Friday, March 31, 2017

#62: Waller Ballroom

The Bar


Waller Ballroom. 700 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 3/17/17 @ 5:30pm.

The Drink



Gin and tonic. Waterloo gin, tonic. $8.

One gin and tonic, two tonics with gin
Once each was done, I got one again
The more I drank, the better they tasted
Before I knew it, I'd gotten wasted
Eight dollars was steep, but I'd pay it once more
Drinks cost during South By, it's what you're in for
Waterloo's smooth, a great go-to liquor
And compared to a beer, you get drunk way quicker
At festival time, you drink what you find
Don't expect top-shelf, mid-range is just fine
I have no regrets, it's my favorite mixed drink
Just watch out for cops, upstream's the the precinct!

The Crew


Aaron, Ryan, Travis (not pictured), Rome (not pictured), Geoff (not pictured), Cat (not pictured), Eliah (not pictured), Tim (not pictured), Jacob (not pictured).



Notes


Waller Ballroom is a special event venue that's not normally open to the public, even though it sort of violates the spirit of the "ever bar" pledge. However, I wanted to watch some bands cover-free and drink with friends, since it was both SXSW at St. Patrick's Day, so I swallowed my scruples and chased them down with the first of several G&Ts. I was originally planning to put my journey on hold during SXSW - much as I love the festival, the deluge of tens of thousands of people from out of town changes the balance of the street, in the same way that a rush of saltwater makes a riparian environment too brackish for freshwater species. Since repeated reciprocity is the foundation of trust, a sudden influx of outlanders can make bartenders hunker down into "festival mode", where you're lucky to get more than a grunt and a beer shoved at you before the next person barges in for their own round. Happily, that was not the case here, as I got my drinks at just the right rhythm to accompany the pace of the shoegaze bands chugging their way to the appreciative crowd.

Waller Ballroom is right alongside Waller Creek, with all the good and bad that that entails. In the excellent anthology Literary Austin, there's a moving piece from Joseph Jones about Waller Creek during the 70s that makes it sound like an oasis of calm in the downtown area, full of interesting flora and fauna, and an underappreciated link to the rare natural heritage of Austin that made it so attractive to those settlers in 1839 when the city was founded (Edwin Waller, the man who surveyed Austin and served as its first mayor, was sent by President Mirabeau Lamar to locate a new capital away from the coast, which was dominated by Sam Houston and his loyalists). In contrast, these days Waller Creek is mainly known as a convenient latrine for drunk college students on UT campus, and as a flume of garbage and waste picked apart by scavenging hobos in order to be finally jettisoned into Town Lake near the boathouse. The Ballroom offers a nice patio to stand outside and watch whatever's going on in the stream named after our city father, but be warned that not all the sights and sounds of the creek are equally pastoral.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Sixth Street Sector Roundup: Dirty Sixth Part 1

It took exactly a month to finish the first half of Dirty Sixth. I had originally planned to take a breather during SXSW to avoid the madness, and as luck would have it we scored the very last missing bar right as SXSW was starting. My pace was aided by some marathon nights - at my ancient, decrepit, crippled age of 33, six bars in three hours with two drinks each on average counts as a marathon, and I felt every step.


I have to admit that I was not looking forward to Dirty Sixth, on the whole. Most of the people I know don't really go there, and I think the same is true of a lot of Austinites. Sure, we'll catch a show on Red River, and maybe grab a quick pre-show drink or a bite to eat on Sixth, but for the most part, Dirty Sixth is the province of newcomers, college students, and out-of-towners. It's funny that such a well-advertised part of the city's identity would be so infrequently patronized by the people who actually live here, but I think that's the case for most things you see promoted to tourists. Some markers of Austin identity like Town Lake and Zilker Park get used by locals frequently, but others like the State Capitol or the Congress Avenue bats get visited during elementary school, maybe, and then rarely if ever again. When I was just starting out as a young drinker, it was a truism that you could go to Sixth and be guaranteed to run into at least one person you knew. Now, most of my friends drink at their neighborhood bars, and only go down to East Sixth (or, God forbid, Rainey) as infrequently as possible.

And maybe we're missing out, at least a little. Dirty Sixth contains the whole spectrum of nightlife: dive bars, music venues, speakeasies, dance clubs, and even a movie theater. And, to an even greater degree than on West Sixth, I visited on weeknights, weekends, and afternoons to capture a fuller picture of the drinking life. I still recommend going on a weeknight, but I realize that most of the time this isn't possible. And in terms of the experience, even though I had a terrible experience at 311 Club, for the most part I found fun bars, decent drinks, friendly people, and good times. Despite being biased towards my hometown, one of the things that makes Austin stand out among all the other midsize cities I've been to is its friendliness - no matter who you are or where you're from, you'll find people ready to welcome you. I found that to be true no matter if I was in a swanky cocktail lounge or in a college bar. Ultimately a city is its people, and the thing that make Austin's bars so much fun is the Austinites. Not that I'll be pounding Lone Stars at many of these bars on the regular, but it's nice to know that I could, if I wanted.

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. Driskill Bar
  2. Parkside
  3. The Four Horsemen
  4. Midnight Cowboy
  5. Shakespeare's

Booze Brothers participating


Total: 28

  • Aaron: 28
  • Travis: 23
  • Rome: 18
  • Vince: 11
  • James: 6
  • Geoff: 6
  • Elijah: 6
  • Cat: 6
  • Sonali: 5
  • Kathryn: 5
  • Nick: 5
  • Davis: 5
  • Ben: 3
  • Brent: 1
  • Anthony: 1

Establishments visited


Total: 28

  • Bars: 23
  • Restaurants: 3
  • Clubs: 1
  • Theaters: 1

Drinks consumed


Total: 28*

  • Cocktails: 18
  • Shots: 6
  • Beers: 3
  • Other: 1
  • Wines: 0

* Obviously I drank WAY more than that.

Money spent


Total: $211.25*

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

#61: Roppolo's Pizza

The Bar


Roppolo's Pizza. 316 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 3/11/17 @ 7pm.

