Wednesday, December 12, 2018

#128: Pour Choices

The Bar


Pour Choices. 401 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 12/12/18 @ 10pm.

The Drink



Adios, motherfucker!. Tequila, whiskey, vodka, gin, rum, triple sec, blue curaçao, sour. $5.

Is your favorite liquor "all of them"? Is the preferred strength of your drinks "more"? Do you have a powerful thirst for cocktails that look like antifreeze? Did you never truly outgrow the suicide sodas of your youth? Grab one of these and you're set, with all of your questions answered. I'm rapidly running out of interesting things to say about this variant of the Long Island Iced Tea, which is now coming to embody Dirty Sixth for me, more than Old-Fashioneds or even Lone Stars do the rest of the street, but it is noteworthy how consistent each iteration of the Adios, motherfucker! is from one bar to the next, despite what I'm sure is a huge variance in the exact mix of well liquors. They all taste... blue, basically, since all the liquors blend into each other, and even the sweeteners are essentially the same thing. The only differences are the shape of the glass and the number of ice cubes. Oh, and the price - at $5 this was the cheapest of them all, even though by volume it looks like the largest. If you need your weekly fix of blue-tinged liquor and you're on a budget, or if you just feel like muttering "I am the liquor" at the patron next to you, come on down!

The Crew


Aaron.


Notes


Pour Choices recently replaced Old School, which itself had been around since sometime in the 00s. This struck me as odd, as I'd recently been to Night Owl on Burnet, which is owned by the same people, and it seemed fine, but perhaps the vagaries of Sixth Street rents meant that they decided to focus on the cheaper stretch of Burnet safely up north. Or maybe the new owner, who literally hit the jackpot to get funding money, just gave them a really sweet buyout offer. However it happened, I have to say that the new place looks nicer than Old School did. The changes are mostly just cosmetic, as they would have to be with a historic structure like this, but it's amazing what a simple dusting will do to an interior inevitably over time comes to look every minute of its 100ish years old. Even if it's mostly the same, it's nice to see everything looking a bit more up to date, you know? Pour Choices is more of a dance club than Old School was, but even though I don't hit these places up to dance (I'm on a serious mission here!), there were few enough people here that I got to jam to the music while I was sipping my blue away.

#127: Sake Mama

The Bar


Sake Mama. 519 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

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

The Drink



Mango tango shot. Vodka, Monster Mango Loco. $6.

As with so many other cocktails, the exact definition of a "mango tango" is somewhat flexible, and in fact it might be better to think of the name as merely a flag of convenience under which a motley crew of any vaguely tropical ingredients at hand can sail. I know that most of the more famous versions of the mango tango use some variety of rum, yet vodka showed up in the smaller shotglass perched atop the chopsticks that separated it from the waiting vessel of Monster Mango Loco below. We were nowhere near the Dia De Los Muertos season that Monster Energy somewhat mystifyingly claims powers the drink, but I'm sure with enough sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate you can preserve just about any amount of spiritual energy you'd like for the winter holidays. The resulting shot was not particularly Japanese, but it got the job done. Like a lot of crowd-friendly shots, this one has a routine, where the employees pour you and your bros a row of precariously perched shots, he counts down from three, and then slams the bartop, causing the liquor shots to fall into the mixer, which you grab and then chug as fast as possible. Since I was the only person there, I bought the bartenders a few rounds and we practiced our technique. It takes a few to tango.

The Crew


Aaron.


Notes


Shot bars make for a fun detour from your regular bar rotation because the focus is totally on you and your friends, not on the drink or even the bar. Since you can't really savor shots in the same way as regular drinks, and are in fact encouraged to pour them down your gullet as rapidly as possible, the drinking becomes a spectacle. Often at cocktail bars I find myself admiring the craftsmanship of the drink, even trading them with my friends, in order to share something of my individual experience with them. Not here! There is no such thing as an individual experience, it's all about the group, and nowhere else will the rounds system of drink-buying get you into trouble faster than at a bar where it takes half second to finish your whole drink. Sake Mama had only been open for 8 months when I stopped in, a sake bar concept that's apparently very popular in Japan having replaced an oddly-shaped convenience store. Since I was the only patron, the extra space that was formerly occupied with racks of products looked lonely, but you only have to look at how packed Cheers or Buckshot get to be grateful for the extra breathing room. One notable gimmick was that the employees have blinking LED nametags, which initially struck me as vaguely demeaning, but after a while you get used to being hypnotized as each round is poured and you wait obediently for your bartender to yell at you to drink your shot. Some bartenders are servers; these guys were drill sergeants. They also serve Japanese-style street food, which I didn't try, but which smelled delicious.

#126: Ramen Tatsu-ya

The Bar


Ramen Tatsu-Ya. 1600 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

Visited 12/12/18 @ 8pm.

The Drink



Red Beard. Rye whiskey, red shiso, pomegranate, ginger, citrus. $10.

