The best summer cocktail you’ve ever had is merely a hotel away in Austin
When you think of mouthwatering cocktails, perhaps a sophisticated speakeasy comes to mind, or an underrated dive bar or a favorite restaurant. However, some of the best places to find a good craft cocktail are the Austin area’s finest hotels. Much thought and planning go into the beverage menus of the city’s distinctive lodges for travelers.
Here are a few of the top cocktail recipes from local hotels, along with the stories behind the drinks. Inspired by everything from history to travel, this list of must-try beverages comes just in time for summer.
Louis’ Gold Standard Margarita (Tillie's at Camp Lucy)
In addition to stunning visuals, Camp Lucy offers an array of delicious eats and libations at their on-site restaurant, Tillie’s. Restaurant manager Sarah Bryant has led the charge on the incredible beverage program.
“The inspiration usually comes from something outside — from the ingredient itself or the product of the spirit,” she says. “I like to find that inspiration in nature or (from) the historical significance of some the pieces on the property. Then, I interpret how our local ingredients and some of our spirit partnerships come together and tell that story.”
Bryant partners with acclaimed chef Andy Knudson to make sure the drinks will contribute to the meals. “It’s not just about the standalone cocktail. It’s about how it fits into the bigger puzzle of the whole experience,” Bryant says. The drink menu incorporates seasonal and local flavors, while still honoring cocktail classics.
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“What inspires our entire property, and what I like to carry through to the menu, is this vision that really honors the past and just looks toward the future,” she says. The century-old building once was a town hall in Vietnam; it was disassembled and shipped to Texas. You’ll find a set of Louis Vuitton trunks that belonged to the restaurant’s namesake, who was owner Whit Hanks’ grandmother, at the front of the restaurant. Tillie and her husband traveled all over the globe. Bryant says, “All of the historical references aren’t lost on me. Margaritas are very Texan. But what if you traveled around the world and tasted every version of that? Then, you decide, ‘This one’s the gold standard.’”
Louis’ Gold Standard Margarita
2 ounces Casa Dragones Tequila
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier Cuvée Louis Alexandre
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/4 ounce agave
Gold leaf salt
Add ingredients to shaker and strain into your favorite rocks glass, rimmed with a generous amount of gold-infused salt. Garnish with a gold leaf lime.
Texas Sunset (Summer House on Music Lane at Hotel Magdalena)
When it comes to cool factor, Hotel Magdalena is certainly one of the most remarkable boutique hotels in the city. The site was originally home to the Terrace Motor Hotel, which was purchased in the late 1970s by Willie Nelson, who converted part of it to the Austin Opry House. Hotel Magdalena’s restaurant, Summer House on Music Lane, features delicious cuisine (hello, live-fire grill) and a wonderful drink lineup.
Food and beverage director Eric Hastings says, “The Summer House on Music Lane cocktail menu is inspired by long weekends in Texas spent outdoors.” Currently, their best-selling specialty cocktail is the Texas Sunset. Some cocktails “may be a twist on a classic, like the Moontower Negroni, or a completely unique recipe, like the Texas Sunset, which is incredibly refreshing and very eye-catching with a bright orange color,” Hastings says.
As they look ahead to the summer months, the restaurant will update the cocktail list to feature drinks that will help guests beat the sweltering heat.
2 ounces Pueblo Viejo Reposado tequila
1/2 ounce yellow Chartreuse
1/2 ounce Aperol
3/4 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
Serve over ice in a rocks glass with a chile-salt rim.
Bird of Paradise (the Wayback)
Fifteen minutes west of downtown Austin sits the Wayback, a beautiful property with eight vintage-inspired cottages. The Wayback Café offers farm-to-table fare that changes with the seasons, alongside a roster of amazing cocktails. Guests can expect every ingredient made from scratch and locally sourced when possible.
“We love being inspired by travel destinations,” general manager Malenny Vasquez says about the beverage program. “Almost all our cocktails have a connection to the places we have traveled, and best of all, they transport us into immediate vacation mode.”
The Wayback’s menu can be broken down into four sections. With the Cabana Club cocktails, Vasquez describes a “modern twist on classic Tiki drinks.” They are vibrant in color and presentation.
Then, there are the classic cocktails, such as a Negroni or Lemon Drop.
Premium cocktails feature top-shelf liquors in classic recipes. For instance, the Watermelon Margarita is crafted with Fortaleza Tequila and fresh-squeezed watermelon.
Last and certainly not least are the brunch cocktails. “Guests always ask about the lavender mimosa," Vasquez says. “The lavender syrup is infused in-house and topped off with an amazing, all-natural Cava from Spain.” It’s not too sweet, it’s floral and “it has just enough bubbles to start your day off right,” she adds.
In early June, Luau Freddy, a cocktail inspired by a recent trip to New Orleans, will be added to the menu. And this year’s round of seasonal Cabana Club cocktails are a mix of 1930s Tiki bar and classic coastal Italian spritz.
The Bird of Paradise cocktail is a guest favorite: housemade tea, syrups, freshly squeezed juice and whiskey. It helps that the drink is an Instagram-worthy pink hue on top of its tasty ingredients. Bartender Coleman DeWayne came up with this cocktail, but one of the owners, Sydney Sue, immediately called it the Bird of Paradise “as it reminded her of the tropical flowers she saw on her honeymoon in Hawaii,” Vasquez says.
Bird of Paradise
1 1/2 ounces Evan Williams bourbon
1/2 ounce hibiscus tea
1/2 ounce Demerara syrup
3/4 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce orgeat
Shake for 10 seconds and pour over ice. Garnish with a lemon wheel. Serve in a Collins glass.
The Beekeeper (Meridian 98 at Sonesta Bee Cave Austin Hotel)
Before the pandemic, Sonesta Bee Cave Austin Hotel’s restaurant offered 10 cocktails. When the shutdown happened, they featured their top four cocktails that “accented our Hill Country heritage and the most Texas ingredients,” says Meridian 98 bartender Brian Curry.
Executive chef/food and beverage director Patrick Newman says his inspiration for the food menu cocktail list is to use as many Texas products as possible. So, the hotel teamed up with award-winning Texas whiskey-makers Garrison Brothers and Dripping Springs Distilling to help create their cocktail offerings.
(In addition to the refreshing gin-based Beekeeper, I also appreciate their Beehive, as a whiskey fan. The Beehive is made with Garrison Brothers Straight Bourbon, St. George absinthe, lemon, honey and lavender.)
1 1/2 ounces Dripping Springs Gin
1/2 ounce clement orange liqueur
1 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
Muddle one cucumber slice and 4-5 mint leaves in a pint glass. Fill with ice and combine all ingredients. Shake and strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass.