Two local bartenders are diving into the other side of the liquor business with the opening of their own store, the Austin Shaker.
Kirstyn Litchfield and David Maguire, both of whom have spent years working behind the bar of various Austin establishments, noticed one day that a decrepit building near where they live was for rent. It had been a liquor store since the 1960s but had become so run-down that it wasn’t a place either would set foot into — so Litchfield, driving by it one day, decided to breathe new life into it. Now, the Austin Shaker is about to open at 1199 Airport Blvd. with curated selections of spirits, wines and craft beers.
The store will also have a variety of specialty bar tools on hand to sell to both home and professional bartenders alike. That’s an important focus for both co-founders, who have worked at places like the Cloak Room and Easy Tiger and know the needs of the people behind the bar.
“We have a lot of friends in the industry, and they’ve been saying, ‘You’ve gotta carry this or that,'” Litchfield said. “Because our goal is to not only be a local liquor store for the neighborhood but to also be a destination for bartenders. That’s what we’ve been doing forever. And one thing we’ve noticed as a void in the city is a place where bartenders can go and consistently be able to buy bar tools.”
Stores like Williams-Sonoma can be a place to go for these items, but they’re mostly geared for home kitchens, not high-volume cocktail bars that are shaking up hundreds of drinks a night. That means bartenders are constantly on the lookout for hardy staples of their bar arsenal, like jiggers.
“Can a certain tool stand up to all the use it’s going to get?” Maguire said. “We’re picking and choosing what brands to bring in and what tools from what brands, so it’ll be a curated selection.”
Sometimes, finding niche ingredients for cocktails can also be tricky for bartenders — so the Austin Shaker will supply the hard-to-find amari, vermouth, bitters and other beverages “that will tickle the fancy of bartenders,” Litchfield said, but aren’t always carried by the bigger liquor stores because of the low demand for them.
Just about anyone is welcome at the Austin Shaker, of course, even if you’re not a bartender. Whether you’re looking to refill your supply of Deep Eddy Vodka or getting all the ingredients together for an Old Fashioned-fueled dinner party, Maguire and Litchfield will be behind the counter at their store to help.
“We’re a neighborhood liquor store first and foremost,” Maguire said. “We’ll get you all the product you need, even show you how to do it.”
Early next year, the couple plans to offer weekly tastings of beer, wine and spirits sold by various distributors; eventually, they also want to have cocktail classes people can take in a side room at the store.
And Maguire, whose background crafting the beer list at Easy Tiger has only deepened his love of good beer, plans to keep the beer options at the Austin Shaker as top-notch as the spirits. “I’ve got pull to get the good stuff,” he said. “The best of the best Prairie, the best of the best Founders.”
Both he and Litchfield anticipate the store might be a bit of a work-in-progress over the next few months as they draw in customers and add more bottles to the shelves. But they’re clearly proud of the work they’ve done themselves transforming the run-down liquor store — such a relic of old Austin that a pay phone still stands near the low-slung building — into a welcoming new one, with wooden shelving, colorful murals and dimmer lighting.
“This is our baby,” Litchfield said. “I never imagined I’d be opening a liquor store, but the opportunity came up and just seemed to good to pass up.”
Look for the store to open in the next week or two, once all the bottles have been added to the shelves. The Austin Shaker will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/theaustinshaker.