They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but the bar scene in Austin tells a different story. This summer, we’ve welcomed three new cocktail bars to our city. If something seems familiar about these newbies, it’s because this isn’t their owners’ first rodeo here in the ATX. From the people who brought us favorites like Easy Tiger, 24 Diner and drink.well., these siblings are on the fast track to success.
Interestingly, each of these spaces calls upon the past for inspiration. In a city that has experienced growing pains in search of the new and noteworthy, these bars offer a fresh look back.
Backbeat: Tikis, Tempos and Twists
Had this musically inspired cocktail lounge hit us a year ago, it may have felt out of place. Now, nestled along South Lamar with foodie friends like Ramen Tatsu-ya, Barlata and Chi’Lantro, cocktail bar Backbeat seems right at home.
With a hit like North Loop hangout drink.well, owners Michael and Jessica Sanders knew what they were doing when they broke ground on their latest passion project.
Walk into the long, thin lounge at Backbeat and you’ll feel as though you’ve traveled back in time. Away from the symphony of traffic and sticky summer air, the interior transported me to a jazz lounge just shy of the Prohibition era.
Cheekily-named drinks like Spritz and Giggles and Peachy Blinders are divided into three tempos: Upbeat for vibrant spirits, Downbeat for brooding spirits and Offbeat for the oddballs. If you really want a twist, there’s Neon Jungle–a tiki-inspired cocktail that comes with its own glow stick.
The creative beverages are the stars of Backbeat, but that doesn’t mean the nibbles on the food menu are any less noteworthy. Acknowledging the vibrant restaurant scene that has grown along South Lamar, the owners kept the food menu short and sweet. It’s more of a lone trumpet than a big brass band. My favorite selection is the charcuterie board. Though it’s a bar classic, I was intrigued by the pate melt.
1300 S. Lamar Blvd. – Website
Irene‘s: New Girl on the Block
If Irene’s were the new girl in school, then her brothers would include the captain of the football team and the class president. Irene’s is part of ELM Restaurant Group, a family that includes Easy Tiger and 24 Diner. Irene’s has a style of her own, mixing 50’s soda fountain with a Pan Am airline lounge, complete with vintage airplane siding along the walls.
Best of all is the emphasis on the simple pleasures. Black and white sketches smile up from a menu that spins the classics. Try Friend of the Devil, a tequila Bloody Mary with a jerky rim, or Jean Genie, Irene’s version of a gin and tonic sporting Topo Chico, sugar and lemon.
Grilled diner-style sandwiches served on thick slabs of Easy Tiger bread are easy to enjoy. If you just need a small pick-me-up with your cocktail, there are baskets of popcorn and expertly-swizzled cones of soft serve.
In a city piled high with restaurants all vying to present the newest thing, sometimes all you need is to sit on a tree-covered patio taking a sip of a margarita and a lick of creamy vanilla soft serve, not worrying about pronouncing what’s on the menu or taking a risk on a new fusion.
Don’t get me wrong–I’m all about adventure. But on a lazy afternoon, why not sling your Letterman over the back of your booth, don those classic Wayfarers, and put your saddle-shoed feet up for a plunge into the good ole days?
506 West Ave. – Website
Bribery Bakery: Have Your Cake and Drink It, Too
Editor’s Note: This location closed on August 31, 2017. Bribery Bakery is still open at 2013 Wells Branch Pkwy #109.
Prepare yourself for a shock to the senses when you enter the Bribery Bakery’s second location. This new addition has taken an Austin spin on things by adding cocktails to the menu. This pink, teal and gold bakery tickles the childish spirit in all of us. Pink brocade walls and rainbow sprinkle shakers at each table bribe your eyes and your sweet tooth.
Don’t let the doilies and carnations fool you. The quality craft drinks at Bribery Bakery are easy to stand behind. These cocktails are free from the scoops of sugar you might expect from a pink palace. I ordered the Mavis, filled with bourbon, basil and peach puree. It was tart and earthy and, most importantly, not too sweet.
The sugar is saved for the baked goods, which any baker or dessert enthusiast can tell have been well thought out and made with love. Eager to try a spread, I ordered a slice of three-layer carrot cake. It was moist and nutty, with just enough tangy cream cheese icing between the layers.
My favorite dessert was a browned butter pineapple blondie, served in the shape of a tiny bread loaf upon a scalloped white plate. My taste buds sang as the nutty browned butter mixed with the sweetness of candied pineapple.
Last, but not least, I ordered a Broken Heart Cookie because, let’s face it. I couldn’t help myself. Inside my discount mystery grab bag was a peanut butter cookie slathered with chocolate ganache the size of my hand, with a tiny corner broken off. All I needed was a huge glass of milk…or another cocktail.
1900 Simond Ave. #300 – Website
These three establishments have a drink, vibe and theme for everyone, so there’s no room for excuses. Take a trip back in time and enjoy the good life. Who knows, you might find a new cocktail favorite in Austin.
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