The Drink



Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap. $6.

Pearl Snap is still a nice crisp pilsner, just like the last time I had it. Roppolo's has no liquor, just beer and wine, but even though SXSW was just beginning to rev into high gear, our bartender thoughtfully asked what kinds of beer we liked before suggesting it. It's a great choice - light and drinkable, perfect for accompanying the slices we ordered, with just enough flavor to balance out each bite of pizza crust. Or, as the exchange went:

"What goes with pizza?"
"I think beer goes with pizza".

True enough. They also had $7 mimosa specials, but mimosas are a daylight drink, and we were patrons of the night. Wine and cheese, vodka and caviar, beer and pizza: that's how it works.

The Crew


Aaron, Brent, Anthony.


Notes


Roppolo's pizza has been a staple of late-night dining on Sixth since forever, continuing even into this era of food trucks and upscale restaurants. I can't count the number of times I've walked up to their counter and tried to gauge which of the slices in the display window spoke most strongly to my heart, but I had never been inside until this visit. I'm glad I made the journey across the threshold, and certainly the rotating cast of other drunk people who needed something to wash down their slices agreed, as the crowd gradually grew and grew until suddenly the bar area looked like a Chuck E. Cheese with all grownups and no children. Late-night pizza and beer joints are true democracies of the stomach and liver, knowing no distinctions of age, race, religion, sexuality, or origin. Pizza in particular is one of the world's great international foods, with a strong claim to being Italy's greatest gift to the world, although that's an extremely tough battle. I wouldn't claim that Roppolo's makes the greatest pizza in the city, or even on the block, but for a cheap price it's damn good, especially with a beer.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

#60: Iron Cactus

The Bar


Iron Cactus. 606 Trinity St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 2/28/17 @ 10pm.

The Drink



Specialty margarita. Herradura tequila, agave, cointreau, lime juice. $12.25.

Fantastic margarita. For several years, my mental model of a margarita was the somewhat mysteriously-named Mexican martini from Trudy's, which is essentially an iceless margarita with olives served in an annoying glass. As I gradually matured out of the larval drinking stage, I grew to appreciate different types of tequila, the subtleties of cointreau, and the wisdom of having ice in your drink, and so now I dig "real" margaritas as well. This is a classic example of the genre. I'm still on the fence about salt on the rim, less for taste reasons than the fact that it gets everywhere; for all the people who are confused about how to handle salt, just drink from the rim! This margarita certainly didn't need its encrustation of salt to taste great, but sometimes you just want that extra seasoning.

The Crew


Vince, Travis, Rome, Aaron, Sonali, Davis.


Notes


I've already remarked on how Z'Tejas and the Iron Cactus chain are owned by the same holding company, and their different approaches for "customer segment penetration", as a marketing strategist might put it, are visible in the interior. Z'Tejas, on a quiet residential stretch of Sixth, is friendly and kitschy like a Chuy's, while Iron Cactus, technically on Trinity though directly accessible from Sixth, is upscale like Fonda San Miguel, though with fewer flowers and less art. If I were ordering food, I would definitely sit out on the upstairs patio. Maybe that should be a law of dining: always sit on the rooftop patio (unless it's raining, obviously). As it was, we just hung out near the bar and watched Vanderbilt @ Kentucky. This was the fifth and final stop of the night, and I was happy to end it on such a great drink.

Monday, March 20, 2017

#59: Thirsty Nickel

The Bar


Thirsty Nickel. 325 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 2/28/17 @ 9pm.

The Drink



Golden Delicious. Crown Royal Sour Apple, pineapple and lemon juice, ginger ale. $7.

I've already talked about how much I like the apple flavor of Crown Royal, and I find myself liking it even more in fruitier drinks since it has a slight tartness that goes well against the spice of the ginger beer and the sweetness of the citrus juices. They make it strong here, but you'll hardly even notice because of the flavor balance. Complimenting Dirty Sixth bars on their mixology still feels a bit weird to me, but you have to give credit where credit is due. This was one of their specialty cocktails, and as always, it's nice to see a bartender standing by the menu. Why even call something a special if you won't recommend it? Of course, this wasn't the only drink I got. I needed a side beer, and there's only one reason you need a side beer....

The Crew


Vince, Travis, Aaron, Rome, Davis, Sonali.


Notes


... for beer pong! Any bar with beer pong is automatically a winner in my book, and we took full advantage of our status as some of the only people in the bar to strike up a quick 3 on 3 game using the table they had thoughtfully set up with water cups. TABC doesn't have a single rule explicitly forbidding bars from using beer, but they really don't like it, and they have a few weapons lying around to cite bars that host beer-inclusive tournaments: sanitation concerns, promotion of binge drinking, and violation of the rule that allows each person to have no more than two drinks. So the few bars that do have beer pong stick to water cups, and allow you to drink the equivalent in beer on your own time. We faced off, the Chi Phis beat the non-Chi Phis, and we adjourned to listen to a pretty rad funk band.

When it's not giving its patrons a forum to practice the greatest drinking game known to man, Thirsty Nickel is a Chicago bar, as you can see by all the Chicago-related paraphernalia adorning the walls. I'm always interested in how bars pick "outsider teams" to celebrate; in this case it's because a co-owner wanted to represent his hometown, but since Austin is not only home to a high percentage of transplants but is also the largest major city in the country without a pro sports team, you might expect a market opportunity for an unusual number of outsider team bars around town. I doubt statistics comparing Austin's number of outsider team bars to that of other cities exist, though you might have guessed the fact that the Longhorns are #1 in national revenue for college sports by the sheer amount of burnt orange across the city. It seems like there are fewer than you'd expect given the number of transplants, but perhaps most immigrants to Austin are not the kind of working-class sports fans who demand team bars. As long as they also show the Longhorns, it's all good to me!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

#58: Maggie Mae's

The Bar


Maggie Mae's. 323 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 2/28/17 @ 8:30pm.

The Drink



Cucumber mule. Effen cucumber vodka, ginger beer, lime. $5.

