Austin: Second Bar + Kitchen and Bar Congress
There were so many restaurants I wanted to visit in Austin but with only a few days and no dining partners, I wasn’t able to quite make it a food-tastic trip like I wanted to. I was glad though I was able to visit Second Bar + Kitchen and Bar Congress, part of the Congress family.
First I had a drink at Second Bar + Kitchen. The black truffle pomme frittes sounded amazing when you add foie gras (extra $14). I promised myself I had to come back for it.
I started with the New Burzum Swing (Aquavit, Campari, Velvet Falernum, lemon, ginger beer). It was a nice, crisp drink. I chatted with the bartender how easy it was to bar hop over to Bar Congress without having to leave the building.
I met bar manager Billy Hankey at Bar Congress and he said I should come back in when he was working at Second. When he saw me come in, he started working on a whiskey cocktail right away without me even indicating what I wanted. It must be one of the signs you’re a cocktailian.
When I asked what was in this up cocktail, Billy said Old Overholt, Nonino, sarsparilla bitters, salt, flamed orange. I suspect the sarsaparilla bitters may be the ones made by Bar Congress’ manager Jason Stevens and Lara Nixon’s Bad Dog Bar Craft bitters. I found the sarsaparilla bitters interesting as the USDA doesn’t allow sarsaparilla products to be sold anymore. But we are in Texas, the grand Republic.
When I originally read the menu, I read the “seared” as “smeared.” Either way, foie gras and fries are good. If you’re in town for SXSW, this would be a great bar food option in Downtown.
Next up, I had a wine cocktail by Billy. I suspect it’s much like the one he used to serve at the now closed Good Knight except this had red wine in addition to the whiskey and walnut liqueur.
Often described as a Manhattan and Negroni mash-up, the Boulevardier is one of my favorite cocktails. Billy said I did so well with the other two, I should have a classic.
While I would not consider Second to really be a bar– it felt more like a restaurant, I had a great time sitting there. I would definitely come back for the food and cocktails if I was in Austin again.
Through the curtains is Bar Congress. I was greeted by a pleasant guy who made good drinks though I suspected he was not the bartender who came up with the list. Apparently Adam Bryan is gone now.
I started with the Corpse Reviver #33 (Bols Genever, Acqua de Cedro grappa, lemon, celery bitters). Have I mentioned how much I love celery bitters? This was a great pick me up variation of the traditional Corpse Reviver #2.
Some time into my night at Bar Congress, this happened.
I asked for a rum cocktail and the bartender made me a Sweet Child of Mine (Flor de Cana, Cynar, orgeat, lemon). He was adorable even if he mispronounced Cynar and orgeat. This cocktail is actually on the Second Bar & Kitchen list where he also works.
As mentioned, the bar manager is Jason Stevens who came from East Side Show Room. He not only looked like a modern day craft cocktail bartender, he knew his stuff. It looks like he kept some of the bar menu left behind by Adam Bryan who came up with the Montegomatica cocktail.
I love swizzles so this Montegomatica (J Wray & Nephew rum, Fernet Branca, Velvet Falernum, lime) was perfect. Some bars might be adding Fernet to everything which doesn’t always work but this was well-balanced.
While chatting with Jason, he asked me what I liked. I answered promptly “brown, bitter, stirred.”It was at this time when Billy Hankey looked up and said that was beautiful because not everyone knew what they wanted. Jason gave me a cocktail with Sazarac 6 which I liked very much and reminded me how sometimes simple is the best.