If there’s one thing that unites Austinites, both natives and transplants, it’s the certainty that we live in the best city in the country. The grass is the greenest; the sky is the bluest; and the tacos are the tastiest. Although we don’t need any more proof, it’s nice to get an official confirmation every once in a while. Especially from a national publication like Esquire, which recently named Austin’s own Half Step one of the 24 best bars in the U.S.A. in 2017.
Open the article and you’ll see Half Step right on top of the list (if only because the bars are listed in alphabetical order by city, and Austin starts with “A”, but you don’t have to mention that when bragging to out-of-towners about living in the best city on earth).
Half Step had already been featured on the television show, “Best Bars of America,” created by Esquire network, but the article in the magazine came as a complete surprise for Chris Bostick, the owner and creative director of Half Step. “I don’t know how we ended up in the magazine, but I know that one of the editors would frequent here anytime they were in town. It’s a good thing when you get noticed just for your merit…And it was a fun thing to buy two copies and give one to mom.”
Less Is More
If you haven’t been to Half Step, you might assume a bar that made Esquire’s list must be a fancy institution serving sophisticated drinks. You would be wrong. Bostick describes his bar best. “We are not a craft cocktail bar; we are just a cocktail bar. We work very hard to keep things simple.” Simplicity is the core of Half Step, where cocktails usually feature only a few ingredients.
An ingredient-focused bar might not be a new concept, but it requires courage and dedication. With only a handful of ingredients, each and every one must be exemplary to create something unforgettable. Half Step went so far as to install a water filtration system, and makes ice cubes in-house because they’re a major part of every cocktail.
The principle, “less is more,” demands knowledge, confidence, and experience. “All of the work that goes into it behind the scenes gives us the ability to create something like a three-ingredient cocktail that will be memorable,” explains Bostick.
Attention to Detail
But even with the best cocktails in town, a good bar is more than its drinks. Attention to detail applies to everything at Half Step, starting with the design of the place. The little blue bungalow on Rainey Street looks like your friend’s house, and can’t be missed when you’re walking by. Then there’s the atmosphere of hospitality, created by bartenders who are able to talk to guests about anything from horse racing to spirits.
When asked what makes Half Step stand out, Bostick, who started as a bartender over 20 years ago, says he can’t put a finger on any one specific thing. The details come together to provide an atmosphere that makes people happy. Every once in a while, Bostick still goes behind the counter to create cocktails himself. “Even as a bar owner and creative director of Half Step, using my hands is still a passion. Nice to get back to that zone and interact with the guests.”
Mystery Behind the Name, Half Step
Bostick opened Half Step three and a half years ago at 75 1/2 Rainey Street, which was one of the reasons for the bar’s unusual name. Another was paying homage to the Grateful Dead song, “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo.”
But there’s one more explanation of the bar’s name that lies in Bostick’s childhood, as he grew up playing saxophone. “Half step is a musical term that describes the shortest distance between two notes. If you play them together it’s dissonance; if you play them in succession in the right mode…you get blue note,” explained Bostick. In jazz and blues, a blue note is played at a slightly different pitch than the standard.
It only makes sense that the bar, that’s a little different from anything else you might encounter, would be named Half Step.
75 1/2 Rainey St. – Website
@theAustinot wants to know:
What is your simple cocktail of choice?