It's pretty cool that you can get a new twist on a fancy cocktail even in a bar that sees thousands of typically indifferent drinkers per night who just want cheap beer and jäger shots. Yes, it's in a plastic cup, and no, it's not the greatest drink you'll ever have. But as a symbol of how much standards have risen in just a few years, it's worth noticing; just imagine getting a cucumber anything here a decade ago. It's true that economic growth has been stagnant lately, at least as measured by GDP, and yet the improvement in general lifestyle comforts has been underrated, at least if you're in a city like Austin that, if anything, has been getting nicer too quickly for many of its inhabitants. A traditional econometric exercise of measuring inflation would start by trying to define our drink inputs as substitutes or rival goods, and what an appropriate Gross Drinking Product deflator would be, and so on, but as far as I'm concerned, the ability to get not just a regular Moscow Mule but a highly drinkable cucumber variant for only five bucks on a Tuesday night is as inspiring an ode to the progress of civilization as you're likely to find. You could also see it as a sign of incipient terminal decadence as well, but we're all optimists here, right?

The Crew


Rome, Travis, Aaron, Davis, Sonali, Vince.


Notes


I can't count the number of times I've been to Maggie Mae's. Curiously, the majority of those times has been on the urging of someone not from Austin who somehow decided that Maggie Mae's was their favorite bar. Not that Maggie Mae's isn't a perfectly fine bar - in fact, with its cheap drinks, multiple stages for music, and fine rooftop patio, it's certainly in the upper tier of Dirty Sixth bars - I just wonder how someone decides that it's their favorite. To me, a favorite bar has to involve some kind of intimate personal connection, either by being a regular, knowing the owner, meeting someone special there, or having some kind of truly transcendent night there. By that measure, no bar on Sixth is or likely will ever be my favorite. However, if you think of it as a kind of Schelling point, it makes a lot more sense. It has just about all the attributes of a Dirty Sixth bar anyone would ever want, and so in that light, it's certainly as good as any other and in fact better than most. And of course, me thinking about favorite bars as a local is not at all how a non-Austinite would think: maybe cheap drinks, live music, and endless people-watching from the rooftop patio down at the street below is more than enough for a visitor. Or even a native - I've certainly had my share of good nights here, listening to one band or another, watching the stream of drinkers above match the torrent below. We were a bit too early for that flume of inebriates on this particular night, but there's always another night on Sixth.

Friday, March 17, 2017

#57: Alamo Drafthouse Ritz

The Bar


Alamo Ritz. 320 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 2/28/17 @ 8pm.

The Drink



The Dude. Vodka, Kahlua, cream, cherry. $9.

This classic is so indelibly associated with The Big Lebowski that the Alamo just went ahead and named it after the main character. It would do its eponym proud, since in typical Alamo fashion, their version is excellent, using real cream instead of the more typical half-and-half, and not forgetting to make it strong. Sometimes you'll get White Russians that are basically vodka lattes; not that I would complain about getting one of those, but this is a nice, well-crafted take on the iconic instrument of chill that rewards with a buzz but doesn't overwhelm with sweetness. In the background you can see its siblings waiting to be served; the only thing better than one White Russian is a round.

The Crew


Vince, Travis, Rome, Sonali, Davis, Aaron


Notes


I went back and forth about whether to include this venue, and I'm glad I did. I've seen plenty of films here and never thought that they had a separate bar, and although seeing a movie for the first round to get a drink and then doing the rest of Sixth sounded tempting, I'm trying not to cover places where you have to jump through hoops to get your drink. Turns out that you can just walk up to the main counter and order a round, which is what we did. If you haven't been to the Alamo before, they are the greatest movie chain in the world. Even if you have, the Ritz location is a unique place: it was the first theater in Austin to show movies with sound, and before the Alamo bought it in the mid-2000s it went through various incarnations as a comedy venue, club, music venue, porn theater, and bar. I remember playing some Area 51 here while drinking some incredibly strong Long Island ice teas in the early 2000s, and I can still taste them, But I'm glad it was renovated, because they show a lot of excellent smaller films here, as well as host specialty events like Master Pancake (one of the greatest regrets of my life is missing the Master Pancake Cage-a-Thon that Nic Cage himself showed up for). I'm not sure I would recommend just stopping in for a drink since there's not a great seating area in the lobby, but getting a drink with your movie is absolutely recommended.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

#56: The Blind Pig Pub

The Bar


The Blind Pig Pub. 317 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 2/28/17 @ 7:30pm.

The Drink



Gin and tonic. Taaka gin, tonic. $4.

When my bartender kicked my standard question back to me, I barely hesitated before requesting my favorite. A gin and tonic has been my go-to order from the dawn of time, since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary. Not that my memory after a few G&Ts can be fully trusted, but even if I might have mistrusted gin at the start, once I let it into my heart it never left me. It's a drink that's almost impossible to ruin, even with a bargain gin like Taaka. I have fond college memories of Taaka, which faithfully fueled many evening with the few friends of mine who had developed a tolerance for gin. It won't ever win any awards for flavor, but it still tastes like fun to me and a few other brave souls out there who can look past its price tag. It's apparently owned by the Sazerac Company, of sazerac fame, and so hails from Louisiana by way of Kentucky, where the gin is physically distilled. It's not top shelf, and I won't be as florid in my praise for the humble gin and tonic as Douglas Adams was in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but it's a drink that's plenty good enough for the common man.

The Crew


Vince, Davis, Aaron, Sonali, Travis, Rome.


