Austin: I Came, I Drank, I Conquered (And Then I Drank Some More)
I'm taking every opportunity that comes along this summer to get out of the steamy swamp currently hanging over our city, and that means one thing: road-trippin'. I made the trek (more of a hop, skip and a kolache-fueled jump, really) to Austin this weekend to visit friends and raise hell, and did my best to consume everything in sight over the span of three days. Here are some places you should consider adding to your itinerary next time to you take the three-hour tour down Interstate 35.
After a long night of throwing back Tecate and Fireball whiskey shots downtown (that second part was not my idea), we ended up at South Congress oyster bar Perla's for brunch, where the mimosas were fizzy and cold (instead of premixed and flat, as is so often the case) and the bivalves were fresh and delicious. My girlfriend and I slurped down a huge icy platter of briny Pacific oysters while the rest of our hungover tablemates looked on queasily. Entree-wise, don't miss the egg-in-a-hole served with a plump coil of house-made sausage and wood-grilled oysters crusted with buttery breadcrumbs and bacon lardons. A generous squeeze of lemon and I was in gastronomic heaven, hangover be damned.
Brunch at Perla's. Yum.
If you need something a bit more stout to put you back on your feet, Perla's shakes up a variety of cocktails both classic and modern -- try the refreshing Cousteau Caipirinha with cachaca, red bell pepper, cucumber and lime, or for something light and sparkly, The Passenger with Bombay, St. Germain, San Pellegrino Aranciata, lime and mint. Just don't forget the sunglasses -- the decor is airy, white and nautical-themed with lots of summer sunshine streaming in huge windows.
After all that sweetness and light, I found myself craving dark and dingy -- enter Crow Bar. Also located on South Congress and with ample free parking in a private lot (score!), this bar is frankly a bit of a shit-hole, with music that alternated between death metal and old blues thanks to the jukebox. The Crow Bar has hot tattooed bartenders, pool tables and an intriguing cocktail list scrawled on the wall with classics like the Sazerac and Moscow Mule alongside newfangled concoctions like the Rosy Deacon and Strawberry Lavender Lemonade.
I tried the Heisenberg, with raspberry Svedka, habanero syrup, Paula's Orange liqueur, lemonade and Pop Rocks. The drink is bright blue like the drugs cooked up by the eponymous Breaking Bad character and tasted like candy with a serious kick, both from the chile that burned a slow trail down the back of my throat and the fizzy particles that snapped and crackled on my tongue as I sipped. The patio out back is spacious and airy and there's a BBQ truck on hand most nights. Perfect.
Eager to see what Austin had to offer on the more serious mixology tip, we made the drive east to Weather Up, a New York import serving Prohibition-era cocktails (read: bartenders with suspenders and ornate mustaches, and more than two kinds of ice cubes) in an old mint-green house on East Cesar Chavez. It's a tiny but cozy space with dark leather booths and an amazing arched ceiling that's covered in subway tiles.
On a weekend night you'll probably have to wait for a table -- the bar's lack of a sign doesn't seem to hurt its ability to draw a crowd --but if you're a serious cocktail junkie it's worth the wait. Whiskey, scotch and brandy drinkers are in luck with pages and pages of inventive drinks to choose from, but vodka fans are shit outta luck -- there's none to be had here.
A gin enthusiast myself, I went for the Enzo, with lemon and fresh muddled grapes; slightly tart, it bears a bitter citrus complexity from Campari, which also gives it its telltale pinky-orange hue. You'll have to walk through the spacious backyard patio appointed with tiny twinkling lights to visit the loo, which is also covered in subway tiles (and strangely, mallard ducks) to reinforce the Brooklyn-in-Texas feel.
By then I was good and ready for a tasty drunk snack, so we went north a few blocks to The Liberty, a dark, quintessentially Austin bar on a stretch of East 6th buzzing with hipsters. It looks small inside, but I followed the skinny jean-sporting fellow in front of me through a doorway out the back and found myself in a massive back patio lined with picnic tables overflowing with beer-swilling Austinites. Permanently parked at the back of the yard, the holy grail: East Side King, a food truck from Top Chef Texas victor Paul Qui of Uchiko fame. The truck sells a small selection of tasty Asian-inspired bites that pair perfectly with one of the Liberty's many beers on tap. (Think globally, drink locally -- try something from breweries 512, Live Oak or Austin Beerworks.)
The East Side King trailer at The Liberty.
There's a variety of clever drunk-friendly dishes including veggie-friendly beet fries, but I went carnivorous with steamed buns -- both the pork belly with tangy-sweet hoisin and Thai chicken kara-age with spicy mayo were succulent, with juicy, flavorful meats wrapped in soft, slightly sweet buns accented with fresh herbs, jalapeños and scallions. I hear the wait can get crazy long here, but we tipped the dudes well and had our food in about 10 minutes. If you're too poor for Uchiko, don't miss the chance to hit up ESK and taste Qui's handiwork on the cheap.
Before I knew it Monday reared its ugly head and I was back to home, work and drinking water -- but there's little time to rest, as Wednesday I'll be off to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail. Stay tuned for my dispatches from the Big Easy as bartenders from across the country converge on the city for five days of drinking and debauchery.
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