Nickel City, the bar from Via 313 Pizza owners Zane and Brandon Hunt, Javelina owner Craig Primozich and former Vox Table bar manager Travis Tober, is now serving up whiskey and other drinks in the former home of dive bar Longbranch Inn in East Austin.
The co-owners recognized they were taking over a veritable institution when they took over the building last year. The Longbranch Inn shuttered abruptly in September after more than 80 years of live music and jukebox tunes bringing a wide range of bar clientele together under one roof on East Eleventh Street, and the Nickel City proprietors were intent on respecting its history.
That’s what they’ve done with the bar named after Buffalo, New York, where Tober is originally from. Perhaps most notably, they have preserved the ornate antique bar top, built in 1905, that once belonged to the 130-year-old Driskill Hotel but was relocated to the Longbranch Inn during one of its many iterations. The old Longbranch Inn sign with faded red lettering is also now above the bar.
“Everybody is really excited that we kept the soul of the Longbranch but updated it,” Tober said. “We made it nice but not too nice.”
But Nickel City isn’t just a replica of the Longbranch — the bar menu offers draft as well as bottled beer and has a variety of mixed drinks, including classic cocktails, boiler makers and even spirit flights. And there’s an accompanying food trailer called Delray Cafe from the Hunt brothers that, like Via 313, will have Detroit-style grub like Coney dogs, crinkle-cut fries and sliders.
Ultimately, the co-owners want Nickel City to be the sort of unpretentious neighborhood bar, not unlike what the Longbranch used to be, that they feel isn’t so common on the east side anymore, or in Austin at large: the kind of place you can visit on your way home from work to get the same trusty drink over and over again.
“We wanted to dial back and kind of have Austin relax a little bit,” Tober said. “We aren’t using the word ‘cocktail’; that doesn’t appear anywhere on the menu. Many bars these days open with $14 cocktails like we’re New York or Chicago, but we want to be an anytime bar, not a special occasion bar.”
To that end, the mixed drinks menu keeps it pretty simple and is divided into three sections: classics, with tipples like Old Fashioneds and daiquiris; lesser-known concoctions from the past 20 years; and house cocktails. It won’t change for the next year to give the average person, who is likely to visit about once a month, the chance to get their favorite drink again.
And no drink, he promises, will be over $10.
Tober and Nickel City’s bar manager, JR Mocanu, who worked with Tober at Vox Table and is “like the little brother I never had,” have also put together a considerable list of whiskeys and other brown spirits, including a custom barrel from brandy maker Copper & Kings, he said.
“We’re mainly focusing on the brown spirits,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of the standards, but we also have a strong single-barrel program. I think I’ve selected out nine single barrels just for us.... I probably accidentally have the largest Canadian whisky selection — Crown Royal, Canadian Club, all of those. Having grown up in Buffalo, on the border of Canada, which is what we named Nickel City for, I wanted to have those here.”
Nickel City is at 1133 E. Eleventh St. and is open 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily. For more information, visit facebook.com/NickelCityATX.
RELATED STORIES:Bourbon and billiards combine at Austin’s regal Seven Grand Whiskey BarA primer on bourbon from Vince Young SteakhouseBlanco’s Ben Milam Whiskey makes bourbon, rye steeped in Texas history