Ruby-cheeked drinks for the holidays from Sullivan's, Peche, the Ginger Man, Eddie V's, the Good Knight, Opal Divine's and (wait for it) Chick-fil-A
This particular holiday season (especially thanks to ye old economy), many of us will either be a guest in someone's home or will host a guest or two in our own. Hotels, after all, are expensive in the on-season, and they're impersonal besides. Family and friends — experience and television incessantly tell us — are the whole point of the holidays, not bellhops and concierges and room service.
That said, it's no coincidence that the word 'guest' is much like the word 'ghost'— they come from the same root word meaning 'enemy' or 'stranger.' And even though we might love our guests, when they're all up in our barbecue grills and sharing bathroom counter space and asking for softer pillows or warmer blankets, we will likely feel as though we've thrown open our carefully wreathed doors to evildoers.
If you're staying this season in Austin, then make the ultimate grand gesture and take your host or your guest out for a drink or four — however long it takes for the tensions to die down — at any of these fine establishments with holiday-themed drinks. Soon you'll be alone again, and your house will echo with no one's footsteps but your own. The glasses will be back in the cupboards, nice and clean, the pillows and blankets stashed away, and before long you will very likely miss the selfsame ghosts and enemies that you were thinking about choking with tinsel a few scant days ago.
Chai Latte and Pumpkin Spice martinis at Sullivan's Steakhouse
300 Colorado St., Suite 200. 495-6504, www.sullivansteakhouse.com.
One of the main reasons locals go to the bar at Sullivan's is for their amazing housemade blue-cheese potato chips ($7, or $5 at happy hour). And if you can stand the suited-up crowd unloosening their ties and hollering with abandon (Sullivan's is the preferred spot for corporate holiday banquets), then stay for one of the special seasonal drinks, which last through January. The Chai Latte martini is kind of like what a sadistic mother might give you before bedtime — sweet, milky and deceptively alcoholic. A good around-the-fire drink, it's made with crÃ¨me de banana, vanilla vodka and chai liqueur. The Pumpkin Spice martini looks a little flammable but tastes innocently like liquefied candy corn. Both are $10.95 ($5 at happy hour) and both will imbue you with so much holiday spirit you'll start hugging all those well-coiffed ladies and gents around you.
— Dina Guidubaldi
Coole Irish Flip at Peche
208 W. Fourth St. 495-9669, www.pecheaustin.com.
Among the early wave of Austin bars promising 'pre-Prohibition' drinks, Peche serves an impressive array of cocktails with whimsical housemade ingredients: bitters that make Angostura's taste like Band-Aid water; bacon-infused Calvados ; fig and agave foams; and something called 'shrubb' — fruit or vegetables immersed in vinegar, sugar and spices, a practice originally used for preserving. While absinthe features prominently on the menu and in the apothecary-like decor (spoons, sugar cubes and steam-punky glass fountains line the bar), Peche also favors gin and is practiced in separating eggs for flips and silvers. Happy hour lasts almost as long as Prohibition probably seemed to, from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays (half-off appetizers, and many signature drinks are $5) and all day Sundays and Mondays.
Russell Davis, the bar manager, is something like a carnival barker, twirling his glasses and spoons in the air while winking and offering up not only cocktails but also cocktail lore (varying definitions of 'louche,' stories of recipe-embezzling and the tangled histories of once-forgotten drinks such as the Corpse Reviver, which may or may not be true). He'll demand that you sniff the old scotches for salt air, he'll lecture you about proper stirring technique because shaking 'bruises the drink too much.' If you're fascinated by things pickled in jars and like quality drinks starting at $8, then head to Peche. This season, request the Coole Irish Flip (recipe, page 7), a noggy concoction of whiskey, pumpkin shrubb, Coole Swan cream liqueur and egg yolk.
— Dina Guidubaldi
St. Arnold's Christmas Ale at the Ginger Man
301 Lavaca St. 473-8801, www.gingermanpub.com.
There are so many Christmas beers out there that Don Russell (Joe Sixpack to readers of the Philadelphia Daily News) wrote a whole book about them last year. Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale will always have a special place in my fridge, but if you want to drink festive and local — or local-esque — you can't go wrong with St. Arnold's Christmas Ale ($5.75 on cask, $4.75 on regular draft). It's brewed in the style of a winter warmer and has a non-threatening, copperish-amber color in the glass. The Houston brewery's 7 percent-alcohol sipper is built to be accessible: not an overpowering amount of body, not front-loaded with an IED of hops, although the plants' floral nature comes through, not an off-putting amount of spice notes, although I get cinnamon and maybe ginger. Five different roasted malts go into this thing, which gives it a great balance, especially on cask, when the temperature is right and the lace clings tenaciously to the inside of the glass all the way to the last swallow. It doesn't taste like you're drinking a Douglas fir. Barkeep, I'll have another.
