Only an hour after Whisler’s has opened on a Sunday afternoon, the bartenders have already served up cocktails to a wide variety of patrons — friends chatting over drinks at the aesthetically rusted tables inside, a bachelorette party visiting from Phoenix, couples looking for a place to relax and watch the game.
Bartender Sean Skvarka has been with the bar for over four years. As he reiterates often, it’s the type of place that draws all kinds of people, whether they’re here for a creative cocktail or to chill out in an interesting and carefully curated atmosphere.
“It’s not just one type of person,” Skvarka said. “We just go with the flow of everything.”
Skvarka’s role extends past the cocktails — he serves as Whisler’s artistic director of sorts. He works the bar’s web listings and social media, added floral and taxidermied touches to the bar’s vintage-esque interior and spends up to two weeks crafting playlists to match a mood or day, with artists ranging from Vince Staples to INXS.
On Wednesday, thousands will head downtown to celebrate Halloween. This usually means much of the same for Austin's downtown high-volume bars, except more people and infinitely more costumes.
Whisler’s does something a bit different — and Skvarka won’t be making drinks in the already slightly spooky bar. For the past three years, Skvarka has captained Whisler’s Hallway of Horrors, a miniature haunted house built in the outside bar. This year, Whisler’s will also be accepting donations for the Austin Animal Center.
“It’s a cool and fun thing we like to do that brings that staff together,” Skvarka said. “We’re utilizing a small space into a scarier space.”
With the whole experience lasting only about a minute, the Hallway of Horrors’ “60 Seconds of Terror,” which will run from 8 p.m. to midnight, offers an alternative for those who want a condensed version of the Halloween outing.
“If you want to go to a haunted house but don’t want to commit, it’s done and over quick,” Skvarka said.
But that doesn’t mean it won’t be more frightening than the last Hallway of Horrors, which included a soundtrack, ambient lighting and multiple jump scares from the bartenders-turned-actors for the night.
“I know Sean has a lot of things up his sleeve he wants to do,” said bartender Jeremy Palacios, who will be one of those involved on Halloween.
The Hallway of Horrors seems to be an extension of Skvarka’s view of Whisler’s — uncomplicated but interesting.
“It is what it says it is,” Skvarka said. “It’s really more about doing something different.”