Saturday, August 24, 2019

#141: Gin Bar

The Bar


Gin Bar. 1813 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

Visited 8/24/2019 @ 8pm.

The Drink



Gin martini. Plymouth gin, dry vermouth, twist. $15.

I've always been a proud gin drinker, so when I gave my spiel to the bartender about wanting the drink that best represents up the bar - a gin bar named Gin Bar - I felt like I couldn't lose. And I didn't - I got served the bar's rendition of the basic gin martini, which as we are occasionally reminded is the only real kind of martini. Gin Bar has dozens of different varieties of gin (and a handful of non-gins for those patrons who either got really lost or were dragged along unwillingly), carefully curated to give discriminating patrons the opportunity to experiment with new gins. 

I am all in favor of gin experiments. In college I once did some "gin science" with a friend, where we tried to make the ideal martini out of what we had on hand, to find the optimal synthesis of gin + vermouth. We tried each combination of Hendrick's, Bombay Sapphire, and New Amsterdam with both sweet and dry vermouth. The results of our experiment are lost for all time, since we quickly got stupidly staggeringly drunk, but Gin Bar is probably the next-best place to replicate those trials, though I would recommend a slower pace. My martini used Plymouth gin, a term which has the rare distinction of going from being a generic regional product name to a single specific brand instead of the other way around (like Xerox, Kleenex, or Q-Tips). My bartender mixed it at 5 parts gin to 1 part dry vermouth, so nice and strong. It was basically a perfect martini, and if the price seems high, just consider it an investment in science. Ginnovation doesn't come cheap.

The Crew


Travis, Neil, Kathryn, Aaron.


Notes


Given my enduring love for gin, I've always thought it was interesting how little of a role it seems to play in the drinking portfolios of most people I know, and hence the city at large. Though Austin has plenty of bars with big gin collections, there's not a bar that makes gin its specialty - we have whiskey bars, vodka houses, mezcalerías, and so on, but no gin joints. But it's hard to imagine Rick Blaine sighing over a double IPA, and so Gin Bar has arrived to close the gap, although this rooftop bar couldn't be more different than the dark, dingy dive he owns in Casablanca. Gin Bar, which I can tell will absolutely dominate SEO for any gin-related search queries, is an open, friendly, airy bar that likes to educate people on the wonders of gin rather than just provide a stool to sulk at. Its placement at the top of the stairs gives both convenient access from the street as well as a better view of the surrounding area, with plenty of seating off to the side to chat with your friends at. There's something evocative about a rooftop bar that stirs the mind as you're standing at a side rail, sipping your cocktail and pondering the vista in front of you; Gin Bar is as far from Gin Lane as you could imagine.

#140: Lefty's Brick Bar

The Bar


Lefty's Brick Bar. 1813 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

Visited 8/24/2019 @ 7pm.

The Drink



Treme Zombie. Haitian/Jamaican/Puerto Rican rums, falernum, passionola, herbsaint, lime. $10.

The zombie cocktail was spawned out of the famous tiki craze of the postwar years, being invented simultaneously with the Mai Tai and a good deal of other rum-based cocktails, though I am still a bit fuzzy on how exactly the Caribbean-derived liquor rum came to be associated with the general vibe of the Pacific South Seas. Besides Trader Vic's, Don the Beachcomber was the other major bar chain of that movement, and as it happens Donn Beach pioneered the use of one of the ingredients: passionola, AKA fassionola, is a passion fruit syrup that you'll be familiar with if you've ever had a hurricane, as it gives it that sweet taste and, in large does, that uniquely threatening bright red hue. This is perfectly appropriate because as it happens Lefty's is a New Orleans-themed bar (hence the name of the drink), and so in addition to including rums from several locations familiar to that major port city, some of the other ingredients are indigenous as well. Falernum is a syrupy rum-based Caribbean liqueur, and I wasn't very familiar with herbsaint before, but it's one of the many anise-derived liqueurs, first invented as an alternative to absinthe, and now the official variant is another product under the loving embrace of the Sazerac Company. The bartender was very excited about recommending this drink, and though any drink similar to a Hurricane is guaranteed to alarm my incipient hangover precognitive spider-sense, I did enjoy its sweet liquorice taste.

The Crew


Travis, Kathryn, Neil, Aaron.