— Patrick Beach
Holiday Passion and Holly Berry Crush at Eddie V's
301 E. Fifth St. 472-1860, www.eddiev.com.
The Holiday Passion (recipe, page 7) at Eddie V's, along with the cherry/minty Holly Berry Crush, are what a snowman or snowbird might drink while vacationing in Florida. They're faintly tropical and will remind you of a greyhound and a cosmopolitan , respectively. They look festive and frosty, however, and, for less than $10, are perfect drinking companions as you sit in the restaurant's V-Lounge waiting for snow that won't happen.
The V-Lounge is comforting in the way that all dark, expensive bars are, offering anonymity and the slight hope that a large, cigar-chomping gentleman in a suit might walk in and leave a briefcase full of money at your feet. The bar is so tall that smaller patrons have to kneel on their barstools to reach their drinks, adding to the feeling that something of immense proportions is due to happen at any moment.
The V-Lounge serves acclaimed bar food as well, appetizers and entrÃ©es averaging in the $13 range and often with an Asian or Cajun twist. There are eight beers on tap, including Firemans #4 and Shock Top (basically, an orangey Belgian Budweiser) and an extensive wine and liquor menu. Happy hour lasts all day Sundays and Mondays and from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays ($1 off drinks, 50 cent oysters and several half-priced appetizers).
Other locations: 9400-B Arboretum Blvd., 342-2642, www.eddiev.com.
— Dina Guidubaldi
The Fall Fashioned at the Good Knight
1300 E. Sixth St. 628-1250, www.myspace.com/thegoodknightaustin.
The Good Knight is a dark little bar and restaurant with a big personality. Inside, a few curtained booths and tables are dimly lit by candles, offering a place to tuck away at night with a group of friends or a date. The bar has an eclectic feel, from the random pictures on the wall to the intimate atmosphere to the jukebox in the corner playing the likes of Spoon and the Decemberists . Time-honored cocktails along with seasonal specialties are the Good Knight's fortÃ©, and this season the Knight is giving the Old Fashioned a holiday twist. The Fall Fashioned ($8) begins with cranberries soaked in 100-proof rye for one to two weeks, then muddled with Red Delicious apples and mixed with two ounces of rye whiskey plus simple syrup, rhubarb bitters and Peychaud's bitters. This floral and fruity drink is then garnished with a spoonful of cranberries and thin slices of syrup-soaked apple slices, creating a lush red libation. The Fall Fashioned is served on ice, but the prominent rye gives this drink the ability to warm the body up on the coldest of nights.
— Amira Jensen
Cafe Mole at Opal Divine's Penn Field
3601 S. Congress Ave., 707-0237; www.opaldivines.com.
The newest hot drink on Opal Divine's menu is also one of the hottest in terms of popularity. The Cafe Mole is the fruit of owner Michael Parker's desire to create a hot drink with tequila. Another inspiration was a distillery dinner in the Mexican city of Guadalajara, where he had two of the best moles he says he's had in his life. Behold: This thing ($7) is deceptively complex — an ounce of KahlÃºa Mocha, an ounce of triple-distilled Don Eduardo Silver tequila, about four ounces of Texas Coffee Traders fair trade Vienna roast, a swirl of pillowy whipped cream (not that stuff in a spray can) and a real maraschino cherry instead of those cheap ones that have all the appeal of chewing on a candle. Parker says he played with the ratios a bit before concluding that one ounce each of the boozy ingredients was perfect. The sugar in the KahlÃºa does a beguiling dance with the peppery tequila to make a flavor blend Parker thinks suggests mint. The sweet, muddy foundation of the liqueur mellows the burn of the tequila and you'll be using napkins to wipe the cream off your lip. This doesn't make you say 'Feliz Navidad'? You. Are. A. Scrooge.
Other locations: Opal Divine's Freehouse at 700 W. Sixth St., 477-3308. Opal Divine's Marina at 12709 N. MoPac Blvd. (Loop 360), 733-5353.
— Patrick Beach
Peppermint Chocolate Chip Milk Shake at Chick-fil-A
701 S. Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360), Suite L400, West Lake Hills. 329-9171, www.chick-fil-a.com.
Don't laugh. I like Christmas cocktails as much as the next red-nosed reindeer. But if I'm driving this time of year, odds are at least one of my passengers can't pass for 21. Or even 12. Chick-fil-A makes all of us happy with the decidedly alcohol-free Peppermint Chocolate Chip Milk Shake, a swirl of soft ice cream, peppermint syrup, bits of chocolate and crunchy little crystals of peppermint candy. It's like pulling your Christmas stocking over your head and taking a deep inhale, if you and your stocking were in a walk-in freezer. The large is $2.99. The whipped cream and the candle-wax cherry (looking at you, Patrick Beach) are free. The kids like the unadorned fried-chicken sandwiches and love the waffle fries, no matter how much you want them to get the fruit cup instead. It's cheap, it's never far away, and plenty of nice bars and restaurants could learn something about customer service from the young crews at Chick-fil-A.
Other locations: More than a dozen in the area. See www.chick-fil-a.com.
— Mike Sutter