Much like at many of these bars, the cashier/bartender immediately thought to direct us to the special menu when asked for the drink that best represented the establishment. I was half-expecting them to suggest the shochu-based option, given its relative rarity and greater Japan-ness, but I enjoyed my whiskey-based special just the same. When you see a rye whiskey-based cocktail, you naturally think to compare it to an Old-Fashioned, but this really didn't taste anything like that, thanks to the other ingredients. Shiso is a member of the mint family, used in cocktails for the flavor and color, and it gave a nice cool offset to the bite of the rye. Ginger is slightly less unusual, though it's also not your average cocktail glass inhabitant, and it helps fill out a robust range of taste from the sharpness of the rye and the brightness of the shiso all the way through to the sweetness of the citrus and grapefruit.

The Crew


Kyle, Aaron.


Notes


Ramen Tatsu-Ya is locally famous in Austin for being one of the first places to get real "authentic" Japanese ramen, an interesting concept in its own right. There is a long and fascinating story to be told about how the varying cuisines of Asia have been accorded greater or lesser status in the US based on the historical timing and composition of the individual waves of immigrants from those countries. Japanese restaurants in the US have long enjoyed a price premium over other cuisines due to the perceived higher status of Japanese food, but Austin did not have many Asians for most of its history, and so we didn't have a lot of Asian restaurants, even for such a humble everyman food like ramen. Now we're bigger, richer, and more diverse, and when we finally got Ramen Tatsu-Ya in 2012 it was an immediate hit. In fact, it was such a big success that just 4 years after it opened it was hailed as the #1 ramen restaurant in America, which might be some more absurd Austin hyperbole ("Austintation"), but that it placed at all tells you something about our transformation in just the past few years.

This is the 4th installment of their rapidly growing empire, and it maintains the excellence of their ramen while affording a bit more space and a better drink menu than the OG location up on 183. This location replaces Qui, and they even expanded next door with Domo Alley-Gato, which we had visited a few hours ago while waiting for this place to open up. Domo Alley-Gato is a bit more suited to sitting and drinking than Ramen Tatsu-Ya is, as this place has a bit more of the "quick in and out ramen joint" vibe, but do not miss their ramen - if you remember the slim pickings for ramen in 90s Austin it will seem like it came for another planet, and even if you were fortunate enough to grow up in another place with more ramen I'm assured it's still quite worthy of a stop. I've never eaten at any of the other places on that ramen list, or been to Japan at all for that matter, but Ramen Tatsu-Ya is just fine with me all the same. I'm told that in Japan, ramen joints are among the most treasured drunk food establishments, so how thoughtful of Ramen Tatsu-Ya to place Austin best ramen in such close proximity to Austin's greatest drinking corridor.

#125: Il Brutto

The Bar


Il Brutto. 1601 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

Visited 12/12/18 @ 7pm.

The Drink



Feliz Navi-Gatto. Mezcal, Rammazotti amaro, Cynar, orange bitters. $13.

When I asked the bartender for her drink of choice to serve, she thoughtfully selected a Christmas-themed cocktail off of their special menu in light of the season; the name is punning off the fact that "gatto" is Italian for "cat", an animal that's all over their menu. I would not say that there was anything particularly Christmas-like about the drink itself, or at least it wasn't very similar to drinks like egg nog, etc, but in much in the same way that movies like Die Hard can become Christmas-like through sheer stubborn repetition and cultural will, you can put this cocktail on a Christmas menu and sure enough, it'll soon taste like yuletide. Mezcal is a unique choice for a Christmas cocktail base, but it worked well with the anise-like Cynar and orange bitters, and especially the Rammazotti amaro, which added a nice root beer-ish tone to the drink.

I love learning about the histories of ingredients, but it seems like the Rammazotti one might have a more interesting backstory than its official page is letting on, seeing as how it was first created in Milan in 1815. That's right when the Napoleonic Wars finally ended in exhaustion and the constituent client states of France dissolved back into monarchy after the Congress of Vienna; surely the replacement of Milan as sole capital of the Kingdom of Italy with the new Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia's unusual co-capital scheme, adding Venice, should give this liqueur a more singular provenance. But apparently 1815 was merely the year that Ausano Rammazotti decided to distill a liqueur with 33 herbs and spices, like a Milanese Colonello Sanders, starting an empire of liqueur-brewing, bar-owning, and liquor-distribution that fortuitously endured until I was able to drink the distant descendant of his original creation 203 years later at a restaurant that despite being Italian most likely didn't serve a single dish he would recognize

The Crew


Kyle, Aaron.


Notes


Il Brutto is an upscale restaurant in the base of The Arnold, one of the new apartment complexes that have turned East Sixth into one of the most desirable mixed-use neighborhoods in the city. As a fellow bearer of that noble surname, I was glad to see that the restaurant at its base did us Arnolds proud, especially one of fractional Italian descent, like myself. Italian restaurants in the US generally smear all of the distinct regional cuisines of Italy into a comforting impasto of familiar dishes. This is honestly perfectly fine, and Il Brutto does a great job serving the higher-end Italian dishes that we all know and love. I think the layout of this place does a good job combining the requisite outdoor patio with date night-friendly interior decor, and the bar was perfectly comfortable for us to sit and chat with the bartender on an off-night. Visiting the bar of a restaurant always gives me a bit of a conundrum on this project - am I judging this place fairly if I don't also eat food? should I be recommending specifically the bar part of a restaurant? - but I've always had a great time at these places, who generally serve great drinks skillfully, and here was no exception. Sadly I did not get to eat here, but I will definitely be back.