Notes


The Arrive East Hotel is one of the newer major developments in this part of town. Happily for me, it has not one, not two, but three separate bars in it, which makes tackling multiple bars in one night extremely convenient. Lefty's is one of the two ground floor options, a New Orleans-themed joint that was highly touted for its Cajun/Asian fusion food, which I unfortunately did not sample but looked pretty awesome. There's a stone-walled interior part that opens onto an enclosed courtyard with seating and standing room. The garage doors by the entrance are a nod to the building's past, as a bike shop once operated here, and which was itself a repurposing of a 100 year-old warehouse. So there's lots of history that, as always, you the patron are perfectly welcome to ignore as you prowl around sipping your drink. I don't have a strong opinion on the conversion of the warehouse to a hotel (though I did read a cringeworthy interview with some of the principals where they refer to themselves as "hospitality disruptors"), but I can say that Lefty's was really nice. After we drank, it was up the stairs to the second stop of the night - a gin bar!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

#139: La Holly

The Bar


La Holly. 2500 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

Visited 4/16/19 @ 9pm.

The Drink



Jamaica y Mezcal. Kimo Sabe mezcal, hibiscus syrup, triple sec, lime. $9.

One of the consistent benefits of doing the Sixth Street Complete project is that I get to learn new things all the time, but rarely have I had my mind blown as much as I did by my visit here. La Holly is a mezcal joint, so I gave my usual spiel in the expectation that I would get a mezcal drink. But while I was bantering with the bartender, who asked about my taste preferences in order to give me the drink that best showed off the bar, I said that I often enjoyed smokier mezcals similarly to how I often enjoyed peatier scotches once in a while. Importantly, I phrased it in a way that conveyed that I thought mezcal was a type of tequila in the same way as scotch is a type of whiskey.

Wrong! I couldn't have been more wrong. Upending everything I had ever thought or known, the bartender informed me that, actually, all tequilas are mezcals, but not all mezcals are tequilas. I might as well have been confusing squares and rectangles my whole life. Mind reeling amid the shattered fragments of my entire worldview, I accepted her suggestion of the Jamaica y mezcal a humbler but wiser man. I wasn't wise enough though: the drink was frozen, which as you know I normally dislike, and indeed it was almost the worst way possible to enjoy mezcal. The drink was indistinctly boozy and sweet thanks to the syrup and triple sec, reminding me of nothing so much as a New Orleans-style frozen daquiri with a toasted hibiscus flower on top. Evidently part of this was because Kimo Sabe mezcal is not one of your higher-end mezcals to begin with, which makes sense because you wouldn't put a high-end mezcal in a frozen drink at all. Much better was the mezcal Old-Fashioned I had as my second round, which you should get instead since it much more represents the bar. 

So please learn from my mezcal mistakes: mezcals are not a type of tequila, and never accept a frozen mezcal drink.

The Crew


Aaron, Elijah, Cat.


Notes


It's fortunate for Austin mezcal fans that La Holly is not only not the only mezcalería in Austin, it's not even the only mezcalería on Sixth Street. Unlike Mezcalería Tobalá just down the street, which perches above Whisler's at the head of the stairs out front, La Holly is housed at ground level in a charming little bungalow, and instead of a solemn, candlelit, sacramental air, La Holly is clean and modern and inviting. I had been to Taco Flats on Burnet Road a number of times and greatly enjoyed it, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that La Holly is a project by the same owner, Simon Madera, who converted an older dive bar named Kellee's Place into its current form about two months before my visit. Not having been to the old place, I can't comment on how La Holly compares to its forebear in terms of gentrification quotient or any other measure, but on its own I have to say that La Holly is a very pleasant venue, much like Taco Flats. The bar is neat and clean, the seating area is wood-paneled and welcoming, and though mezcal is potent enough to where a prolonged drinking session would probably leave you writhing around on the floor, La Holly almost couldn't be better tailored to staying for a few rounds while you explore a few new varieties of mezcal.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

#138: Suerte

The Bar


Suerte. 1800 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

Visited 12/30/18 @ 9pm.

The Drink



Don Dario. Reposado tequila, tamarindo, sarsaparilla, lime. $11.

