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, September 27, 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!

Friday, September 22, 2017

#116: Chicon

The Bar


Chicon. 1914 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

Visited 8/9/17 @ 7:30pm.

The Drink



Chi-lada. ​Rum, coconut milk, lemongrass, ginger. $9.

Out of all of the intriguing high-end cocktails on the Originals portion of the menu, I thought the bartender made one of the most intriguing picks. Based on the name, you might think that it was a home-rolled variant of a michelada, but instead it's almost closer to an alcoholic version of a Thai soup broth without the sour and spice, if that makes sense (probably not - just work with me here). The coconut milk is the primary flavor here, so it's very smooth, and the ginger adds a little kick. You really can't taste the rum at all, although there was a solid pour, so you're just left with a pleasant cocktail that leaves you ready to tackle the next drink. The rest of their cocktails run the full gamut of liquors from seemingly all over the world: the expected vodka, gin, bourbon, and tequila being joined by the rarer scotch, pisco, mezcal, and even Becherovka, a Czech herbal liqueur I'd never heard of before. We tried a fair sampling and they were all good, so if a rum cocktail isn't exotic enough for you (or for some strange reason a drink that reminds you of tom kha doesn't sound appetizing) you can still order with confidence.

The Crew


Vince, Rome, Aaron, Travis, Hannah.


Notes


I've never been to Contigo, the upscale restaurant which eventually spun off this successor, but it maintains a high-enough standard that I bet its most famous progenitor is also pretty nice. When we visited it seemed like most people were here for the happy hour, to score some cheap snacks, selected cocktails, whiskeys, and most of all wine - judging by the legions of drained glasses on the tables around us it seemed like every group but ours was on a mission to drink Chicon clean out of rosé. I really liked the interior: clean wood panels, exposed lights, a white ceiling floating like a big cloud over blue walls.... As far the food is concerned, we didn't try any, but what we saw looked appetizing. They seem to be going for more of a neighborhood hangout concept as opposed to a high-end destination restaurant concept, although I looked at a menu and a $15 fried chicken sandwich had better be pretty spectacular. The crowd was mostly young professional women (hence all the rosé), so if that's your demographic, either member-of or looking-for, you could do worse than Chicon.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

#115: Cuvée Coffee

The Bar


Cuvée Coffee. 2000 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

Visited 8/9/17 @ 7pm.

The Drink



Black and Brew. 512 Pecan Porter, cold brew coffee. $5.50.

There's a lot of great beer at Cuvée, more than you'd expect to find at a traditional coffee shop but right in keeping with combo coffee/bar joints like Radio, Cherrywood, and Thunderbird (RIP Strange Brew) that like to cater to a wide audience. Cuvée does really great coffee, though I'm far enough from a coffee snob that I couldn't pretend to offer an expert opinion. You can find plenty of pieces calling cold brew a garbage disposal for extra beans and the like, but I found this union of beer and coffee to be excellent. The Black and Brew is a play on the Black and Blue, their nitro cold brew coffee, which they mix in with a porter. They can change up which porter is paired with the coffee, but luckily this time I was given the 512 Pecan Porter, which has been my favorite porter ever since I first tried it. It's a little bit sweeter than most porters, but that actually goes really well with the nuttiness of pecans. And then when you add the smooth flavor of their coffee - oh man! Refreshing and delicious.

The Crew


Vince, Aaron, Rome, Travis (not pictured), Hannah (not pictured).


