PLACE Bar Congress
200 N. Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78701
Austin shares a lot of DNA with the Bay Area, every year the South by Southwest conference/week-long party comes to town dragging a huge crew from SFO to AUS. Many Bay Areans(?) have moved out here lured by the similar culture (Keep Austin Weird!) and the more affordable housing. But one thing was always kind of missing for me, good drinks. SXSW always had parties with lots of free alcohol but nothing was ever really that good, lots of beer (Shiner!) and vodka (Tito’s!) tonics etc... So this time when we came to town I was determined to really search out some good cocktails.
In the last couple of years several places have opened up with an eye to fresh ingredients, craft spirits and the attention to detail that makes a good bar. One of these that we didn’t get a chance to sample is called Haddington’s Pub. They have an adventurous looking cocktail menu that includes a duck fat rye Sazerac, and a whole lot of cocktails utilizing shrubs. Not far away is Péché which has a strong focus on absinthe, but also has a great selection of prohibition era classics. Also in the area is the Driskill Hotel bar, an awesomely Texan, cowboy-tastic place to hang out. I wouldn’t say they make exceptional cocktails but they have a good whiskey selection and are competent behind the bar.
But it is the newest place in town that caught our attention the most, Bar Congress. Technically a hotel bar, it feels detached enough that you don’t feel like you are part of a scene. The drinks were outstanding with great attention to detail and perfect ingredients. We only had time to try three of the drinks here but they were all outstanding, the Preferred Lies, which uses Earl Grey Infused Bourbon, Apple shrub, and Canton, the Tam Tam Swizzle which is Crema de Mezcal, Batavia Arrack, Tamarind Gastrique and lime, and the Rowe’s Anthem which is Cocchi Americano, Benedictine and Rose Water Pastis. The service was impeccable, though we were there at 5 or so on a Sat. If you are a wine fan, they also have the Enomatic wine system that opens bottles and keeps them vacuum sealed so they can offer most of their wine, port and sakes by the glass. A good way to try things without going all out on a bottle.
I’m pretty excited for the next SXSW... forget the conference, I have cocktails to savor.