Liberty Tavern reopens with fresh Austin vibe and focus on Texas-made brews and cocktails

I recently wrote about the newly renovated Liberty Tavern for Austin Man magazine. Today I published a follow-up Q&A with the Liberty Tavern general manager, Michael Creecy, on CultureMap Austin. I guess I can’t get enough local craft beer. 

lot of people complain about the “Dallasification” of Austin. Oh how people go on about big oil moneyed, overly made up, aesthetically-challenged Dallasites (or is it Dallasonians?) crossing the border into our city with the reprehensible intent to plow through our “weird.” One only has to go to the Domain to understand just how insidious this threat is to our way of life.

When will it stop? The Hilton Austin just brought in a new general manager from Dallas to run its recently renovated Liberty Tavern. But wait: Dallas transplant Michael Creecy is bringing an Austin focus to a previously non-descript restaurant that was mostly just a breakfast buffet place. Now that’s a twist.

The Liberty Tavern reopened its doors this month with the newly added Austin vibe, which includes a new bar with a menu of seven Austin craft brews out of the 12 beers on tap and 20 bottles. CultureMap had a beer with Creecy to get a feel for the reborn Liberty Tavern, learn what Creecy brings to the table and hear what guests can expect from the new menu.

CultureMap: What brings you to Austin and the Liberty Tavern?

Michael Creecy: I left banking several years ago for a more exciting and dynamic career in restaurants. I love the fast pace and dealing with new customers all the time. I worked at the stylish Neighborhood Services in Dallas under Nick Badovinus, who was nominated for the Outstanding Restaurateur James Beard Foundation Award. He was a great mentor and taught me a lot about having an attention to detail. Every picture must be straight and not a crumb on the floor.

I had a great four-year run with Nick, and then we decided to relocate to Austin because we wanted to raise our son here. The timing was right for Liberty Tavern, and the owners and I met just before the remodeling started. The renovation brings a great new atmosphere with the Texas beer theme, but the bar is still evolving to meet my high standards.

CM: What’s new at the Liberty Tavern?   

MC: The first thing that’s new is the bar. Although it was called “Tavern” before, it didn’t have a bar. We know that people who come to Austin want an authentic taste of what the town has to offer, so we have introduced a menu focused on Austin and Texas-made beer, cocktail and bar food.

We have a great bar menu with our Beer Dinner, a roast pork shank served with cheese spaetzle and a flight of Austin beers, as well as Texas inspired dishes like our seafood ceviche made with Tito’s Handmade Vodka. We also have installed three long communal table and 14 high-definition TVs. The vibe is younger and more exciting, particularly with the focus on beer. Our evening crowd has really picked up.

CM: What local beers are you serving?

MC: We have one draft beer tower that is completely dedicated to Texas craft brews like (512) Brewing Pecan Porter, Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap, Real Ale Fireman’s 4, Thirsty Planet Buckethead and Austin Amber, Stash IPA and Saison from Independence Brewery. We also have Hops and Grain Pale Dog in cans, Rahr & Sons Ugly Pug by the bottle and Jester King Noble King and Drink’in the Sunbelt in the 750ml bottles.

The reception for local craft beer has been really good in the past couple of weeks since we reopened. Our guests have loved our emphasis on local beer, have explored a wide selection of beers and have delved into the exotic bottle selection. In fact Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap has been a best seller beating both the traditional big sellers, Bud Light and Blue Moon sales.

CM: What are you most excited about with the newly refurbished Liberty Tavern?

MC: I’m most excited to bring new attention to service to the Hilton Austin; I’m bringing my experience in four-star dining service to the Liberty Tavern. Our staff will pay a lot of attention to aspects of refined service to make sure customers have a good experience.

I’m also excited about introducing new creative ideas from the stand-alone restaurant world, such as unique signature cocktails that change to meet the fast moving desires of guests. I experienced the craft cocktail explosion in Dallas and have a passion for making excellent drinks with Texas spirits.

At the Liberty Tavern, our cocktail menu features Texas spirits like Dulce Vida Tequila, Rebecca’s Creek Whiskey, Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Treaty Oak Rum. We also have a selection of 15 Scotches and 10 small batch bourbons. We plan to refresh the cocktail list seasonally month to match the weather. As soon as we get the first cold snap, we’ll introduce heartier cocktails and heavier beers like stouts.