Notes


The term cuvée means "blend" or "batch" in French, typically and it refers to a particular run of a product, typically wine. The name makes sense given Cuvée's origins as a roaster of several varieties of high-end coffees. They moved to this location about three years ago, which gave them much more room for their operations as well as a little café space that reminds me of a brewery. They have a solid beer selection on their tapwall, as well as some wine and other more exotic concoctions like brewchata. I appreciate that they have locally sourced food like pastries and Tacodeli breakfast tacos to go with their other products - a warehouse generally doesn't emit the kind of inviting coffee shop vibes that you're accustomed to (and I expect that the café is fairly ancillary to their main wholesale operations), so every little bit of attraction helps, even if they're already fairly well-known around the city for the quality of their coffee and their ubiquitous cans of cold brew. However, even if their coffee was terrible (which it definitely isn't), they deserve plenty of fame as well for heroically defending common sense beer distribution, when their crowler machine was seized by those spoilsports at the TABC and they prevailed in court. Next time you fill up a crowler, thank these guys for standing up for beer drinkers everywhere.

Monday, September 18, 2017

#114: ​Mezcalería Tobalá

The Bar


Mezcalería Tobalá. 1816 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

Visited 8/5/17 @ 11pm.

The Drink



Del Maguey Chichicapa mezcal. $10.

My recent acquired taste for smoky liquors has given me a newfound appreciation for mezcal, but it's still hard for me to give detailed tasting notes. I can tell you that Chichicapa, which like many of distillery's products is named after the small Oaxacan village where it's made, has a slightly sweet aftertaste to it that balances out the smokiness, and that it was full of all kinds of complex flavors that I would quite frankly be throwing darts at if I attempted to enumerate. Does "smoky, yet smooth" actually communicate anything? A few years ago the NY Times rated it #1 in their sample, and while I am still but a neophyte mezcal drinker it certainly was some of the best I've had so far. I am extremely impressed by the amount of info provided about the mezcal on the distiller's site; if you thought that a simple description of terroir was a bit much, then you will smile at least a little bit at discovering that Chichicapa is made with well water, and milled with a horse and wheel. By the way, that "San Judas Tadeo" votive candle is referring to Jude the Apostle, the patron saint of lost causes who has a special significance in Mexico, not the infamous Judas. I wouldn't want to pay 30 pieces of silver for a little terra cotta bowl of mezcal either.

The Crew


Misty, Aaron, Nick, Ryan (not pictured).


Notes


On Fridays and Saturdays only, the structure above the stone chapel of Whisler's opens up to the public in order that they might make the procession up the staircase to consume portions of mezcal according to their desires. It's a mezcalería, the kind of niche bar that not too long ago would not have been economical in Austin, but has now become possible thanks to this city's increasing affluence, neophilia, and sophistication of taste. As far as I know Techo on Manor, which is just a few years old, is the only other mezcalería in the city, so get to either of these establishments quick so you can brag that you were in on the crest of this mezcal wave. The owners of Whisler's/Mezcalería Tobalá have a genuine passion for mezcal and the drinking experience that surrounds it, so expect a singular decor - inside the small boxy room it's crammed full of stuffed heads, votive candles, and other bric-à-brac that encourages you to sit down and stay a while, soaking in the vibe. Soaking in the sweat, too: there's not a ton of seating because of the small proportions, so watch out for how sweltering it can get on those hot summer nights, when it more resembles a sweat lodge than a mezcalería. Come on in and get friendly!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

#113: Hi Hat Public House

The Bar


Hi Hat Public House. 2121 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

Visited 8/5/17 @ 10pm.

The Drink




Hops and Grain Dispensary IPA. $6.

Hi Hat has a wide selection of craft beer, and my bartender was one of those bemused souls who wasn't quite sure how to respond to my spiel spiel about having him pick for me, so after several rounds of "what do you like? what you do you recommend? well it depends", I backed him into a corner and he poured me this beer. It's another American IPA, but in contrast to the milder ones I've had on this quest like from 512, Zilker, or Lazarus, this one is much hoppier, probably because it's dry-hopped. I can handle the stronger bite of high-IBU beers, and at 60 IBUs it's not even that hoppy as far as these go, but as I get older and my palate gets lamer I start to agree more and more with the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery:

“I find the term ‘extreme beer’ irredeemably pejorative,” Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, told me recently. “When a brewer says, ‘This has more hops in it than anything you’ve had in your life - are you man enough to drink it?,’ it’s sort of like a chef saying, ‘This stew has more salt in it than anything you’ve ever had - are you man enough to eat it?’ ”

Should you decide to drink it though, it is a great beer, and at 6.7%, just a few should give you a good buzz. They also have a decent wine selection, in case craft beer isn't your thing.