#124: Domo Alley-Gato

The Bar


Domo Alley-Gato. 1600 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

Visited 12/12/18 @ 6pm.

The Drink



Melon Ball Z. Silver tequila, Midori, honey, lime. $10.

If you like puns, have I got a bar for you. The Melon Ball Z is only one of many great puns on their drink list, its name referring to the melon ball cocktail and of course Dragonball Z. I don't think I had ever had a melon ball before, which is made specifically to use the Midori, a Japanese melon liqueur that is even more specifically designed to taste like the Japanese musk melon. Melon is pretty sweet already, melon liqueur is sweeter yet, and adding honey on top might seem like overkill, but you eventually end up with something that's fruity without being overly tropical, and sweet without making you wonder when your next dentist appointment is. The tequila was well, which was fine. I normally focus on the drink at hand, but I do have to give a shoutout to another drink they offer - the frozen Kirin Ichiban. Longtime readers know that I'm not wild about drinks that devolve into a race between brainfreeze and melting into mush, but even if it is somewhat gimmicky, it is a pleasant way to drink Ichiban, a fake-imported Bud Light. There are flavor floaters you can get as well; the root beer flavor is best, then the vanilla, then last and least the ginger.

The Crew


Aaron, Kyle (not pictured).



Notes


The punned drinks are matched by the name of the bar itself, which takes a little unpacking. Domo Arigato means "thank you very much", and of course the phrase is famous as the title of the ridiculous Styx song we all know and love. The "alley" part of the name refers to the layout of the entrance, which sits across a narrow alley-like passage separating it from parent operation Ramen Tatsu-Ya, and "gato" is Spanish for cat, which refers to the hundreds upon hundreds of cheerfully-waving Maneki Neko cats plastered in every square inch of the atrium, which signify good luck in Japan and East Asia in general. This is the bar for cat lovers! Also lovers of Japanese culture in general, because in addition to the decor inside, they have an outdoor patio with the bar and a food truck kitchen, titled Kare Ban-Ban, that serves really great Japanese-style curry, which is distinct from Indian/Thai/etc curries and unique as far as I can tell in Austin. Those who have been to Japan assure me that it's as close to authentic as you can get here, and the service is insanely fast. I highly recommend the spicy Texas Mud curry, which the frozen Kirin will nicely offset while you sip and snack under a big tree at one of the outdoor picnic tables. There are a handful of tables indoors, if you really really need to be surrounded by cats, but it's too annoying to have people walking in and out past you all the time. Better to relax under a big pecan tree at the kind of open air patio that's probably a lot rarer in Tokyo. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

#123: Hen House

The Bar


Hen House. 1012 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702

Visited 11/3/18  @ 12am.

The Drink




Sophia. Vodka, elderflower liqueur, champagne, grapefruit juice. $11.

The drink is flanked by the intensely and impressively inked fingers of the bartender, who also happens to be the owner. As you might expect, this VIP attention meant it was excellent. Vodka cocktails are a nice break from Old-Fashioneds, and I have always thought that champagne gives drinks a nice touch. What was most distinctive about this drink was the elderflower liqueur. Elderflower is a rarer ingredient; one of those floral derivatives that brightens up anything it's added to. I hadn't thought of this comparison, but I read a comparison of elderflower to lychee and I think it makes total sense to consider elderflower an Alpine relative of that flavor. Combine that with the grapefruit, and this cocktail was superb, although it was served in my least favorite of all possible cocktail glass form factors. What kind of moron designs a glass that spills when you try to cheers someone else? I love cheersing! My enduring grudge against the martini glass, the worst of all glasses, continues unabated. All of the cocktails have girl's names, and they all looked great.

The Crew


Aaron, Karen.


Notes


Hen House is one of those interesting success stories on Sixth Street that I love to see: Gabrielle, the owner (and crafter of my cocktail), worked at Rhino Room, the previous bar in this location, and eventually decided to buy it out to start her own place. It's great to see someone be able to follow their passion and open up their own bar; the transition from working at a bar to running one is hard, and it's nice to see that there's still a constant stream of new faces bringing their own ideas to Sixth. Hen House keeps what I liked about Rhino Room - the wood interior, the sense of intimacy - and simplifies it a bit by removing some of the knickknacks and adding some fun flair like ceiling lights. It's cozier than the old layout was, somehow, yet you still feel like you could sit here peaceably drinking quality cocktails for a while. I'm also glad that the tree-lined upstairs patio remained intact; we went upstairs to relax with our drinks and enjoy a bit of quiet. I don't know if the "hen house" name refers to anything in particular beyond being a place that shouldn't be guarded by a fox, but the chick who owns it did a good job.

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, Karen (not pictured).


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?