A Great Place to Drink Al Fresco: El Arbol

I love spring. Everything is in bloom, the sun stays out a little longer into the evening and its warmth coaxes us to shed those heavy winter clothes and get outside to soak it in. There is nothing better than relaxing outside on a gorgeous spring evening with a delicious cocktail and spirited conversation with friends. Austin has quite possibly the best spring weather on the face of the planet, and lots of great places with outdoor seating to drink in the warm breeze.

 El Arbol, located just north of downtown on the corner of 38th and Glenview, is a wonderful place to loll about in the sun with a drink in hand. With a three-level deck that hides behind the restaurant, there is ample outdoor seating. An iconic oak shades all three levels with a sprawling canopy that must be at least 50 yards in diameter. Privacy walls draped with hanging plants, red painted ornamental iron fencing on the upper decks, and an elaborate hand-carved door give it the feel of a South American court yard.  The setting is a great start, and then there’s the drinks.

The wine list spans about 200 selections and is grouped by “Featured Wines,” “New World Wines,” and “Old World Wines” with descriptions like “aromatic whites,” “crisp whites,” “lighter reds,” “dry reds,” and “full bodied reds.” The New Worlds dominate the list with plenty of bottles from Chile and Argentina. Wines from Argentina make up about 40% of the list. These tend to be the more popular wines as people like to stick to the South American theme of the restaurant.

 My friends Cotton Candy, Good Story and Lovey are huge fans of Malbec, so they ordered a bottle of 2007 Vistalba Corte B, a blend of Cab and Malbec from Mendoza. Delightful. Beautiful Wife ordered a glass of bubbles and dared it to be as vivacious as she. Impossible.

 El Arbol also has a decent cocktail list with drinks like a Pomegranate Blood Orange Martini, an Italiano 75 (a twist on the French 76, made with Prosecco), Palomas and the signature drink, the Caipirinhas.

Caipirinhas (pronounced cai-pee-reen-yah) is the national drink of Brazil. I just had a trip to Brazil canceled, so I ordered it to remind me of what I’ll be missing. Caipirinhas are made with lime, sugar cane and cachaça, which is fermented and distilled sugar cane juice that is aged in oak barrels to make a distinctive brandy. The sugar and lime are muddled before being mixed with the liquor and served over lots of ice. If you want a twist on the classic, try the Caipirinhas Mora that adds a splash of blackberry puree mixed in.

I ordered the classic because it’s the signature drink and because it’s a screamin deal during happy hour. Happy Hour is 5 to 7 pm Tuesday through Friday, by the way. Our kick-ass server, Carter, brought me a Mora on the house because he figured I needed to try it too. He was right.

Caipirinhas

Look Pale emerald like fresh spring leaves after the rain. The light froth, ample ice and lime wedges make is look a bit like a margarita.
Smell A mild scent of herbs and lime zest.
Taste Fresh, like spring in a glass. The tart lime is the most prominent flavor and it pairs well with the flavor of the cachaça. The liquor is earthy, herbal and a bit sweet, like a cross between tequila and rum.
Price $3 during Happy Hour, $8 normally

Caipirinhas Mora

Look This is a party in a glass; like a blackberry smoothie poured with a flourish over giggling ice cubes.
Smell Citrus sunshine and blackberry happiness leap from the glass.
Taste Tart blackberry dominates the look, smell and taste, but it isn’t so bold to overpower the cachaça. The herbal heather flavor blends well with the lime and berries for a cocktail that begs to be served outside in the sun.
Price $9

 I liked both drinks, but finished the classic first. The happy hour price dared me to order yet another, but I didn’t.

I’ve been to El Arbol more than once and I’ll keep going back to idle in the long rays of the afternoon sun under that towering oak. The fantastic wine list, the delicious cocktails and the gracious atmosphere are just as appealing as the huge outdoor deck. Cotton Candy summed it up nicely: “It has a lovely patio with high-end drinks and nibbles. I don’t have to sacrifice good food for a good patio like I do at some old school Austin places.” There you have it.

What are you drinking?