Notes


The Blind Pub is eerily similar to Maggie Mae's right next door - both are large two-story music venues with rooftop bars and several different semi-enclosed spaces, offering cheap drinks and live music. The layouts are slightly different, yet share enough of a resemblance enough to be slightly disorienting if you've been to Maggie Mae's a bunch but have never visited here, like me. We showed up early on the night of Mardi Gras. Maybe too early, as the vibe was oddly subdued, to the point where we were the only people with beads, and very nearly the only people period. I was expecting to see more of the younger crowd that flocks to bars like this, enticed by cheap weekday drinks and the promise of public nudity, yet it was nearly a ghost town. The sole excitement we had was watching some poor woman try to save her car from being towed - it was in the process of being hoisted up onto the tow truck when she ran out to engage in the rapid denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance process. Luckily she managed to save her car. I won't claim that our helpfully yelled advice from the rooftop directly led to her victory, but you can't prove that it didn't! If God is a shout in the street, then surely we performed a miracle.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

#55: Midnight Cowboy

The Bar


Midnight Cowboy. 313 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 2/24/17 @ 11:30pm.

The Drink



Mesmer. Gin, crème de cassis, Cappelletti aperitivo, sparkling rosé, lemon. $12.

A beautiful choice by our server. I didn't even hint to him about my love for gin, but he must have seen into my soul regardless, and known that I needed to get that gin in my system. This drink was really well-balanced despite being extremely strong - the blackcurrant taste of the crème de cassis (familiar to fans of murder mysteries) played off the mild herbal bitterness of the Cappelletti, with the rosé and lemon giving it a bit of sparkle and citrus. Some people sneer at craft cocktails, either due to the high price tags or out of simple confusion over what exactly they have over a good old G&T, but this is an excellent example of what you get for your money: a strong gin drink with a nice supporting cast of flavors that you can sip and enjoy. It even looks nice. And as luck would have it I got to finish off my sister's as well, so it was twice as nice in the end.

The Crew


Travis, Aaron, Kathryn, Nick.


Notes


Midnight Cowboy is a speakeasy, that much-maligned modern-day revival of the classic refuge for beleaguered drinkers in the Twenties. I'm of two minds about the hipster-ization of everyday activities like having a drink. On the one hand, there's absolutely no reason why you should have to jump through hoops to go to a bar, because even the smug sense of superiority you get by figuring out how to patronize a bar that's exclusive for the sake of being exclusive is fairly minimal. Having to get a reservation is a hassle (we had to visit this bar hours after I called, at the very end of our night), and the thrill of getting into a not-so-secret club isn't even all that thrilling.

On the other hand, the results speak for themselves. Midnight Cowboy is owned by the Alamo Drafthouse, and their trademark attention to detail is everywhere; even the chairs hail from the Ritz location down the street. They used to be a massage parlor, if you know what I mean, and an atmosphere of disrepute still lingers, aided by the old-school brickwork and tiling, which conjure up memories of happy endings from older times. Even the keypad at the entrance nods to the history of craft cocktails, as the names on the buzzer are all legendary bartenders like Harry Craddock, who wrote The Savoy Cocktail Book. Read the excellent cocktail history A Proper Drink for more.

So for your money, you get phenomenal cocktails, a great atmosphere, and some history. Sometimes hipsters know what they're doing.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

#54: Shakespeare's

The Bar


Shakespeare's. 314 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 2/24/17 @ 9:30pm.

The Drink



Long Island pitcher. $5.50

A $5.50 Long Island pitcher is the Platonic ideal of a Dirty Sixth drink, the single vessel for inebriation that shows off all the sides of the street at once:

  1. It's strong. You might expect to be shortchanged on the alcohol, but Shakespeare's makes a real potent potable. Dirty Sixth is all about making bad decisions, and this has plenty of fuel.
  2. It's a little too sweet. The first few swigs are fine, but by the bottom of the pitcher you are filled with a cloying tinge of regret, which I don't have to remind you is endemic here.
  3. It's cheap. $5.50 for this is a hell of a bargain. It's definitely possible to spend lots of money on Dirty Sixth, but ideally you shouldn't be breaking the bank. Remember, you need to come back!
  4. It's excessive. You quite frankly don't need a giant drink like this getting put into your drinking rotation. In the same way that large portion sizes warp our ideas of healthy eating, a comically oversized drink like this will inevitably lead to a real bender, and then a ruinous hangover.


So it's basically perfect at what it does, and on Friday night it's $5.50 all night long. Ask for it by name!

The Crew


Kathryn, Nick, Aaron, Travis.


Notes


As Shakespeare's Long Island pitcher is the quintessential Dirty Sixth drink, the bar itself might have the same claim on drinking venues. It attracts a broad cross-section of people, so you can experience the full spectrum of the evening's wanderers. It's deceptively large, with plenty of room for your crew on the ground floor or in one or another nook upstairs. You can even gaze from the rooftop patio at the craziness below, hearing obscenities, sirens, catcalls, comeons, the whole business. There isn't any food, but you will feast on the night instead. Go from having a long argument about Big 12 expansion politics with a drunk guy in the bathroom line next to you, to eavesdropping on bachelorette party drama on the stairs up, to watching the cops tow someone foolish enough to park on the street from the roof. What a street.

Monday, March 13, 2017

#53: The 311 Club

The Bar


The 311 Club. 311 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 2/24/17 @ 9:30pm.

The Drink



Lone Star and TW whiskey. $6.50.

A shot of whiskey with a beer chaser is a classic that probably goes back to ancient times, but it turns out that you can still screw up a drink order that's as old as civilization itself. When I asked the bartender for the drink that he thought that best represented this place, he flat-out refused to answer, which was a first. I've had plenty of bartenders try to pass the buck back at me, but never a solid denial to perform the single essential task of bartending like that. I kept pressing - what about his favorite drink? He said that "this place doesn't have it, so I don't drink here". I should have taken his advice. After he decided I needed a shot and a bar, he poured me the whiskey and handed me a Lone Star, we did our cheers, and then right before I was about to do my shot, I noticed that there were little dead bugs floating in my whiskey! It's not quite the grossest thing I've ever seen in a bar, but it was up there. All "hey it's free protein!" jokes aside, that's just not what you want to see, and all the Lone Star in the world isn't enough to wash the knowledge that you could have been drinking bugs out of your mind. I am mildly surprised that this was the first Lone Star I've been given though, given its ubiquity in Austin and overall interesting history. I've always had a fondness for it, just given the sheer amount that I've drank, and it did help somewhat. Lone Star has always been there for me, and I needed it then, more than ever.

