Austin: East Side Show Room
If every town had a pinnacle craft cocktails bar, Austin’s would be East Side Show Room. Located east of the Dirty 6, the building has seen its share of businesses. At one point it was even a dry cleaners. Now the area has quite a few bars for those who want to swing past the discounted shots bars.
It was Friday night and the place was packed at 9 p.m. I was hoping for a seat at the bar and stood behind a woman nursing a cold cup of tea for an hour. I’m serious. It was really an hour. I was very astonished as she had a group of friends at a corner table waiting for her. But no matter, I eventually got her seat and gratefully found myself in front of Chauncy James, the bar manager of ESSR. It possibly might be quieter during the week days. Chauncy said the weekend crowd did tend towards bridge and tunnel but that’s generally true of any place. I can’t even imagine what it’ll be like during SXSW.
The cocktail list was not…interesting. Interesting for a cocktailian anyway. The drinks seemed like mostly classics. How could this be the pinnacle craft cocktail bar? I ordered the Velvet Negroni (Old Raj Red gin, Campari, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth). It was very good though I was confused why Chauncy was using a crazy tall mixing glass. He apparently just found it and was making do with a julep strainer to strain. Ah, this was my first inkling of why it could be a very good craft cocktail bar despite the seemingly endless orders for Moscow Mules. Chauncy said one night he made upwards of 85 Moscow Mules. Incredible.
When I finally got a seat, I ordered something with bourbon and green chartreuse. Chauncy presented me the Eavesdropper which he named after a former bartender with the last name Eaves. Ah, it was heavenly.
Next, I told Chauncy to just make me something. He came up with a cocktail with Calvados, Campari, Cynar and celery bitters. I happen to love celery bitters and the combination was en pointe.
ESSR is not just a bar. They do have a kitchen and serves up great looking food. The menu changes often but I like the sound of braised duck wings, goat tenderloin, stuffed quail and apparently there was a huge fuss when they tried to take their Wagyu beef burger off the menu.
That night, the Flying Balalaika Brothers were playing. The balalaika is a rather odd string instrument. Like a huge triangular bass guitar. The sound was very gypsy folk and not out of place in this old-timey saloon themed bar.
For my final cocktail, I asked for something with rum. I watched Chauncy peel the twist then square it off, notch it and then carefully twist it into a pretty curl for the garnish. Stylish. I was chatting with some people visiting from Cincinnati where they tell me bars like ESSR are popping up as well. Still, that doesn’t mean you can be converted from a Moscow Mule that quickly. One ordered a gin martini “on the rocks, no vermouth.” Well, isn’t that just a cold glass of gin? He did say he didn’t mind a peel. Okay, pretty twist for you then. Although ESSR had plenty of interesting gins, Chauncy suggested to him Sapphire. I suppose he didn’t want to push the guy too much. But maybe a little? The guy’s friend said he really should try a different gin. Brava to her!
It was getting busier and time to meet up with a friend so I caught a cab back downtown otherwise I could have stayed all night exploring the different spirits.