The name of this drink is a homage to a former occupant of this address. I never went to Don Dario, but it still lives on at its new location down at I-35 and Slaughter. Its namesake drink is kind of like a boozy root beer: a bit sweet, thanks to the sarsaparilla (which my brain insists on rendering as "sasparilla", for some reason), and tart, thanks to everything else. "Balance" is one of those subjective critic's terms that are as slippery to handle as your cutlery after you've had a few too many cocktails, but it fits here - both main flavors were distinct yet not overpowering, and when the bartender asked if I wanted another one when I finished it, I agreed immediately. I regret not coming here for happy hour (or "Lucky Hour" as they call it, a play on the restaurant's name, which means "lucky"), since the drink would have been almost half-off, but it's tough to get down to Sixth Street before 5:30pm, when it ends. No matter, craft cocktails don't usually come cheap.

The Crew


Aaron.


Notes


By day, Suerte is a highly-acclaimed Mexican restaurant dedicated to raising the consciousness and expectations of Austinites about how good proper corn tortillas can be when crafted with care and artistry. By night, it still does that, but it's a bit more acceptable to also drink a lot of high-end cocktails along with your elevated repast. I remember the buzz about this place immediately upon its opening earlier in the year (the food, the vision, the decor), and the hype has not relented one bit - it was popping when I was there, and indeed the other time that I went previously, which I alas was not able to incorporate into the Sixth Street Complete, it was really difficult to get a table. Some of the fellow clientele there seemed like they were here just to Be Seen here, which I didn't like, but I refuse to get into a debate on if there's a wrong way to visit a restaurant, so I'll demur. You should absolutely check this place out though - they genuinely do have some phenomenal corn tortillas, and though they're a bit pricey (you could probably do an interesting comparative socioeconomic study of Suerte vs Cisco's, the historic Mexican restaurant I had visited just prior), they occupy a unique niche in the Austin restaurant landscape and are worth visiting for that alone. 

Plus, even the sports hecklers at Suerte are a classier breed - on my way out I ran into a guy who took one look at my Bills shirt and made a good-natured reference to The Comeback, a traumatic event in his Houston childhood, so we stood in their parking lot and talked about the Bills, the Oilers, Austin, our lives, and everything, for well after we each should have been going. It was one of those great serendipitous encounters with a friendly stranger, and as a bonus I got to introduce him to the Houston Oilers Fight Song, almost certainly the greatest fight song ever recorded.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

#137: Cisco's

The Bar


Cisco's. 1511 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

Visited 12/29/18 @ 6:30pm.

The Drink



Michelada. Negra Modelo, homemade michelada mix. $4.50.

I would love to tell you more about the exact ingredients in this rendition of the michelada, but I can't since it's their own house recipe. The michelada is often thought of as a sort of Mexican equivalent of the Bloody Mary, as they both involve tomato juice, booze, and spice, but I have yet to see micheladas get the same gimmick/gentrification treatment, probably due to the slightly more exotic flavors that go into them -  no burgers, beef ribs, or fried chicken here! I think the biggest philosophical debate I've seen is whether clamato is mandatory, or whether it's acceptable to mollify the gringo palate by sticking to plain tomato juice. Cisco's version is about as straightforward as you can possibly get: a simple dark lager like the Modelo, a pleasing mixture of slightly savory/spicy flavors, some seasoning, and a lime. Perfect! Here I was foolishly drinking it inside at a bar on a winter night instead of outside on a patio in the summer afternoon, but it really hit the spot all the same. Whether or not this was the best michelada you've ever had, I'll bet it's the one you could drink the most of without getting sick of them.

The Crew


Aaron.


Notes


My visit to Cisco's came immediately following several momentous changes for the restaurant, which I had traveled past many times but had never visited. Cisco's, which has been around since 1950 (!) is one of those classic East Austin joints like Perla's which are valued as much for their persistence as neighborhood institutions as their reliably good food, though Cisco's also boasts an extensive collection of photos of the famous politicians who have visited, which Perla's does not. They had always served booze with their meals, but it was only after an ownership change (which now connects them to the ubiquitous McGuire Moorman Hospitality Group) that they reconfigured the interior for actual bar service, in addition to extending their hours. I'm sure it was a big decision financially and emotionally to shift their focus from a pure restaurant to also offering bar service, since aside from the revenue shift concerns you also have to worry about upsetting your loyal customers while chasing fickle new ones, but I hope it doesn't hurt them, because in addition to my drink I also got a dinner of some migas breakfast tacos and their famous biscuits and they were excellent. When a restaurant has been around for nearly 70 years, it's a good sign they know what they're doing, even when they change it up a little.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

#136: Edwin's Sports Bar

The Bar


Edwin's Sports Bar. 700 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 12/27/18 @ 9:30pm.