The Crew


Karen, Haley, Hannah, Travis, Philip, Aaron, Tristan, Amanda, Davis, Kelly, Ryan, Alexis, Nick, Brent, Jackie, Misty, Kason, Cody.


Notes


As the influx of new people into East Austin steadily transforms it, one challenge for those new residents trying to get their bearings is finding a good local bar to call their own. Since only a few venerable institutions like La Perla date back more than a decade or so, and many of those newer joints are more upscale or designed to attract tourists and Austinites from across the city, there are not as many choices for a good neighborhood bar for East Sixth locals as it might seem. So into the breach steps Hi Hat, which opened a few years ago right next to a bunch of the new apartment complexes sprouting on the street and has quickly become a mainstay. It offers craft beer, wine, coffee, upscale bar food (though opinions differ on their tacos), a jazz brunch option, outdoor patio seating for nice days, and also a stage for live music. Something for just about everyone. While Hi Hat might not currently have quite the old-school cachet of some of the more long-standing venues on this street, amidst the disputes and concerns about gentrification it's easy to forget that every old bar was once a new bar, and should Hi Hat stick around for a few decades to serve generations of Austinites both old and new, eventually people will forget that it was ever any other way.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

#112: Tamale House East

The Bar


Tamale House East. 1707 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

Visited 8/5/17 @ 9:30pm.

The Drink



Prickly Pear margarita. Agave tequila, simple syrup, lime, OJ, prickly pear purée, muddled jalapeños, house made chili salt. $8.50.

The first three quarters of the recommendation here were excellent, but it's a shame about the home stretch. Another aspect of frozen drinks I dislike that I haven't talked about much - besides the dulling of flavor and the potential for brain freeze if you try to drink at your own pace like a normal person - is the way that frozen drinks change flavor as you get to the end. Just as no one likes the ice cream soup left over from an over-filled bowl of it, the tepid watery remnants of even the most well-crafted frozen cocktail are almost guaranteed to disappoint. At the beginning, this was an excellent blend of sweet prickly pear (props on using that ingredient) and spicy jalapeño with chili salt (double props on that intriguing mixture of salt and spice). Even into the mid-drink phase, when we were standing around chatting, it remained a really tasty and boozy margarita. But 20 minutes later, the tequila had separated from the purée and syrup, leaving a film of liquor over a sickly-sweet stickiness, becoming more drinkable just as it become less appetizing. That's not the drink's fault: it's not bad, it's just mixed that way, and I bet if it had been made on the rocks I would have loved it to the end. If you can drink this faster than I can you will love it more, and their non-frozen drinks do not suffer from any of these flaws.

The Crew


Kason, Misty, Hannah, Nick, Travis, Aaron, Amanda, Haley, Kelly, Philip, Brent, Karen, Cody (not pictured), Jackie (not pictured).


Notes


The original Tamale House was one of those long-standing local joints that left a large shadow when it closed, as did its other descendants. In just one of the many ways I have failed to uphold the required cranky old Austinite standard, I failed to visit the mother restaurant when it was still in business, but maybe visiting the daughter counts as a penance, even if I neglected to try any of their legendarily massive tacos during my visit. The current incarnation of the Tamale House spirit is a surprisingly large restaurant with an even more surprising amount of parking out front - it might be the single largest property on East Sixth that I've visited so far. When we visited on a Saturday night there were a few other couples in some of the side tables, but we were able to command the central area (and center stage) no problem. They have a patio as well, but we were in more of an air conditioning mood. Though it is more of a restaurant than a bar, they have enough space to host events and act as the anchor for the Tamale House lineage into the future.