the spiral ramp of the American National Bank parking garage, Garage is a great place to get lost in a rocks glass for a night. Grab a seat at the candle-lit circular bar, let the music from the record player wash over you and place your trust in the erudite bartenders to guide your drink selection. Helmed by barman Chauncy James, Garage recently won the People’s Choice Award and The Official Drink of Austin 2015 with its Indian Paintbrush cocktail.
Don’t miss drink: The New Orleans-inspired VieuxCarré cocktail, made with Cognac, rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Bénédictine and bitters.
Award-winning drinks star Chris Bostick opened Half Step on Rainey Street in 2014. It quickly picked up accolades and became a favorite among bartenders and the cocktail cognoscenti of Austin. Guests have a choice of bellying up to the indoor bar or an outdoor bar on the patio to order a serious cocktail made with custom cut ice. The vibe is New York cool-meets-Austin relaxed, obscuring the depth of sophistication lurking behind the bars.
Don’t miss drink: The Kentucky Colonel is a balanced, no-fuss drink, with Bourbon, Bénédictine and Angostura bitters.
King Bee Lounge
One part dive bar, one part pizzeria, one part live blues venue and two parts cocktail mecca, the King Bee Lounge located on East 12th Street offers a spacious retreat to dissolve your cares. Owner Billy Hankey and his girlfriend Colette Dein have created a destination for killer craft cocktails in a comfortable, unassuming setting. Hankey’s easy-going smile and the curated jukebox set the mood for a good time. Live music every Monday is a nice touch, but the drinks are the real draw.
Don’t miss drink: The incredibly refreshing frozen Bees Knees, made with gin, lemon and Good Flow honey, served from a margarita machine.
If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll most likely walk right by it. This unassuming den has absolutely nothing in common with its Dirty Sixth neighbors. Make a reservation, ring the buzzer marked “Harry Craddock” to enter, and ease into the dark, narrow bar lined with booths on both sides. Tom Waits would feel right at home ordering a pre-Prohibition cocktail from the rolling cart where bartenders make drinks table-side.
Don’t miss drink: The house-created Gin-Soaked Goy, a twist on the gin julep, made with pink peppercorn-infused Fords Gin, sage gastrique (a reduced sage syrup deglazed with a bit of vinegar), served on crushed ice, julep-style with fresh sage sprigs.
Austin’s first absinthe bar, Péché feels like a little touch of New Orleans on Austin’s Fourth Street. Behind the long, dark wood bar adorned with antique absinthe water fountains, tall shelves are crammed with an insane array of spirits, including one the city’s best whisky selections. The brainchild of owner and general manager Rob Pate, Péché is more than a craft cocktail bar, it’s also a damn delicious restaurant serving French cuisine prepared by Executive Chef John Lichtenberger. Whether you come for dinner or just a drink, the lovely cocktail menu and extensive wine list will keep you well into the evening.
Don’t miss drink: A classic cocktail with a twist, the Fig Manhattan, made with rye whisky, sweet vermouth, cherry vanilla bitters and fig foam.
Katherine Weatherup brought a little Brooklyn to East Cesar Chavez when she opened cocktail bar Weather Up in 2012. Known for its custom cut ice and fat book of complex drinks, Weather Up is a cozy, intimate place to chill in a throwback-style interior with stained glass, polished subway tile and a gorgeous copper bar. Breezy spring days draw big crowds luxuriating on the ample back patio. Chef Kristine Kittrell oversees scrumptious brunch and dinner menus.
Don’t miss drink: El Niña is a summer favorite, made with white rum, strawberry shrub (a mix of fresh strawberries, sugar and vinegar), fresh lime juice, vanilla simple syrup and mint leaves mixed in a slushy machine.
The cavernous two-story stone walls bedecked with religious iconography and some of the world’s best spirits give Whisler’s the feel of a cocktail cathedral. Veteran barman Scranton Twohey opened the bar in a 1917 building on East Sixth Street in 2013 to an eager audience. Known for capable bartenders who readily mix off-the-menu drinks to satisfy any thirst, Whisler’s offers plenty of cocktail cred with an east side vibe.
Don’t miss drink: The fresh and smoky drink, The Grifter, made with mezcal, Aperol, lemon juice, grapefruit, sage and celery bitters.
Occupying the former Cheer Up Charlies on East Sixth Street, Wonderland opened its doors in early 2014. Owned by the La Corsha Hospitality Group, the team that owns the decidedly more upscale Bar Congress, Wonderland aims to serve the same quality cocktails in a dive bar setting. Quirky beers, bar food, live music and a comfy outdoor patio keep a down tempo vibe rolling late into the evening.
Don’t miss drink: The Rumble Cup, made with Pimm’s No. 1, cucumber gin, raspberry vinegar, citrus and herbs, served on tap.
There are dozens of bars throughout Austin that serve excellent drinks, flawlessly prepared with craft spirits and locally sourced ingredients. The rise of cocktails in Austin is riding the same wave of popularity as our foodie craze, with correspondingly high expectations for quality ingredients and impeccable service.
Austin’s bartenders take their jobs seriously, pouring over books, studying with spirits ambassadors, bringing culinary techniques to the bar and competing — and winning — in national competitions.
Nine of the city’s finest bartenders have been nominated for the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards for Bartender of the Year. Meet them below.