Liberty Tavern is located in the Hilton Austin downtown on 500 East Fourth St. in between Red River and Neches Streets. The tavern is open from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. daily with a special reverse happy hour from 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. featuring $2 off Texas specialty cocktails and beers. Reservations are available by phone (512) 682-BREW (2739), or through Opentable.com.

What are you drinking?

 

Liberty Tavern gets a Texan makeover

Michael Creecy Liberty TavernHotel restaurants are often soulless caverns devoted to conveniently serving captive out-of-town guests unimaginative, substandard grub at highly inflated prices. Until recently, the Liberty Tavern in the Hilton Austin downtown fit that bill. Heck, it wasn’t even a tavern at all. It was known for its expensive breakfast buffet and subpar service for convention goers. That’s all changing with a complete makeover.

The newly renovated Liberty Tavern opened for business this week with one big addition that officially makes it a tavern: It now has a bar. The Liberty will still cater to the hotel breakfast crowd with the typical buffet. In fact, the lunch and dinner menus are standard Hilton fare, but the new bar menu introduces a distinctly Austin focus, with specialty items like seafood ceviche on avocado marble made with Tito’s Handmade Vodka. I went for the Beer Dinner, a manly one-pound hunk of chili-rubbed roast pork shank served with an iron skillet laden with cheesy spaetzle and paired with a flight of five Texas craft beers.

The Texas-themed bar menu and beer-and-cocktail list are the conception of General Manager Michael Creecy, who recently left the upscale gastropub Neighborhood Services in Dallas. He isn’t cut from the corporate Hilton cloth and brings a new focus on Austin’s craft-beer and cocktail scene.

“People come to Austin to get the Austin experience. Austin craft beer is a big part of that experience,” he says.

Creecy plans to meet that expectation with a menu of seven Texas craft brews out of the 12 beers on tap and 20 bottles. One draft beer tower is dedicated to Texas craft brews such as (512) Brewing Pecan Porter, Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap, Real Ale Firemans #4, Thirsty Planet Buckethead, and Austin Amber, Stash IPA and Saison from Independence Brewery. They also carry other local beers in cans and bottles, including Hops & Grain Pale Dog, Rahr & Sons Ugly Pug and Jester King Noble King and Drink’in the Sunbelt. Dog lovers, any time you buy a Hops & Grain or a Rahr & Sons Ugly Pug, Liberty Tavern will donate $1 to Austin Pets Alive.

Creecy was at the epicenter of the craft-cocktail explosion in Dallas, with a strong bent on Texas spirits. He is keeping the Texan theme going at Liberty Tavern with a Texas-based spirits-and-cocktail menu featuring Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Treaty Oak Rum, Dulce Vida Tequila and Rebecca’s Creek Whiskey. Liberty also has a selection of 15 scotches and 10 bourbons, with a focus on small-batch. Not all of the whiskeys are on display, so ask the bartender to show you the good stuff.

The folks at Liberty Tavern hope to attract out-of-towners hankering for an authentic Texan experience, as well as thirsty locals. While elements of the bar are decidedly masculine, Creecy says, “This is a good place to bring a date to watch a game. We have some cocktails specifically geared toward women, like the Lady Bird, made with Tito’s Vodka, St. Germain, Prosecco and blackberry puree, and the French 75 and Liberty Lemonade.”

Hotel restaurants aren’t always noted for excellent service. Creecy brings four-star-dining sensibilities to the Liberty Tavern and is putting a big emphasis on proper service.

“Timing is essential to a good experience,” he says. “Our servers will pay a lot of attention to aspects of graceful service like the placement of items, the timing of drink and meal orders.”

It sounds like good old-fashioned Texas hospitality.

When you go:

  •  Liberty Tavern is located in the Hilton Austin downtown at 500 E. Fourth St. between Red River and Neches streets.
  • Call ahead for reservations at 512.682.BREW (2739), or visit opentable.com.
  • Save a couple bucks on seven Texas specialty cocktails and 15 Texas beers during the reverse happy hour from 9 to 11 p.m.
  • The tavern occasionally books live music and has 14 hi-def TVs with a never-ending supply of sports.
  • Leave your car at home. There is a MetroRail station right outside with trains running every 30 minutes and there is a cabstand in front of the hotel.
  • For more information, visit libertytavernaustin.com.

This story was previously published on Austin Man magazine.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary Beer Dinner and a pint of Thirsty Planet Buckethead IPA. 

What are you drinking?