The Crew


Travis, Aaron, Nick, Kathryn.


Notes


After a drink like that, it's hard to consider the bar visit as anything other than as a failure. Disappointment was the color of my energy. However, there was a fairly legit band playing in the back, which we watched play for a few songs. I've talked about how much fun live music is in a few of these reviews, but it really did soothe my spirit to just rock out for a bit while I tried to forget my drinking experience. The 311 Club is grimy and scuzzy and dirty (maybe too dirty), all the things you want from a cheap rock and roll venue, so some loud redneck music was welcome. Would I ever return here? I'm a forgiving guy in general, but it's hard to shake the memories of bad service and colonies of floating insects in your whiskey. There are plenty of other bars to go to on Sixth.

Friday, March 10, 2017

#52: Lit Lounge

The Bar


Lit Lounge. 215 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 2/24/17 @ 9pm.

The Drink



Sex in your mouth shot. Blueberry and raspberry vodka, blue curaçao, sweet and sour, OJ, pineapple juice. $6.50.

Oh boy, blueberry and raspberry vodka - both kinds! Our bartender was hemming and hawwing at my prompt, unsure of what to serve me, until the guy next to her jumped in and recommended this shot, which, he proclaimed modestly, was invented by none other than himself. I'm a big fan of bartender-created drinks in basically any context, and indeed, for a drink you get in a lounge, it was a cut above the average Red-Headed Slut or whatever other scandalously-named overpriced shot you're likely to get. A veritable tropical whirlwind in a glass. Props on using curaçao as well, even though the blue version has a somewhat mystifying origin. Recommended for all the ballers on a budget out there.

The Crew


Travis, Aaron, Nick, Kathryn.


Notes


My notes for this place are a single word: UGH. Sometimes you can just feel that a place isn't for you. It could be the hairs on the back of your neck standing up, or a chill running down your spine, or the glint of the light reflecting off of hair with way too much product in it into your eye, but the body often knows on a subliminal level that it doesn't want to be there - maybe call it the Bud Lite or flight response. Lit Lounge is "Sixth Street's only high energy upscale nightclub", according to their website, and by now you don't need me to repeat my opinion of these places. Maybe I'm just stereotypical.

However, like I've said, I am firmly committed to trying out every bar and giving it a fair shake, and it would be stupid to write a bar off for no reason. Lit Lounge isn't even all that bad for what it is. I've talked about how important it is that there are different bars for different types of people. Whatever is it that makes someone a "club person" as opposed to any other type of person (since even people who go to clubs all the time don't really like them as a bar), it's indisputable that there's a market for them, and this is where those transactions happen. Not at the time though - there was only one cluster of girls during our visit, waiting for some aspiring players to enter and start making the moves on them. It's a really weird feeling to see some attractive girls in a club with no one else there and think to yourself "wait, I'm on a mission", but that's where I was. Good luck ladies!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

#51: The Four Horsemen

The Bar


The Four Horsemen. 310 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 2/24/17 @ 8:30pm.

EDIT: The Four Horsemen has now closed and been replaced by an expansion of Shakespeare's.

The Drink



Black Death. Vodka, rum, gin, black raspberry liqueur, sweet and sour, Coke, lemon, liquorice. $7.50.

Our bartender was willing to play along; no shots or bottom-shelf beers or "I don't really know, what do you want to drink?" here. This number of different liquors in a drink reminds me of making trashcan punch for college parties, except that in college we probably wouldn't have used black raspberry liqueur. Or the liquorice, which I personally love but is an intensely polarizing flavor even for people who can stand similar liquorice/anise-based alcohols like Jägermeister, absinthe, etc. I enjoyed this drink, but the downside of using so many different liquors is that you blur them together, like a mixing too many watercolor paints together in one gray cloud, so the liquorice and raspberry liqueur brought back a bit of color. I also liked it all the more so because of its $5 happy hour price - yes, their happy hour runs this late. They have a number of other intriguing-looking drinks that I would definitely return for.

The Crew


Travis, Aaron, Nick, Kathryn.


Notes


Even though The Four Horsemen is fairly spacious, it feels like a cozy oasis. You get to it by going through the set of doors next to Shakespeare's from the street and heading up the flight of stairs, which open up to a landing with a layout that reminds me a bit of The Ranch, further west. The owner of the bar was a manager at Shakespeare's right next door, so good on him for not adding more than a jog up some stairs to his commute. There's plenty of room inside for pool tables, pinball, skee-ball, and the requisite Giant Jenga, or you can just chill on the side couches and chairs, which are well above average for Sixth Street. Most bars understandably try to maximize their floor space in order to cram in more drink-ordering patrons, so it's nice to see a good ring of relaxation around the main area. In the back is a brick-and-mortar outpost of the Quezzadillaville trailer, which serves upscale quesadillas and the like. We had already eaten, to fortify our livers for the night ahead, but were strongly tempted. And finally, the service was also excellent - even though we had ordered at the bar and were just sitting around, no sooner were our drinks nearing empty when the  server came up and practically demanded that we tell him fetch us more drinks. Well, okay! It's great to see spaces like this amid the crush of one of the densest concentrations of bars in the United States.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

#50: Nook

The Bar


Nook. 309 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 2/21/17 @ 9:30pm.

The Drink



Vegas Bomb. Crown Royal Apple whiskey, Malibu rum, peach schnapps, Red Bull. $8.

The upside of going to a dance club early is that you can talk to bartenders easily (the downsides you can figure out yourself), even if a drink like this is the result. This type of shot is perfectly appropriate for a dance club, given the near-magical glamour Vegas has for the kind of person who goes to dance clubs. As you've learned by now, I am not really that kind of person, but I do appreciate drinks that attempt to capture the city's spirit. You've got your fruit flavors, indiscriminate mixing of alcohols, and Red Bull for energy. And at $8, you too can experience the joyous sting in the wallet that Vegas is so famous for. I enjoyed it, of course - you can't go wrong with those ingredients separately or individually - but it's a perfect representation of the Vegas brand, with all that that means. Had I been dancing, it would have been time to hit the floor. You know me and dancing though.

