New Congress Avenue hot spot, The Townsend, scores badass guest bartender

Adam Bryan Guest Bartender The Townsend
Adam Bryan Guest Bartender The Townsend

 

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.”

Velpar Cocktail
Velpar Cocktail

 

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.

What Are You Drinking? 

These 9 Austin bartenders are shaking up the cocktail scene

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.

Chris Bostick, Half Step

Chris Bostick
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.  

Carley Dunavant, JW Marriott

Carley Dunavant
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.

Justin Elliott, Qui

Justin Elliott Qui (2)
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.

Bill Hankey, King Bee Lounge

Bill Hankey
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.”

Must try: Château Pradeaux Bandol Rosé

Chauncey James, Garage

Chauncy James of Garage
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.

Pam Pritchard, The Tigress Pub  

Pam Pritchard The Tigress
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.

Ania Robbins, Drink.Well.

Ania Roberts
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. 

Jessica Sanders, Drink.Well.  

Jessica and Michael Sanders
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.

Jason Stevens, Bar Congress

Jason Stevens Bar Congress
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

What are you drinking? 

 

Austin’s Best Bartenders:

Three bartenders who are shaking up the Austin scene

Austins best bartender

This story was originally published in the Spring 2015 issue of Austin Man Magazine

Cocktails have been around since the early 1800s, but it wasn’t until the past handful of years that bars in Austin started making pre-Prohibition-style cocktails in earnest. In the early 2000s, the craft-cocktail movement swept from the barstools of places like Milk & Honey and Employees Only in New York to the West Coast and then to Austin.

Now Austin has dozens of places scattered throughout the city that serve classic and unique drinks immaculately prepared with small-batch spirits and locally sourced ingredients. The rise of craft cocktails in Austin mirrors the impressive ascension of the culinary crusade, with similarly steep expectations for top-notch ingredients and service.

Through participation in organizations like the United States Bartenders’ Guild, as well as competitions and events like the San Antonio Cocktail Conference and Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, Austin bartenders have honed their skills and are being recognized nationally. The Austin craft-cocktail world has been shaped by talented people like David Alan of Tipsy Texan, Bill Norris of Alamo Drafthouse and Josh Loving of Small Victory, as well as the next wave of cocktail mavens like Jessica Sanders of drink.well., Chris Bostick of Half Step, Larry Miller of Peché and Cesar Aguilar of Whisler’s.

What makes a great bartender? Mark Shilling, founder of Austin-based Revolution Spirits, has visited his fair share of bars and believes there is more to the job than just making excellent drinks.

“Being a great bartender takes knowledge, creativity and excellent service,” Shilling says. “Bartenders need to know the craft enough to be able to serve a customer what they are looking for. Doing the job well requires that a bartender break rules to come up with new drinks. Above all, bartending is as much about personality and relationship management as anything. At the end of the night, it’s not just about the drink; it’s about the experience.”

Here are three outstanding bartenders from the City’s Hottest Restaurants who are at the forefront of the craft cocktail movement.

Jason Stevens, Bar Congress

Jason Stevens swizzle
Jason Stevens is more than a bartender. As the director of bars and beverage for La Corsha Hospitality Group, he presides over the drinks at Bar Congress, Second Bar + Kitchen and its second location in The Domain, as well as the soon-to-open Boiler Nine Bar + Grill in Seaholm and a new project brewing in Marfa, Texas.

Each bar has a common thread, but each has its own identity hinged on different drinks, styles and an ethos all its own. Each menu has to fit the clientele. At Bar Congress, that means the menu has a variety of drinks, from light and refreshing to really boozy, to satisfy a diverse range of palates.

What Are You Drinking?: What got you into bartending?


Jason Stevens: Bartending was a happy accident for me. I stumbled on cocktails when I attended Tipsy Tech, a course taught by Lara Nixon and David Alan. I learned about this whole world of tastes and flavors I never had before. That really got me going, so I started reading books and devouring the subject. I was enamored when I realized cocktails are a beautiful balance between culinary art, science and hospitality.

WAYD: What is your favorite part of the job?


JS: The people: the team I work with and the customers who come in. We have formed a team that has agreed to a contract to do exactly what we need to do to make sure the guests have incredible experiences. There is a lot of camaraderie in that. And not just with co-workers, but with guests too. They put faith in us to give them an exceptional evening. There is a kinship built by going through a great night together.

WAYD: What does it take to be a standout bartender in Austin?


JS: Some people say it’s winning competitions or getting in magazines. I think it’s about quality and execution. It’s about focusing on getting the drink the guests love and sometimes delivering a few surprises. It takes an understanding of the word “hospitality.” To paraphrase the Esquire Drink Book from 1956, hospitality is 10 percent presence and being nice to people, and 90 percent preparation. That’s what it’s all about.

Drink of the Moment

Queens Park Swizzle

The Bar Congress cocktail menu is a compilation
of classic recipes from famous hotel bars. One of Stevens’ favorites is the Queen’s Park Swizzle, an early Tiki-style rum drink developed at the Queen’s Park Hotel in Trinidad in the mid-1930s.

Queen’s Park Swizzle

  • 1 1/2 ounces aged El Dorado 12 Demerara rum
  • 3/4 ounce Smith & Cross Jamaican rum

  • 1/2 ounce Piloncillo sugar simple syrup
  • 
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice Fresh mint

  • House-made Seven League bitters

Justin Elliot, Qui

Justin Elliott Qui (2)

Presiding over the bar at Qui on East Sixth Street, Justin Elliott creates drinks that reflect the principles of the kitchen rather than those that might compete with the food. Instead of making fussy cocktails, he shoots for craveable flavors and drinks made with local ingredients that are seasonally appropriate and served in an elegant way.

