Friday, September 7, 2018

#122: Attabar

The Bar


Attabar. 1300 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

Visited 9/7/18 @ 11pm.

EDIT: Attabar has closed.

The Drink




Spicy margarita. Lunazul tequila, jalapeño syrup, agave nectar, lime juice, tajin. $9.

The spiciest drink I've gotten so far was the Bloody Mary at Casino El Camino; this was nowhere near as spicy as that, but you can't compare a prank cocktail to a daily drinker like this. Lunazul tequila has been a popular selection for margaritas on this quest, and it continued to ably fulfill its role as the "premium mediocre" tequila of choice. I'm not sure exactly which sugar they used for the syrup, or the sugar ratio, or any of the background details behind their syrup creation process, but I loved the balance between spicy and sweet and the acid of the lime, and of course tajin, king of seasonings, is always welcome. The bartender was REALLY excited about our project, having a total blast as she recommended and mixed our drinks, and you can see her frantic gesticulations in the background as we got ready to try our respective concoctions. 

The Crew


Aaron, Travis, Geoff.


Notes


Attabar replaced the late, great Sputnik, one of my favorite stops on East Sixth back in the day. Sputnik was an unshamed dive bar/restaurant, with cheap drinks and great food. The new spot is absolutely not a dive, but since we're all about celebrating the present and not mourning the past, we will focus on the virtues of the new spot. They'd been open for slightly more than 6 months when we visited, and it seemed like had gotten into a solid groove. The new layout is more open-plan than Sputnik was, ditching the thick wood coziness (RIP to the sexy pinup posters) in favor of more space and an atmosphere of conviviality. One thing that I've noticed I like about bar interiors is what I call "chatting tables" for lack of a better term - the long thin double-sided countertops that let you sit closer to your friends to drink and talk than full-width tables, but still have room for your cocktails and snacks. Attabar has one of those front and center, and it's interesting how they allow both for intimate discussions with your friends, as well as for serendipitous encounters with friendly strangers who are just an elbow away. Everyone we saw was having a good time, so Attabar is as good an example as any of how individual bars can come and go, but even though it's appropriate to mourn the fallen, what better place to do it than at the counter of the living?

#121: Little Big Burger

The Bar


Little Big Burger. 1630 E 6th St #100, Austin, TX 78702

Visited 9/7/18 @ 9:30pm.

EDIT: Little Big Burger has closed.

The Drink




Zilker Marco IPA. $6.

I last had this beer straight from the source at Zilker Brewing just a few blocks down the street. In a glass or a can, it's a fine American IPA. You might think that three dudes showing up to a fast food burger joint just to pound some brews would get odd looks, but fortunately for us, we were the only ones there! If the staff thought anything was amiss about our mission, they kept it to themselves, and as a result we were able to relax and savor this not-quite-sessionable 7% IPA, sipping our cans at our leisure. I really like the art on their cans - a product of Zocalo Design, an Austin firm that is itself just a few blocks further on East Sixth, the pattern is meant to evoke Saltillo blankets. This discovery could lead us on a further quest investigating more chains of references to things like Plaza Saltillo, and so on, but it's enough to say that it's a great can design, and a great beer.

The Crew


Travis, Geoff, Aaron.




Notes


Little Big Burger is based in Portland, Oregon, and this is their first outpost in Texas. Austin doesn't lack for excellent burger joints, but it's still nice to see what other parts of the country have to offer, even if ultimately they end up disappointing somewhat. Yes, I am referring to when In-N-Out showed up, everyone went nuts, and then we had to pretend like Whataburger was the greatest thing our state has ever produced in prideful self-defense. Not that I hate Whataburger (I have indelible college memories of happily devouring their breakfast biscuits at 2am), but let's let's keep some perspective here. Sadly we did not gain any additional perspective on this Portland product by actually consuming their burgers (be healthy - save those calories for beer), though from what I understand they're quite good. I can't claim that the restaurant itself makes for a top-tier drinking location - it has that familiar harshly echoing, oddly-lit, plainly functional fast-casual interior decor - but we're hardly the typical patrons, and it's probably not such a big deal when you're sitting down for a real meal. Sometimes it does occur to me, when I visit stops like this, how untypical our mission is, but all I can report is what I experience. Not every business is truly a bar at heart some are born a bar, some achieve barness, and some have barness thrust upon them. Little Big Burger is in the latter category.

#120: The Last Straw

The Bar


The Last Straw. 1914 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

Visited 9/7/18 @ 9pm.

The Drink




Mai Tai. House rum medley (Rhum JM, Hamilton Jamaican Black, El Dorado 8 year), dry curaçao, orgeat, lime. $6.