The Crew


Travis, Aaron.


Notes


Nook, which replaced the unfortunately inflammable Black Cat Lounge, has the same owner as Pop up the street, which makes sense since they're both heavily nightlife-focused. However, also in the bar portfolio is Corner Bar down on South Lamar, which as a sports/patio/relaxing bar has a totally different audience. I wonder if the management ever has a night out on their own properties: hit the dancefloor at Nook, head over to Pop for some thousand-dollar bottles of champagne, and then get hair of the dog at Corner Bar the next day, with some Brown's BBQ to soak up the hangover. If I were rich, building my own little ecosystem of the kinds of places I'd like to drink at myself is what I'd try to do. Who wouldn't?

Since it was an off-night, we spent a lot of time chatting with the bartenders about weighty themes like this, as well as the building's history, and its hilarious legal dispute with the Westin. Who builds a hotel next to a live music venue, and then is shocked that there's live music playing at night? On our night there was only a DJ spinning away, not loud enough to raise any tourist ire, but plenty to keep the handful of people there moving and grooving. It's always good to be reminded that there are people who live different lives than you do, whose elliptical drinking orbits might only intersect with yours for one night on the floor of a dance club before they shoot off like a comet into the night. A good city has room for all types of people, and even if I'm no likelier to return to Nook than I am to Pop, where I also had a blast, it has its place in the Sixth Street scene.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Nina's Opinion-yas Part 3: The Blind Pig, Alamo Ritz, Maggie Mae's, Thirsty Nickel, Iron Cactus



Challenge: Where to get a taste of Christmas in February
Going to 6th street during Mardi Gras is not the best of ideas and going there when you’re old enough to know better is even an even worse one. That said, FOMO took over and I decided to join the merry band of misfits down “Dirty 6th.” We went to the Blind Pig where I made the mistake of saying I had never had a Rumplesmintz shot (a giant portion of Rumple Minze German-style peppermint schnapps). Having one of those made me quickly realize I was in for the long haul and I’d better put my seat belt on. We traipsed across the street to the Alamo Ritz where we (thought) we engaged with witty banter with the waitstaff. They said they made certain drinks based on movie themes but did not seem to appreciate it when I suggested they make a whiskey shot served in a bullet casing mold for the John Wick 2 movie. (if this ever comes to fruition, I request/demand a portion of the proceeds!). We settled on a pretty decent White Russian drink. The next few stops became a bit more forgetful with us ultimately ending up in a beer pong game at Thirsty Nickel and the epic journey to find the best  Chicken Tortilla soup.
Nina Verdict: Just ask for a RumpleMintz shot at any bar. It’s basically doing a shot of mouthwash for ~$6 but at 50% alcohol, you get your money's worth.

Nina's Opinion-yas Part 2: Steampunk Saloon, Pop, Key Bar, The Rustic Tap



Challenge: Where to get a bargain tasty drink.
Despite being called Steampunk Saloon there were honestly no stereotypical Steampunk motifs throughout the bar. For example there were very few metal works, the staff were dressed like every day people, and even the drink menu was very bland. That said, it is quite a large venue that is perfect for huge parties because there is a large wrap-around patio that is mostly covered, an outdoor band area, and several pool tables. Per my usual quest to eat I found that I was limited to one of two food carts that serve the establishment on alternating days. To my delight it was the “Rock N Roll” Lobster truck. Though pricey, if you can afford the ~$12 lobster sliders there are 3 hearty portions that you can share with a friend as long as you savor each bite for a few seconds. The next bar we went to was Pop bar, a champagne themed one. I was impressed that the menu was on an electronic tablet but the champagne prices were definitely not for the bargain drinker. Perhaps that’s where they pass along the cost? That said, a few of the mixed cocktails were affordable (especially on a weekday) and were quite tasty. Following a quick pit stop there, we journeyed onto Key bar where we indulged in some very large drinks. If you are looking for an affordable drink that packs a punch then I recommend the popsicle drink. Though it was a chilly night when we went there I can see how it’d be quite refreshing during a scorching hot day. 

Nina Verdict: If you’re looking for a unique drink with a cool twist, go to Key Bar and check out their selection.

Nina's Opinion-yas Part 1: Z'Tejas, 24 Diner, Hut's Hamburgers, The Grove


Z'Tejas 24 Diner Hut's Hamburgers The Grove

Challenge: Where to get the best hangover food.
Participating in this challenge was partly motivated by my ever present “FOMO” syndrome and as well as the slight disdain I feel for my liver. Our first stop was Z’Tejas where I indulged in some flowery drink I can’t remember anymore.  More noteworthy were the nachos appetizer as the guacamole had the most unusual texture. The avocados had been either frozen or given an additive because I have truly never seen such a solid (in nature) avocado. We even held the container upside down and it didn’t fall out! It tasted normal however. Next we went to 24 Diner where I grabbed the breakfast hash, a solid drunk food staple. Though I wasn’t intoxicated, I knew that I had to lay a solid food foundation if I wanted to be awake for the rest of the journey. I believe I had an elderflower drink here that was pretty divine. We made a pit stop at Hut’s Hamburgers for burgers and I unabashedly split a greasy yet delicious pastrami sandwich with another person. Though 6th street complete may be an epic drinking adventure, I apparently took it upon myself to eat my way through it. I can truly say that all of the food choices were tasty and filling. By the time we reached the Grove I had tapped out of the race but I did like the bar ambience.
Nina Verdict: If you’re hungry go to 24 Diner either prior to or after embarking on a 6th street soiree. Their breakfast hash is hearty, filling, and can last as a return-from-the-bar meal if you remember to take it with you.

#49: Trophy Club

The Bar


Trophy Club. 308 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 2/21/17 @ 9pm.

The Drink



Ghetto White Russian. Vodka, Kahlua, Coke, half and half. $7.

