Austin’s beverage scene grew exponentially and diversified with equal fervor in 2012. By embracing fresh ideas from local experts and transplants from the likes of New York City and beyond, our city’s drinking identity attracted the attention of both eager drinkers and the highly-coveted pages of many national publications. Here’s my list of the most stimulating bar openings of 2012.
1. Midnight Cowboy
313 E. Sixth St. 843-2715, midnightcowboymodeling.com
The Alamo Drafthouse’s Midnight Cowboy sparked a new era when it introduced the city’s first reservations-only system for cocktail service. The speakeasy-like lounge, subversively juxtaposed against a swell of rowdy college bars on Sixth Street, both attracts and repels customers due to it’s notorious history as a former massage parlor. Despite the controversy, customers are hard-pressed to deny the innovative and diverse cocktail offerings like the room temperature Clavos de Tejas, a tantalizing mix of Rhum Agricole, Drambuie, Mezcal, and Xocolatl Mole Bitters, with an orange twist.
207 E. 53rd St. 614-6683, drinkwellaustin.com
With the addition of Drink.Well (and craft beer dive Workhorse, which also opened in 2012), culinary hot spot North Loop not only continued to proliferate, but solidified its status as a serious drinking destination. Armed with the triple-threat of craft beer, quirky cocktails and hand-selected wine, the American pub delivers on every level. The environment is casual, service friendly and on point, and the menu is designed with enough seriousness to ensure merit, with a dash of playful invention added for good measure.
3. Weather Up
808 E. Cesar Chavez St. 524-0464,
Shortly after the opening of New York cocktail maven Kathryn Weatherup’s latest incarnation of her self-titled bar series on East Cesar Chavez, many Austinites displayed skepticism that the big city-style cocktail bar would be able to find it’s place in the Austin oeuvre. Despite complaints of excessive wait times and a dauntingly large cocktail menu (which have both since been addressed by management), several truths about the bar prevail. The quality of the drinks (complete with a hand-carved ice program) have elevated and challenged the existing status quo, and the eye-catching interior design complete with subway-style tile and stately brown leather booths, draws in customers who appreciate a tailored ambience. These qualities combined make Weather Up a must-visit for craft cocktails.
4. 400 Rabbits
5701 W. Slaughter Lane. 476-1320, 400rabbitsbar.com
Under the eagle-eye of Alamo Drafthouse Beverage Director Bill Norris, 400 Rabbits promises a studied approach to tequila and tequila-based concoctions in an area of the city where high-end cocktail bars are a lengthy drive to downtown and the sloppy frozen margarita reigns king. Anchored in the Alamo Drafthouse’s Slaughter location, the bar represents the first company-owned stand-alone watering hole positioned adjacent to one of the theaters, making it possible for people to eat and drink before or after the movie outside of the constraints of the theater itself. The fresh margarita is mouthwatering, but if you want something outstanding, try the orange-infused sherry and reposado tequila starlet, the Sherry Darling.
121 E. Fifth St. 344-9571, handlebaraustin.com
With all the new and innovative concepts sprouting up around town, sometimes it’s easy to forget that drinking should be, above all else, a fun social activity. Enter the bar whose namesake and overarching theme is the mustache. Positioned on the fringe of the Sixth Street district, Handlebar serves a surprisingly deep and obscure craft beer selection and thoughtfully crafted house cocktails, but it also boast a mischievous list of boilermakers and shots named with enough irony to put hair on your upper lip. The interior design harbors a funky aesthetic with an ample number of Edison bulbs, vintage letter signs, and ′staches aplenty, and the rooftop is equipped with all the tools fit for entertainment — a see-saw, washers and oversized Jenga, just in case the ritual of simply drinking gets too pedantic.
A look at what’s to come …
Refined quality and expanding physical boundaries of where to find good drinks will be the name of the drinking game in 2013. The bars listed here represent the mere tip of an impending iceberg of influential openings in the year to come.
• Few details have been officially released about the bar that tops my list of most anticipated openings, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a game-changer. Chris Bostick, former General Manager of Los Angeles cocktail bar The Varnish, moved back to Austin this summer to begin work on a yet-to-be-named craft cocktail bar. A native Texan raised in Central Austin, his work at the highly-respected L.A. cocktail hub helped win it the title of Best American Cocktail Bar at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards last summer. Bostick says the bar will likely open sometime this spring.
• After dealing with a series of administrative roadblocks and speed bumps, Adam Bryan’s Motel is now on track for a Spring 2013 debut. After molding Austin’s early cocktail scene at the East Side Show Room and Bar Congress, Bryan plans on going back to the basics with simple classics executed precisely at this cozy (17 seats inside, 25 on the patio) neighborhood lounge. You’ll find classic cocktails on the core menu, but modern delivery methods also will apply; look for cocktails on tap, aperitif-style bottled cocktails, and pitchers for patio sipping. Draft beer, canned beer and wine on tap also will be available so guests will have little trouble finding liquid satisfaction at this egalitarian East side joint.
• South Austin will welcome a new brewpub early next summer, helmed by the former award-winning brewing crew from Uncle Billy’s Brew and Que. The Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co. will produce handcrafted beer, toss seasonal thin-crust pizzas and host live music in a friendly environment. They will serve only beers brewed in-house (10 taps), featuring a variety of styles ranging from dry, hoppy beers like IPAs and German-style Pilsners to Belgian-style ales like Tripels and Saisons, one cask-conditioned ale on tap at all times, and various rotating seasonal and collaboration brews.
Also on the horizon…
Keep your thirsty palates primed for Bridget Dunlap’s Container Bar, which finally will grace the Rainey Street area sometime this spring. The Cesar Chavez district will expand with at least two projects primed for major attention, and Rainey Street’s Craft Pride and Manor Road’s Schoolhouse Pub will further spread the gospel of craft beer.