You can’t just walk into Midnight Cowboy on a Saturday night and expect to get the experience, or the cocktails, everyone raves about. Certain steps are necessary. This may be why it took me three years to visit what is perhaps Austin’s most well-known speakeasy. Planning ahead has never been my strong suit.
When I made my reservation, found the hidden door, rang the bell, and sat in a booth for the first time, it didn’t take long to figure out why so many people recommended Midnight Cowboy over the years. For the sixth installment of The Austinot’s Speakeasy Secrets series, I’ll teach you how you too can have this same experience, and why you should make it a priority to do so.
Showing Up Is Half the Battle
There’s a process for guaranteeing your one- or two-hour time slot at Midnight Cowboy. First things first: you need a reservation, especially if you’re going on the weekend. Go to the website and follow the instructions to book a slot. Availability will vary, depending on the time and party size, so make sure to plan a few weeks ahead if you’re looking for a weekend slot for a big group!
Next step: find it! At the scheduled time, head down to Dirty Sixth and look for the “Midnight Cowboy Modeling” sign (more on that homage later), or the shining red light denoting the speakeasy is open for service.
The bar is located through an unassuming door at 313 E. 6th St. Ring the doorbell labeled Harry Craddock (the name of one of the most famous bartenders in the 1920s and 1930s), and you’re in! That wasn’t so hard, was it?
A Special Place with a Special History
Midnight Cowboy, one of the oldest speakeasy-style bars in Austin, opened in 2012. It converted to a bar from a brothel that was masquerading as a massage parlor known as Midnight Cowboy Modeling Oriental Massage. With a similar name, it’s clear Midnight Cowboy chooses to embrace its history, rather than run from it.
Every speakeasy has its “thing,” whether that means Prohibition-style decor, a secret entrance, or amazing cocktails. Well, Midnight Cowboy has all the things.
When you enter this uniquely decorated space, you’ll see booths on both sides, with plush leather seats. There’s an intricately decorated bar, and past that are rooms for private parties. The bar’s interior capacity is 44 people, hence the importance of a reservation. There is also a patio out back, which is open from Thursday to Sunday and available to walk-ins until it fills up. This is a great option if you didn’t plan ahead with a reservation, or simply want some fresh air.
Because of the unique setting and reliability that comes with a reservation, Midnight Cowboy is popular for special happy hours and dates, as well as birthday and bachelor/bachelorette parties. Come here for a special occasion, or a planned break from the chaos of Dirty Sixth Street.
Everything Is an Experience
Like most things that take preparation, the effort on the front end helps the visit feel like a special experience. “People take the time to make a reservation and show up; we want to give them the experience they deserve,” General Manager Ryan Ehrlichman told me. For this reason, every detail of the Midnight Cowboy visit is highly curated. In fact, the speakeasy thinks of itself as a fine dining restaurant that doesn’t serve food.
“We want to give people something that they can’t get anywhere else, and in doing so we give a personal touch through our service,” Ehrlichman said. And what a personal touch! The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and certain cocktails get made right in front of you.
My cocktail was detailed enough to include a couple drops from a tincture bottle, while another came out smoking. With a limited number of guests, Midnight Cowboy ensures every patron receives the time and attention they deserve.
And that is how this speakeasy creates the feel of a fine dining restaurant without the food. “You’re getting all of the culinary service aspects you would from a fine dining restaurant, but we serve cocktails and it’s a little more fun,” Ehrlichman shared. Indeed.
Midnight Cowboy runs thematic menus annually. When I visited, the menu looked like a passport with drinks that contained flavors from all over the world. As Ehrlichman told me, “It’s all about the experience. The cocktails are a bonus.”
Keeping with the “bar as a restaurant theme,” the techniques for creating cocktails are culinary-driven. The goal is to blow the minds of guests in terms of what cocktails can actually be. “We gain inspiration from the culinary side by using food products and introducing them into cocktails,” Ehrlichman told me.
If you’re looking for more standard drinks, Midnight Cowboy is amenable to that, as well. Bartenders will happily provide classic cocktails, beer, and wine on request. In addition, the menu on the back patio is different from inside. “It’s a way for us to be more creative than our set menu, which doesn’t change for a year. But it’s of the same quality as inside,” Ehrlichman shared.
There is a new menu coming out in winter 2019, and there’s reason for excitement. The theme is drinks that coincide with stories from the upcoming anthology show “The Field Guide to Evil.” The drinks will be released in conjunction with the show, cocktails inspired by both the good and evil in each episode.
“We pair menu with film,” Ehrilchman explained. “We are trying to stay ahead of the curve in terms of the way media can play into the relevancy of bar and restaurant.” I had never heard of conjunction releases, and I’m excited to experience one this winter. Again, this speakeasy is unique, delicious, and experiential.
While speakeasies can at times feel exclusive, and maybe even pretentious, Midnight Cowboy is anything but. The music is determined by the crowd and vibe of the night. And the hospitality is on par with anywhere in Austin. “We want our staff to give a part of themselves to the customers who are here,” Ehrilchman told me. “We try not to be uptight because Austin is not an uptight city.”
Time to make a reservation and experience this Austin staple for yourself!
313 E. 6th St. – Website
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The original version of this article was published Aug. 2, 2012.
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