The standard name for this alternate take on the White Russian is the Colorado Bulldog, but in addition to the Coke, our bartender also swapped the cream for half and half. Hey, even The Dude made White Russians with non-standard ingredients like non-dairy creamer sometimes. The official explanation was that half and half keeps better, which sounded reasonable. There weren't very many people there but the bartender was the only one serving, and given that the typical order here is liquor pitchers, he did an admirable job answering the challenge so he could get back to serving other people their vodka sodas.

The Crew


Travis, Aaron.


Notes


You might know this bar as "that place with the mechanical bull". I would love to have followed that with "... but it's so much more!", yet the mechanical bull is so much front and center that there's not really a whole lot else to see at this venue. In that way it's possibly one of the most specialized bars on the whole street. Yes, I've paid the $5 to ride the bull, and yes, you last about 10 seconds before the guy controlling it throws you off, to the delight of the crowd. The main draw for the audience is whenever a scantily-clad girl gets on and the possibility for some crowd-pleasing nudity is raised; such are the thrills of Sixth Street. There's another room in the back for dancing, but the main floor, where all the action is happening, is almost totally devoted to the bull, so take that into account if that's not what you're looking for. I've haven't discussed bar pacing more than briefly so far, but this is definitely not a first-stop-of-the-night kind of place; save it for when the idea of liquor pitchers and redneck entertainment goes from "insane" to "we need another round". We weren't nearly at that point, and we left after about 10 whole minutes here.

Monday, March 6, 2017

#48: Dizzy Rooster

The Bar


Dizzy Rooster. 306 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 2/21/17 @ 8:30pm.

The Drink




Dizzy-rita. Dulce Vida grapefruit tequila, OJ, Red Bull tangerine. $7.

I have had scads of flavored vodkas in my time, and even some flavored whiskeys, but I had never had a flavored tequila before. It makes sense that it would be here: Dulce Vida is local, and they were just bought by Deep Eddy, who have an entire stable of (excellent) flavored vodkas themselves. It's easy to make fun of flavored liquors as novelties for tasteless college students, but I think the line between a grapefruit flavoring, and the kinds of flavors you find in high-end products. Patrón, for example, has an anejo aged in a sherry cask that tastes of "pecans, light toasted oak, caramel, raisins, hint of butter" - in that context, I think even Quetzalcoatl would agree that grapefruit is not a sacrilege. It certainly made this ersatz tequila sunrise more enjoyable. I still don't like it when bartenders plop down the extra side drink and I have to jigger around with it myself, but I guess I'll make a special exception for Red Bulls - sometimes bartenders know what's best.

The Crew


Travis, Aaron.


Notes


Dizzy Rooster is most famous, of course, for its appearances on MTV's The Real World: Austin. A dozen years ago, some idiots from an MTV reality show showed up to drink at this bar, and that's still what it's most known for. I wonder how many of the people who moved to Austin after the show ended did it specifically because they saw some bozo getting punched in the face on Sixth Street and thought it sounded right up their alley. I actually enjoy little reminders like this of what a small town Austin can still be, and that a bar's appearance on the teevee counts to this day as a civic milestone. Even the Austin population sign hanging from the ceiling, boldly proclaiming 656,562 inhabitants, is from the year 2000. Ah, what a kinder, gentler, more innocent time it was. You remember? Back when gas was a buck a gallon, a breakfast taco couldn't be bought for more than two, and "gentrification" sounded like something aristocrats in a period novel got up to.

Luckily Dizzy Rooster is still around to remind us of those halcyon days. There is a lot going on in the interior, to the point where it feels like you've reached Terminal Knickknack. But sometimes it's nice to have some accoutrements around; you don't want your bar interior looking too sterile, and all the games, stickers, and flashing lights inside do give off a certain effect. Granted, that's probably the same effect that you get from watching some awful people on a reality TV show, but you came here by choice. Truth be told though, I didn't mind the bar, and I was almost hoping for some of the MTV alumni to show up, just to give some excitement on an otherwise slow night. We sat and listened to a pretty solid funk/rock band for a while before departing, our brush with notoriety complete.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

#47: Parkside

The Bar


Parkside. 301 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 2/21/17 @ 8pm.

The Drink



Attitude Adjustment. Bulleit rye whiskey, yellow chartreuse, fernet branca amaro rinse, Angostura bitters, flamed lemon. $12.

Now here's what I'm talking about. After some back-and-forth discussion about my tastes with the bartender, I ended up going with his very first recommendation over the others on the list, though they all looked excellent. He was absolutely right about my eventual selection: it was "boozy but complex", exactly the kind of high-end cocktail you want to be able to savor yet still taste some booze in. This isn't the first drink with amaro I've gotten, yet it's finally dawned on me how badly I've been missing it, since it's vastly improved every drink it's been present for. I guess I just need to embrace my inner elderly Italian man and seek it out in more drinks. Amaro starts off tasting similar to bitters but then turns slightly sweet, so it and the bitters have kind of a good cop/bad cop relationship in the background while you enjoy the whiskey and the chartreuse, which have their own duality going on. The bartender even did the flaming lemon peel trick again, which has yet to get old for me. Great drink, one of my favorites so far. Travis got the Perspective, which was also delicious.

The Crew


Travis, Aaron.


Notes


Parkside has the same owners as Backspace, the upscale pizza joint next door. Backspace had more of a beer and wine focus, so it makes sense to have a complementary cocktail bar next door, even though Parkside has its own high-end bar menu. The interior is exactly what you need with drinks like these: upscale while still being cozy, the glass exterior giving way to a brick, glass and brushed metal interior. Much of the brick walls are given over to either portraiture or alcohol, which is the way I like to see it. I know I keep talking about how it's really the patrons who make a bar great, and not any particular interior design element, but there was something about the mix of typical Sixth Street brick and more modern touches underneath the soft lighting that gave it an inviting atmosphere that was still well-polished. We didn't have many companions, it being a Tuesday, but everyone around us seemed to be having a good time, and maybe their subliminal good vibes enhanced our experience as well. Often I get into a bar tunnel vision where I don't really pay attention to other people, and that was true here to some extent, but everything felt all right. My drink certainly did. We watched some of Indiana @ Iowa until it was time to leave, which we did with regret. I will definitely return here.