After stints at swanky cocktail dens in New York, Beverly Hills and Los Angeles (where he won the Best Cocktail Bar in America award at the 2012 Tales of the Cocktail), Bostick returned to Austin dripping with drink cred to start Half Step on Rainey Street. At Half Step, he oversees a serious cocktail program complete with custom cut ice.
“Opening Half Step is by far the biggest accomplishment in my career to date,” says Bostick. “It was such an undertaking that involved an incredible amount of work. The success of Half Step has made all of the hard work extremely gratifying.”
Must try: The Ginger Paloma, on tap at Half Step, featuring Tequila Ocho Plata, fresh lime and grapefruit as well as Jarritos Toronja Mexican Soda.
Dunavant has brought a smile to Austinites while working at several top-notch bars including Whisler’s, Drink.Well., Odd Duck and Sawyer & Co. This Memphis native has been bartending since college, and has earned prestige by winning the Bombay Sapphire Competition in Austin, competing in the Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender competition in Las Vegas, which was featured in the GQ miniseries America’s Bartender. She recently took over the helm of the bar program at the new JW Marriott, which has Osteria Pronto, Corner Restaurant, Burger Bar and Lobby Bar.
“My biggest accomplishments are the relationships I’ve built with all the amazing bartenders and industry people in Austin and across the country,” says Dunavant. “I’ve been extremely lucky to get to work side by side some of the best and most talented people Austin has to offer. If it weren’t for all these passionate, creative, and crazy people, my life wouldn’t be the same.”
Must try: A classic margarita made with the large selection of tequila in the Corner Restaurant.
Elliott started at The Tavern and has been in the drinks business ever since with jobs at Brooklyn dive bars and now leading the bar program at Qui. Last year Elliott’s Tepache Collins, a traditional Mexican street drink made with barely fermented pineapple agua fresca, was named the Official Drink of Austin.
“The thing I’m most proud of, though, is my staff,” says Elliott. “We’ve created a really great culture at Qui. Really thoughtful, progressive cocktails are hard enough to put out, especially in a fast-paced environment. To be part of creating a team that makes cocktails look and taste great all the time in a super fun environment is incredibly rewarding.”
Must try: The spring cocktail menu at Qui features an Underberg-spiked Death in the Gulfstream with Genever and lime.
Hankey earned a reputation for making serious cocktails behind the stick at The Good Knight and then as bar manager of Bar Congress. Now he is drawing crowds to King Bee on East 12th Street with killer craft cocktails and delicious pizza.
“When Colette and I first started dating, in fact on our first date, we told each other how much we wanted to open our own place,” he says. “We want to influence everything from fare all the way down to what was on the jukebox. Almost five years later, we have that place. King Bee embodies love and support, the same love and support I get from Colette every day.”
James has honed his impressive bartending skills at damned fine Austin bars such as East Side Show Room, Volstead and Arro. He now leads the bar at Garage, the covert spot tucked inside the American National Bank parking garage. James recently crafted The Official Drink of Austin 2015.
Must-try: The Indian Paintbrush (The 2015 Official Drink of Austin) made with vodka, fresh grapefruit juice, fresh lime juice, rosemary syrup and Peychaud’s Bitters.
After working for 25 years as a medical technician, Pritchard made a significant career change and opened the Tigress Pub on North Loop in the spring of 2010. The cozy bar packs in cocktail lovers with its ever-rotating menu of classic and Pritchard-made drinks. The tiny bar recently expanded from 20 seats to about 40.
“I feel pretty good about being in business for five years,” says Pritchard. “I’m loving what I do and especially loving all the great people that have come into my life.”
Must try: The White Dove, made with white port, dry vermouth, elder flower, served in a tall glass with ice and fruit garnish.
Robbins has been a fixture behind the bar at Drink.Well. since 2013. She is as deft with a classic Sazerac as she is with a flaming tiki drink.
“I think the importance of a fantastic bar team is very underrated. It’s always been one of my biggest priorities. When people have the right chemistry behind the bar it translates into customers’ ultimate experience, from the drink on their table to the overall atmosphere,” she says.
Must try: The Daiquiri made with Smith & Cross over-proof Jamaican rum and lime juice.
Sanders opened the neighborhood cocktail bar and restaurant, Drink.Well. in 2012. Since then, she has made waves in the Austin cocktail scene by competing regularly in national competitions, gathering accolades, and serving as the president of the local chapter of the United States Bartender’s Guild.
“When I am behind the bar and I see someone walk into Drink.Well. for the second, third or fourth time … that’s an accomplishment worth celebrating,” Sanders says. “I am proud that I’ve helped create a space where people come to be made happy and feel welcomed to return again and again.”
Must try: Martini made with 50/50 gin and vermouth with a lemon twist.
As the director of bars and beverage for La Corsha Hospitality Group, Stevens presides over the drinks at cocktail mecca Bar Congress as well as Second Bar + Kitchen and its second location in The Domain. He also has a hand in the soon-to-open Boiler Nine Bar + Grill in the Seaholm development.
“I’m most proud of convincing my mom to stop making margaritas with bottled artificial mix,” Stevens says.
Must try: Barolo 12 year grappa and a Real Ale Han’s Pils chaser
The Bartender of the Year will be announced at the 2015 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards on May 12 at Brazos Hall.
This story was originally published on CultureMap.