Live Oak has mezcal and sotol drinks, an outdoor patio, and food inspired by the chef's Guadalajaran heritage.
Hotel bars haven’t traditionally been counted among the best places in town to grab a drink, but now, whether you’re a local or a tourist, many of the ones in Austin offer fun, inventive cocktails showcasing the flavors and influences of the city.
That’s the case in a whole new way at one of downtown’s most established hotels, the Four Seasons, which recently completed a multi-million dollar renovation with new concepts and nature-inspired design for both its lobby bar and downstairs restaurant. The resulting Live Oak bar features dishes and drinks with Latin flair, as inspired by executive sous chef Abril Galindo’s native Guadalajara.
Four Seasons’ bartender Sarah Rahl took her cues in crafting the new cocktail menu from the rich flavors of Galindo’ food items — as well as from an intense week spent shadowing Mica Rousseau, a top bartender in Mexico and the main mastermind behind the drinks program at Four Seasons Hotel Mexico City’s venerated Fifty Mils.
But you won’t just find tequila and mezcal cocktails on Live Oak’s drinks menu, which is fairly diverse. It’s divided into four sections, to provide something for all manner of palates, Rahl said: a keep-it-classy section with twists on classic cocktails; a keep-it weird section with funky mixed drinks; a keep-it-light section with refreshing, easy-to-drink options; and a keep-it-spicy section “because everyone in Texas wants a spicy margarita.”
“We wanted some of (the cocktails) to complement Abril’s menu,” she said. “A lot of the stuff in our spicy section goes well with her food. There’s a strawberry-habanero scallop ceviche that she’s doing that will go great with our mezcal cocktail, the Hipster Bandito, and then we also have one cocktail under the keep-it-weird section with sotol, which is kind of hot right now in Austin.”
The Hipster Bandito is one of the standouts. With Montelobos Mezcal, prickly pear, morita chili pepper, mole bitters and egg white, the creamy, garnet-hued drink has a sweet sort of spice to it that will appeal to people who don’t typically take to mezcal’s smoky nature.
Other Live Oak cocktails you’ll want to taste include the Nome Prima, a fruity riff on the classic Negroni, with Treaty Oak’s Waterloo Old Yaupon Gin, Dolin Blanc Vermouth, Campari and strawberry; and the light and bubbly Ciao Bella, featuring Italicus Bergamot Liqueur, lemon oleo saccharum and sparkling wine.
And for those wanting the Texas-required spicy margarita, Rahl has named Live Oak’s version after one of Austin’s unofficial mascots. The Grackle turns to black cherry juice instead of orange-flavored liqueur to add an intriguing stone fruit element to the mixture of serrano pepper-infused Cabeza Tequila and agave syrup. She is already counting on it to be a favorite for customers.
Live Oak has such a range of drinks, Rahl said, because the hotel off Cesar Chavez Street attracts all walks of life, each one with a particular palate. But having 12 drinks on the menu is also a challenge. She and the other bartenders — who will, at least, now have more room to maneuver behind the enlarged bar area — must maintain a tricky balance: offering these craft cocktails in a high-volume environment.
“It’s about trying to find that happy medium where people say, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’ve never seen that before. That’s so cool,’ and ask questions about it. Have that interaction with them,” Rahl said. “But we want to do it within reason so that we can get the drinks out to the guests in a timely manner.”
Downstairs in the Ciclo restaurant, which has taken the place of Trio, cocktails are seasonal like the food and currently feature fall flavors, as with the Hay Maze’s rum, Calvados, all-spice, maple and fried apple threads mixture. There’s also a program of large-format pitcher drinks and Moscow Mules.
Rahl’s main focus, of course, is Live Oak, where people have prime views of Lady Bird Lake and the scenic hike-and-bike trail that winds around it.
“I think it’s going to be a really awesome place for people to hang out,” she said. “We’ll have the deck now, and we didn’t have any outdoor seating before.”