Friday, March 3, 2017

#46: San Jac Saloon

The Bar


San Jac Saloon. 300 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 2/18/17 @ 5:30pm.

The Drink



Whiskey shot. TX whiskey, lemon. $7.

Yup, another whiskey shot. I'm torn about them. On the one hand, shots are getting old. I get it: they're a great way to get drunk really fast, they build camaraderie, they make for good pictures, etc., but I am pining for real drinks. On the other hand, I can't claim that shots don't represent the spirit of the bar: if a bar thinks that their single best drink is an unadorned one and a half ounces of a bottle of well liquor, who am I to disagree? In this case, it's not quite unadorned - a splash of lemon put it a half-step above the nadir of effort, and I actually quite liked the whiskey, which is from Ft Worth. I could see myself drinking more of it in the future.

The Crew


Randos, Rome, Aaron.


Notes


Of course, in some cases all of my complaining about the drink is besides the point, because a bar is more than just any particular drink; it's also the people. When I was envisioning this project, one of the things I was most excited about was the chance to go to bars I'd never been to before, and meet new people, which we haven't always done a good job with. My project has been great so far in terms of bartenders - free drinks, cheap drinks, good conversation - but we haven't often had a lot of interactions with our fellow drinkers, focused as we are on our quest. But that's exactly what happened here. As we were finishing up at Recess, the last bar, we met a few people: a guy from Austin, and two girls from Houston, one of who was celebrating her birthday. We invited them along and we spent a good deal of time chatting about life, Sixth street, the city, and all kinds of stuff, until we separated pleasantly. It's not like we became best friends or anything, but there's a lot to be said for the opportunity to turn around, start chatting to the person next to you, and strike up a good multi-hour conversation. Austin is a very friendly city, and I hope that we embody that spirit as we travel down the street.

San Jac Saloon used to be Malaia, one of the bars shut down in the Great Raid of 2012. It hosts a lot of Texas country music, which I love, and very Texas-themed in that way which would seem touristy if it weren't so clearly heartfelt. "Texas is a state of mind", as Steinbeck said, and although I will always feel like more of an Austinite than a Texan, I still have a fondness for the over-the-top state pride we have about our home. Texas means a lot of bad things to other-staters (we haven't sent a good politician to Washington since LBJ), but it means a lot of good things too. If Texas is the best of states, as many Texas would argue, then Austin is the best of Texas, and there's nowhere else in the state you could do a project like this. The saying is "in vino veritas", but I suppose deep truths can come from whiskey shots as well.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

#45: Recess

The Bar


Recess. 222 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 2/18/17 @ 5pm.

The Drink



Noble Wolf. New Amsterdam vodka, watermelon juice, sweet and sour, simple syrup, lemon. $5.

Like I said in my review for Nightcap, I'm a big fan of melons. They didn't come as a garnish here, which would have been awesome, but it was real watermelon juice here and I appreciated that. Watermelon seems to be relatively underutilized in drinks, maybe because it reminds people of candy, or maybe bars find it has a low value to storage space ratio. Most of my alcohol-related watermelon consumption has come via the infamous vodka watermelon (although we made it with Everclear), so it's nice to see the script flipped a bit. I'm not sure what this drink has to do with wolves, however.

The Crew


Aaron, Rome.


Notes


Recess is all about games, as the name suggests. It's interesting to me how many bars on Sixth have games, and yet very few of them are "games bars" like Recess is. It's kind of like how you aren't a sports bar just by having a flat screen blaring ESPN17's coverage of junior college water polo and cheap wings, you also need overpriced pitchers of warm Miller Lite and fading jerseys of Premier League teams no one cares about tacked up on the wall. You know, the marks of true fandom. Recess has all kinds of games, from the inevitable classics like Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga to newer fare like Golden Tee and Area 51. However, me being the proud graduate of a nerd school that I am, the game I've spent the most time playing here is the oversized chess by the entrance. I'm not very good at chess, a real patzer, but I love playing it. If you simply must have a game to go along with your beer, drunk chess is about the best there is. Anyone can see that they're drunk when their Big Buck scores start dropping like Bambi's mother, but after a few beers, the peculiar combination of feeling like Napoleon because you remembered how en passant works and realizing that you're going to be mated in 2 for the third game in a row is a real crowd-pleaser.

Or you could stand around and watch people who are bad at Jenga interrupt everyone's conversations with their clamorous failures every 5 minutes. It's your call.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

#44: Darwin's

The Bar


Darwin's. 223 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78701

Visited 2/18/17 @ 4:30pm.

The Drink



Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap. $5.

Pearl Snap is a pilsner, one of the most popular lager styles. Austin Beerworks does great work in general, and Pearl Snap is one of my favorite pilsners; maybe even my most favorite. Even though to a drinker a pilsner looks (and tastes) fairly light, it's a difficult style for a brewery to master, because any flaws in the process will be right up front. A great beer choice.

The Crew


Aaron, Rome.


Notes


Darwin's has been around since 2003. It's one of those relative rarities, a bar owned by just one guy. We had the place mostly to ourselves, so we had a decent amount of time to chat with the bartenders about cities like San Francisco and Chicago, and how Austin's culture relates to theirs. It was very relaxing. Just as, within a drinking session, you occasionally need a rhythm drink to allow you to pace yourself and maintain rather than getting too amped up and burning out early, sometimes you need a rhythm bar to keep yourself in peak bar-hopping condition after a particularly intensive bar stop. It was still relatively early in the day for us, but I appreciated the easygoing character of the venue nonetheless. Music is big here during more traditional hours, and even though there wasn't anything going on at the time, and Sixth is lousy with venues, this seems like a fun place to catch one of those hyper-local shows featuring smaller musicians.