I had been served a Mai Tai at COLLiDE atx, but naturally a more tiki-inclined establishment's version of the modern classic was always going to be more elaborate (check out the awesome carved wooden drinking vessel) and more in keeping with the official recipe. That means curaçao, which the other rendition lacked. This version has dry curaçao, which turns out to deserve its own historical tangent. Curaçao is named after the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao where it was first distilled. Like most liqueurs it's made with fruit, in this case specifically with laraha oranges, a bitter variant of Valencia oranges from Spain, which are in turn descended from wherever in Southeast Asia the first ancient citron reared its mighty head. Dry curaçao, however, draws on techniques pioneered in Burgundy to modify the recipe, using a different starting basis for the spirit and flavor profile development. Curaçao is the same thing as triple sec (the "sec" means "dry" as in "dessicate"), so you can think of dry curaçao as a dry Caribbean liqueur made from a variant of Spanish oranges made even drier by way of France. It's globalism at its best, and while the average joe like yours truly might only get a hint of the rich web of world-spanning connections among the various rum flavors and orgeat, it's the attention to detail and commitment to the experience that separates a top-tier Mai Tai like this one from less-successful attempts. I didn't even mention all the fancy rums they use, which you unfortunately can't really taste distinctly. or maybe I was just too busy admiring the cup.

The Crew


Aaron, Kyle, Travis, Geoff.


Notes


It's a shame that Chicon did not last longer in this space, since they had one of the best cocktail menus on East Sixth. But no matter, their replacement is quite good on its own. The Last Straw is not quite a tiki bar, but it's about as tiki-adjacent as you'll find on Sixth Street. They've redone the interior, so it's got an extremely colorful tropical interior that's inviting by day and still convivial at night, when the entire joint is bathed in crimson. Red glow at night, drinkers' delight! It actually somewhat reminded me of a late night on the Drag, in one of the coffee shops with similarly unusual lighting conducive to maintaining your night vision. It's all the better to see what you're drinking, as all of their drinks come in neat little tiki/Hawaiian/tropical delivery vehicles, possibly for immediate Instagram production but also because it looks fun. Everything about this place is seemingly designed for a good time - how can you hate owners who designed a cocktail to drink while watching Caddyshack? They have an extensive food menu (though oddly it's a Mexican-themed menu rather than anything tropical), but we didn't sample any of it.

#119: Via 313

The Bar


Via 313. 1802 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

Visited 9/7/18 @ 7pm.

The Drink




Old-Fashioned. Russell's Reserve bourbon, simple syrup, Luxardo cherry, orange peel. $10.

I once read some reviews of Beatles albums that I unfortunately cannot find now where, confronted by the psychologically daunting task of finding something new to say about the most comprehensively overanalyzed discography in rock history, the reviewer simply decided to give every album an 8/10 and just talk about how Ringo's drumkit changed over time. That's how I feel about encountering the Nth iteration of the Old-Fashioned: do I focus on the whiskey/bourbon, the syrup, the cherry? The ice cube? Let's just say that I liked the result: when I asked for the drink, the bartender decided to give me the bourbon variant instead of the rye whiskey (which they make with Balcones Texas rye), which was interesting since Russell's Reserve is a spicier bourbon, though still sweeter than a rye. The entire idea behind going with a bourbon instead of a rye is that you don't want that peppery bite which opposes and balances the syrup, but this managed to neatly split the difference between the two philosophies. After so many different variants on the humble standby cocktail, perhaps a return to the mean was all for the best. Despite being a pizza joint at heart, Via 313 does not skimp on their cocktails one bit.

The Crew


Kyle, Aaron, Travis, Geoff (not pictured).



Notes


I was excited to visit this stop, but if I'm being honest with myself, a lot of that anticipation was for the pizza factor rather than the bar factor. Via 313 is a dedicated fixture on every self-respecting best pizza in Austin list, and it's unquestionably the best pizza on Sixth Street (sorry Roppolo's and Paparazzi, and RIP Rounders), so a chance to grab a drink here is also a chance to grab a slice, or 2, or 3, etc etc. Very few people will ever come to a pizza joint like Via 313 purely for the booze, but one of the great things about pizza is that it goes so well with booze, it's as if the two were made for each other. This thick, bready, deep Detroit-style pizza in particular goes really well as a pregame or midgame snack, and I'm surprised it's not more common for specifically this reason. Interestingly, this market niche crying out to be filled opens up an opportunity for little old Via 313 here in Austin: the megachains from Detroit don't really focus on the native style (Little Caesar's sells Detroit-style as an afterthought; Domino's doesn't sell it at all), so it's entirely possible that given a few years of solid growth, Via 313, which has only existed since 2011, could soon become one of if not the largest Detroit-style chain in the country, if it isn't already.