The Drink



Hops and Grain Haze County Double IPA. $8.

Now this is a beer. After having gone through my requisite college hopophilia phase I don't drink many Double IPAs these days, but I always appreciate them when they show up in my hand. You expect a strong bite and a strong pour, and 8.2% is nothing to sneeze at. Hops and Grain wants you to pair it with "dried meats, grilled salmon, and a chocolate caramel cheesecake". I didn't pair mine with anything, but maybe I should have, since it did have a little bit of sweet fruit flavor to it that I bet a cheesecake would have gone well with, although to be fair there's probably not many things that cheesecake doesn't go well with. I have issues these days with mainlining multiple hop bombs in a row, however, so after this beer I switched to something a bit easier on the palate. 

The Crew


Travis, Aaron.


Notes


Edwin's Sports Bar replaced the Waller Ballroom, which makes me smile a bit - why even bother to change the name of the venue if you're just going to go from someone's last name to their first? It's the same guy! But I suppose the owners wanted to maintain a little bit of continuity between their old joint and their new one after they reopened it as Edwin's, since whereas Waller was a concert venue, Edwin's is a sports bar, with the requisite bar food and flat screen TVs that you expect from a sports bar (evidently the original structure began life as a feed store for horses). The interior was quite nice actually, and an interesting example of how small changes in decor can make a big difference in how an audience perceives a venue. There wasn't much sports chat for us, though - we sat next to some New Zealanders in town to visit their friends and somehow ended up talking for like an hour about how New Zealand transitioned from a closed UK-focused economy to an internationally-focused open economy in the 80s and 90s via the amusingly-named (if somewhat less amusing in actual effect) Rogernomics and Ruthanasia economic reforms. Whatever your stance on macroeconomics and regulatory policy, you have to appreciate the wide variety of people you can run into who are happy to chat about anything at all with complete strangers. I am not sure that that was exactly what Edwin Waller had in mind when he was surveying the small plot of land along the Colorado River that became the city known as Austin, but hopefully he would have appreciated it just the same.

#135: Teji's

The Bar


Teji's. 616 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 12/27/18 @ 9pm.

EDIT: Teji's has closed.

The Drink



Dream tea. TW Samuel's bourbon, peach schnapps, sweet & sour, ginger beer. $4.

One of the most cost-effective drinks I've been served yet, discounting gimmick booze tureens like the Adios, motherfucker!, this hefty Moscow Mule variant that I got for practically nothing was quite solid. For a long time peach schnapps was one of those "never again" liquors for me thanks to one of Those Nights back in college, where poor planning on on my part meant I entered the night with nothing but a bottle of the syrupy liquor and then exited the next morning with a saccharine migraine, but I gradually rebuilt my shattered relationship with schnapps (relationschnapps?) thanks to its inarguably excellent taste, at least if you like peach as much as I do. I had never had TW Samuels before and I liked it a lot. This was one of those drinks that made the phrase "well-balanced" pop into my head as I was drinking it because of how well the three supporting ingredients backed up the bourbon. I was initially confused why it was called "Dream tea", because it couldn't have tasted less like a tea, but it turned out that Dream was the name of the bartender! I'm all for naming things after yourself, logic be damned - a great name for a great drink.

The Crew


Travis, Aaron.


Notes


I'm not sure what the minimum number of locations to be considered a chain is, so let's just call Teji's a local mini-chain of Indian restaurants/groceries, though unlike the others this location eschews the grocery part of the business model. This location is a bit over a year old, and it brings a welcome change of pace from the other neighboring bars by virtue of its existence as a fairly normal and quiet restaurant. You'd hardly even know there were people drunkenly staggering around outside, except for the occasional person entering and leaving. We did not eat during our visit, but I have eaten at the location on the Drag and enjoyed it. Austin hasn't historically had a strong focus on Indian food, though that's now changing; I haven't made it part of my drunk food rotation, but I could easily see myself tearing through some curry after a few bar stops, especially at a convenient safe haven location like this. I love bars as much (or more - let's be real) than the next guy, but it's nice to change it up every once in a while.