Two drinks on the current menu that sum up Elliott’s guiding principle for cocktails are the Shore Leave pumpkin seed horchata and the Tepache Collins. Both are delicious twists on traditional drinks that don’t challenge the notion of what can be in a cock- tail, but are still unexpected.

What Are You Drinking?: What got you into bartending?


Justin Elliott: I’ve been in the business for 14 years. 
I paid for my final year of college by working nights
at The Tavern. I’ve always gravitated toward neighbor- hood bars, but when I came back to Austin, I started to push deeper into the “fancy-mustache” cocktail world. In part, that stems from hanging out with my friend Tom Chadwick, who owns the Brooklyn cocktail bar Dram, back when he was working happy hours
at a dive bar and he was just getting started doing cocktails. I took to the confluence of culture, commerce and art, and dove in headfirst.

WAYD: What is your favorite part of the job?


JE: I love making drinks on a Friday night. I get to hang out with super cool people who are here to have a great time. We serve them excellent food and drinks, and they leave riding that wave of feeling good. I want our guests to feel like I want to feel when I go out. I constantly challenge myself to develop new and interesting cocktails that make people happy. That’s rewarding.

WAYD: What does it take to be a standout
bartender in Austin?

JE: I follow my instincts and put myself in my guests’ place. I surround myself with the kind of staff I want to visit, make the kind of drinks I want to drink and create the kind of environment I want to be in. I want people to walk into our bar, see a cocktail and say, “Yeah, that speaks to me.” It’s important to spend time trying to grow creatively and learning something new. I work with the Rémy Cointreau bartender outreach program to throw little parties [and make] famous old cocktails. Things have changed a lot in 150 years, but it’s still just as important to learn the classics.

Drink of the Moment

Qui Tepache Collins

Elliott’s Tepache Collins, which was named the Official Drink of Austin in 2014 in a competition hosted by the Austin Food & Wine Alliance and the Tipsy Texan, is an interesting variation of the traditional Mexican street drink made with barely fermented pineapple agua fresca.

Tepache Collins, aka official drink of Austin 2014

  • 2 to 3 large leaves of Thai basil, spanked
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • 
1/2 ounce honey syrup
 1 ounce Balcones Rumble
  • 1 1/2 ounces house-made Tepache

  • Combine all above ingredients in a Collins glass, give it a quick tap-tap muddle, then add Tepache. Fill the glass with crushed ice, and garnish with a straw, mint sprig and Thai basil leaf.  

Casey Petty, laV


Casey Petty laV

Casey Petty cut his teeth in the restaurant business at a small restaurant, attended culinary school and worked his way through multiple positions, from dishwasher to manager. He brings that deep well of experience and a competitive intensity that he honed playing football, lacrosse, soccer and basketball to his position of bar supervisor at laV.

The swank setting of the Eastside’s newest darling restaurant may seem like a far cry from the sports battlefield, but it too requires a commitment to digging deep to achieve the best results. Petty brings creative treatment to classic cocktails that play well with the rest of the laV team—the city’s largest wine list.

What Are You Drinking?: What got you into bartending?


Casey Petty: I love to cook and to create things, and serve delicious drinks to people to make them happy.
I like the opportunity to serve something new and have people like it. I’ve learned the basics of making great cocktails from colleagues on the job over the years. Once I knew I enjoyed it, I wanted to get really damn good at it. Now I want people to remember that I’m a part of a restaurant and bar that matters.

WAYD: What is your favorite part of the job?


CP: I love any opportunity I can take to help a guest discover something new, like an exotic liquor, such as Liquore Strega or amaro, the Italian herbal digestif. In fact, laV is striving to have the largest selection of ama- ros in town. We have a huge spectrum to explore, with everything from Amaro Nonino to Amaro dell’Erborista. I love learning and bringing new and exciting drinks
to satisfy diverse tastes at our bar. We get everything from people in the rock ’n’ roll industry coming in as regulars, to people coming in to order a $500 bottle of Burgundy on any given night.

WAYD: What does it take to be a standout bartender in Austin?


CP: To stand out, you have to really understand what people like and know how to work with it. In addition, it’s important to be hospitable and humble. I’m not a vodka drinker, but that has no impact on my passion to make a vodka cocktail for people who like them. Constantly trying new things is essential to the job. I like to make up cocktails like our new Age of EnFranklinment, which is a take off of the Jester King Figlet smoked sour ale. I make ours with aromatic bitters smoked in a pit with fig compote, Rebecca Creek whiskey, Maraschino liqueur, yellow Chartreuse and lemon juice. I also make our own house-made amer picon, a French version of amaro, which hasn’t been available in the U.S. since the 1960s.

Drink of the Moment

laV Cibola

Capturing the spirit of experimenting with classics is Petty’s take on the Cibola. Instead of using the traditional whiskey base, he gives it a contemporary twist, using smoky mezcal.

Cibola

  • 3/4 ounce Vida Mezcal
  • 
3/4 ounce yellow Chartreuse

  • 3/4 ounce Cointreau

  • 3/4 ounce lemon juice

  • Heavy rinse of the glass with absinthe 

What are you drinking?