This outpost of the Via 313 empire replaced the irritatingly-capitalized COLLiDE atx, which lasted for less than a year in this space even though I foolishly proclaimed at the time that it looked primed for success. However, if we pretend that what I actually predicted was that "a" pizza place here would do well, then it turns out that my misplaced prognostication was entirely correct! Something feels slightly off about the interior design of the new space (not cozy enough to be a pizza joint, just don't have the vibe to be a real bar), but there's a decent patio outside, and anyway it's hard to focus on much else once you've sat down for a drink and you've got some pizza on the way. Who chooses a bar based on the wallpaper? It's kind of funny: most people would never imagine telling their friends "guys, let's grab some drinks at Via 313!" and expecting a night full of rounds, but they lacks imagination! Via 313 had its genesis as a food trailer parked outside of Violet Crown, where I consumed it many a time, and I am glad that they're all grown up. The more pizza and booze the better!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

#118: Terminal 6

The Bar


Terminal 6. 302 E 6th St #101, Austin, TX 78702

Visited 12/23/17 @ 11pm.

EDIT: Terminal 6 has now closed.

The Drink



Adios, motherfucker!Tequila, whiskey, vodka, gin, rum, triple sec, blue curaçao, sour. $6.

By now I'm getting to consider this drink a classic, and the fact that it's made with Dirty Sixth's typically peculiar blend of effort (lots of ingredients) and laziness (it's in a red solo cup) only enhances it, and so this edition of the Adios, motherfucker! lands with an even more heightened melange of sensations than usual: both the elevated mixology and slopping the hogs that defines a Saturday night out on the town. Various scientists have attempted over the years to quantify the precise effects that the shape of a drinking glass has on the contents within, to more or less plausible results. Like, I'd certainly believe that beer tastes differently from a Belgian glass than a boot, but there's no way you could tell the difference between every type of glass, even if there was some sort of contraption that let you drink from a glass without being able to tell its shape. I have yet to see a double blind study or numerical simulation apply itself to a red solo cup, but my affection for this affordable slumgullion only gets greater the more humble the drinking vessel. I wish they'd given me the lime garnish this drink had at the last place though; limes are always a plus.

The Crew


Aaron, Vince, Geoff.



Notes


I will never stop talking about the history of even the most mundane bars on Sixth, because an otherwise seemingly unremarkable 18+ dance club becomes something grander when looked at in context, as layers of grit produce a pearl inside the oyster. Terminal 6 has been a succession of clubs over the years, passing through several alternate identities (Crave and Exodus were the two names offered) before settling on its current form. When we were walking past this joint I thought at first that I had totally missed it, but it turned out that it had only decided to open up beyond just being a venue very recently. Phew! The interior was excellent - three stories of the really neat mortared stone that defines the 19th century Austin masonry style, lined with smaller side bars and packed with pre-Christmas revelers. In the windows out front they had girls dancing in the stone windows to the  music blasting from the sound system, and it really made me wonder: what would Stephen F Austin have thought of the scene? We valorize the architects of our society as having laid the foundations for our current existences, yet exactly how would Mirabeau Lamar have reacted to the knowledge that his bitter struggle with Sam Houston to establish a new seat of empire in the Texas Hill Country would ultimately result in girls getting down to Gold Digger on a chilly winter night amid a swirl of drunk people in ugly Christmas sweaters? We don't get to choose our ultimate legacies, but personally I think that's a success by any measure you want to call it.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Sixth Street Sector Roundup: East Sixth

It took less than a month to wrap up the whole quest. East Sixth isn't quite the densely-packed, walkable bar cluster that Dirty Sixth is, but it's getting there, and I was so eager to try some of the newer bars that it only took a handful of attempts to finish the street.


About those newer bars: East Sixth makes a convenient shorthand for a lot of the big arguments about Austin's history and identity that you may have noticed. Its connection to the black and Hispanic communities of Austin give it a very different history and present than the more genteel West Sixth or riotous Dirty Sixth, but while bars on West Sixth sink seamlessly into the neighborhood, and nothing short of an atomic blast could erase the character of Dirty Sixth, it's inarguable that many of the joints popping up on East Sixth bear little resemblance to what old-timers remember. While some people complain about skyrocketing rents and the accompanying demographic transformation, others enjoy the lower crime and nicer amenities, like fancy cocktail bars. Sure, it's not like the locals don't appreciate a good Manhattan, but if it's at the expense of a $1 Lone Star, different people have different reactions. Are these changes a good thing or a bad thing? Can one drink on East Sixth in good conscience? Well....

