Old dog, new cliques: The Driskill Bar may be historical, but they do a wonderful job of hauling in the young guns too. Case in point: Their guest mixologist nights, like the recent one they did for the Mad Men Season 6 premiere. Jason Stevens from Bar Congress did a five (!) course cocktail tasting for guests, with '60s inspired drinks -- and apparently, '60s inspired drinking ability.
Once the stomping grounds of fratty UT dudes, Firehouse is now a classy craft cocktail lounge (and soon to be hostel) after a lovely facelift. Goodbye licked body shots; hello libations. Goodbye booty-grinding to Ludacris; hello mint-muddling to Frank Sinatra. And goodbye, oh goodBYE to nasty draft beers from would-be-frat-suitors; hello Moscow Mules! We've all grown up over the past few years, and by george Firehouse -- you're looking better than ever.
Word to the wise on Peche: Owner Rob Pate is there almost every night, so when you arrive, ask for him. In lieu of a cocktail menu consultation, simply wave Rob to your table, and ask him to predict a drink that you will like. Rob is a libations soothsayer, and though this is an absinthe bar (Austin's first), the real treat is taking that first sip of a drink specifically predicted to suit your taste buds. This is how I discovered the (off menu) Fig Manhattan -- earthy, rich, and perfect.
Bar-wise, Haddingtons opened with such a flourish in 2010: Famed Austin mixologist Bill Norris (who hates being called a "mixologist") designed their cocktail menu and worked the bar. But just because Norris is at the Alamo Drafthouse now doesn't mean Haddingtons bar isn't still a force to be reckoned with. I know, because I tried a Duck Fat Sazerac there recently: Rich, fruity, and utterly bizarre, I think you should try one, too.
I met Pam Pritchard three years ago during one of Tipsy Texan's cocktail classes, when she handed me her card with a picture of a black and white tiger on the front. "I'm starting a pub, but one where you order cocktails, not just beer," she explained. Just a few months later, I found it on North Loop: The Tigress, a tiny, best-kept-secret of a bar, where each drink costs $7 and packs a mighty punch (just like, I imagine, how a real tigress might). Try Brown Sugar Snow: Rye whiskey, Averna Amaro, lemon juice, and brown sugar syrup.
Run by husband-and-wife team Michael and Jessica Sanders, Drink.Well is a newish bar on North Loop that not only boasts two award-winning lady bartenders (one of them being Jessica herself), but a clever cocktail menu that ranges from light and ladylike to heavy and Hemingway-esque. On the manly end of that spectrum, I'm a particular fan of "Pass the Dutchie," a husky whiskey drink made with Bols Genever, Cocchi Americano, cardamom bitters, and lime oils.
It's the ultimate 6th St. Cinderella story: A trashy bar with a brothel past is rescued by the dapper gentlemen of the Alamo Drafthouse, and transformed into a beautiful lounge with a classy future. These days, Midnight Cowboy is a reservation-only, Victorian Era space headed by Austin's favorite son (er, bartender) Bill Norris, where drinks are made table-side with flashy touches, like handcut ice and freshly squeezed juice.
"Bar Mirabeau" is somewhat of a misnomer, since of course, it's the kitchen (not the bar) that shines at this all-scratch, all the time outfit. And yet I fear folks out on some solid cocktails at Bar Mirabeau, dazzled as they are by the food, since they want to keep things simple -- just a glass of Chardonnay, so as not to overwhelm their palate. That's fine, but please promise me you'll make a date with their Mexican Mojito, a saltier version than the Cuban variety. Mixed with jalapeno and cilantro - and a conspicuous absence of sugar - it's the only way I want this drink now.