Austin: Peche, Townhouse and La Condesa
I was having a great time in Austin exploring the craft cocktail scene. Some of the local bartenders I met would be derisive of calling it a scene. But it’s getting there. Much like when I was in Chicago a few years ago, those kinds of bars are coming. One of the bars that seemed to come up over and over again was Peche. I headed over and was dismayed how packed the absinthe bar was (I like my nice quiet bars where I can drink my old man drinks). But once I pushed past the crowd, I grabbed a bar stool and perused the menu. I wasn’t hungry though a few of the bar snacks caught my eye including the pork belly confit and the brandade.
The cocktail list is rather extensive. The drinks are divided by spirit type. I zoomed to the whiskey section right away but ended up ordering Spicy Bee’s Knees (gin, jalepeno, lemon, rhubarb bitters) first. The classic cocktail has a spicy new kick with the jalepeno. I did feel this cocktail was too warm. The bartender had an unfortunate lazy shake which I did not expect at a high end cocktail bar.
Peche has a $208 Vieux Carre. I have talked to a few people about this exorbitant drink. It’s Pierre Ferrand Antique cognac, Rittenhouse 23, Barrel Aged Benedictine and there are no refunds. I’m assuming there are some bitters and sweet vermouth involved as well but it’s not mentioned on the menu. Someone told me Peche has sold maybe 15 of these and the bartender helping me out said there’s been at least 4 sold since he’s been there. Who’s buying these pricey cocktails? Fine, fine, I can’t hate on a bar making money but give me a regular Vieux Carre (up, please) any day.
I went with something similar, the Waterloo (rye, Benedictine, Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters) which was served neat. I watched the bartender distractedly stir this for about two revolutions, again not making my drink cold enough. He was busy setting up the absinthe for some others at the bar.
Perhaps because they were busy but I just didn’t enjoy this experience. Two warm drinks and the huge noisy crowd wasn’t my favorite. I did stop next door to watch the band in the courtyard. I can see why it would be popular. Grab a drink and listen to live music any night of the week, not just during SXSW.
Next I bounced to Townhouse. It was on my list as a place for good cocktails but once I got to Austin, some bartenders told me it hasn’t been a happening spot for a while. The good bartenders have left and it has turned into more of a silly shots place. They pride themselves on “old cocktails and new infusions” though. Quite a few fruity infusions line the counter. I do have to say the two bartenders were super sweet and did seem to care what they were doing. I ordered the Georgia Somersault (peach infused Buffalo Trace, lime tincture, egg
yellows yolk, ground nutmeg).
You know what? It wasn’t bad. But it had way too much nutmeg (which I suspect was not freshly grated). They had a mint julep on the menu they were calling a Kentucky Derby’s Bitch. Possibly the other whiskey cocktails would be have been fine as well including the Irish Manhattan though I’d tell them not to use the “splash of cherry juice.” and War Paint (Buffalo Trace, blackberry, lemon, cinnamon simple syrup).
For a good laugh, their vodka cocktails really amused me with names like “OMG WTF” (cherry infused Grey Goose, curried honey syrup, tonic) and Where is My Stapler (tomato infused Enchanted Rock vodka, black pepper simple syrup, cucumber, basil)– sounds like it could be a good Bloody Mary. They actually do Moscow Mules (which they call Back in the USSR) in copper mugs.
I flipped the menu to look at the rum and tequila drinks. More of the fruity infused booze stuff but Freshershest (Scarlet Ibis rum, flamed pineapple, lime tincture, soda) caught my eye.
So someone at some time had fun with this list. It just sounds like they need to get that kind of bartender back if they want to go the mixology route. But there’s nothing wrong with having fun cocktails too. Case in point, the Lynard Skynard BBQ & Beer restaurant in Vegas. Townhouse’s list may not have been that similar but gave off the same sort of country mixology vibe.
I ordered a Pisco Sour to start. None of the house specialty cocktails grabbed me. They were mostly tequila based and I was in the mood for something lighter to go with my food. As it turned out, La Condesa’s Pisco Sour was very different. Made with Barsol Quebranta pisco, egg whites, lime, sugar cane syrup and house-made nutmeg bitters, it was a little bit sweeter than I liked. I wished the more traditional Angostura bitters and I do love all sorts of bitters. The cocktail is also garnished with freshly grated nutmeg.
To start, I had the aguachile. The Pacific amberjack was dressed with ginger-chile water, morita oil and cilantro. I liked the firm fish and it wasn’t too spicy. It was the perfect starter.
When I ordered the venison tacos (under the taquitos section of the menu), I had no idea the tortillas were made with bacon fat. Even better. I was very happy with my food and decided to break from the cocktail list. I ordered a Negroni.
I know I was in a fancy Tex-Mex place but I saw the Campari and of course they had gin. Did they have sweet vermouth? Sure they did. My bartender Andy was a bit rusty at making them so I walked him through it. I prefer my Negronis up. I had to laugh at the smallest twist I’ve ever seen. But it was perfect.
I’m excited they are coming to LA!