I've spent a good portion of this blog arguing in favor of change. My family moved to Austin when I was a year old, and nothing annoys me more than the "hey man, the city's full, and newcomers like you have ruined the paradise that it used to be" mentality that you hear all too frequently. Austin's best resource is its people, and to desire stasis is to desire decline. So, if you accept that pro-immigration logic about the city as a whole, which I think you should, how does that apply to an area which has historically been starved of the very kinds of investment and construction now transmuting it? East Austin is richer and more diverse than it's ever been, as you can see by the mix of bars, yet it's impossible to ignore the steady metamorphosis happening outside of the bars. Yes, East Austin is now the most racially integrated part of the city, but somehow the blacks and Hispanics who are getting priced out aren't moving to Travis Heights or (back to) Clarksville, they're moving to Kyle or Pflugerville. From a purely economic standpoint it's no different than anyone getting priced out of a successful city, and yet it would be naive to pretend like Austin's peerless growth has benefited everyone equally. I love drinking on East Sixth, and it's not like not drinking there would help anyone, but it's worth a pondering what used to be on the spot where you're now drinking a $15 craft cocktail.

And now for some statistics!

Top 5 Bars


Using a completely subjective formula that takes into account the quality of the drink, the ambiance of the bar, the friendliness of the bartender, and my own level of intoxication, here are my top five bars:

  1. Violet Crown Social Club
  2. Latchkey
  3. The Volstead
  4. The Eastern
  5. ​Mezcalería Tobalá

Booze Brothers participating


Total: 33

  • Aaron: 28
  • Travis: 9
  • Rome: 9
  • Hannah: 9
  • Vince: 8
  • James: 5
  • Davis: 5
  • Anthony: 5
  • Alexis: 5
  • Chris M: 4
  • Jeff: 4
  • Lisa: 4
  • Michael: 4
  • Kayleigh: 4
  • Karen: 3
  • Brent: 3
  • Misty: 3
  • Nick H: 3
  • Ryan: 2
  • Wolf: 2
  • Jackie: 2
  • Will: 2
  • Chris X: 2
  • Jessica: 2
  • Amanda: 2
  • Kason: 2
  • Cody: 2
  • Jackie C: 2
  • Kelly: 2
  • Haley: 2
  • Philip: 2
  • Tristan: 1
  • Kyle H: 1

Establishments visited


Total: 28

  • Bars: 23
  • Restaurants: 3
  • Breweries: 3
  • Coffeeshops: 1
  • Barbershops: 1

Drinks consumed


Total: 28*

  • Cocktails: 16
  • Shots: 1
  • Beers: 9
  • Other: 2
  • Wines: 0

* Obviously I drank WAY more than that.

Money spent


Total: $224.50*

* That doesn't include taxes, tip, or the food or extra drinks I bought.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

#117: Hops and Grain Brewery

The Bar


Hops and Grain Brewery. 507 Calles St #101, Austin, TX 78702

Visited 8/9/17 @ 8:30pm.

The Drink



Hops and Grain Dispensary IPA. $5.

Yup, that's a pretty lousy pour - not exactly the beer I wanted this quest to end on. But you take life as it comes, and even the substandard volume and egregious head (I totally disagree with the "head is good" school of thought) in this pour couldn't ruin a good beer. I had just enjoyed the Dispensary IPA at Hi Hat, and it was much the same here - a hoppy IPA with a solid bite to it, a high-ABV beer that goes down easier than it probably should. And so, as tends to happen, I was less upset with the pour the more I drank. Beer is a powerful vehicle for forgiveness, and I'm a firm believer in the idea that most beer is good beer, and the best beer is the one you're about to have. In that spirit, that the final beer of the journey left me thirsty for more is all too-fitting. Sixth Street may have ended, but I'm still not done!

The Crew


Aaron, Rome, Vince, Travis, Hannah.


Notes


Tucked away in a shopping center right where Sixth Street ends, Hops and Grain is a great brewery that has only continued to improve over time. Its origin story involves an amusing anecdote about founder Josh Hare's dog, and indeed six years later you can still buy those very same grain treats today, as befits a brewery that focuses so much on sustainability. I'm well past the brewery tour phase of my drinking career (there's only so many times you can be impressed at the size of a fermentation chamber), so these days when I go to a brewery I'm more interested in their beer consumption setup rather than their beer production setup: Hops and Grain has a decent indoor space, with rows of picnic tables in the air conditioning that seat a few dozen people, and also some more space outside in the sunshine, for those weekend days where you want to drink with friends outdoors and munch on some food trailer snacks. They converted their old "pay $10 for a glass and three beer tokens" model to a more reasonable "pay by the pint" taproom model (which is great, since I have far too many pint glasses already), and they're also planning to move to a brewpub model that allows them to sell beer to go. Anything that helps them distribute their excellent beer more widely is fine by me!