Recently, two of Austin's most knowledgable bartenders, Jason Stevens and Nicole Rossi, let Eater tag along on a Monday night out. Jason and Nicole worked together behind the bar at East Side Showroom; Jason is now the bar manager of Bar Congress, and Nicole is a jack of all trades at Justine's. They shared their picks for great Austin bar experiences, from classy cocktails to legendary basement haunts. Even better, the two shared insight into everything from how to approach a night of drinking to why great service is built around "personality." The full Monday-night crawl, which includes stops at Firehouse Lounge, The Cloak Room, Weather Up, and Whisler's, is below.
Where: Firehouse Hostel & Lounge, 605 Brazos Street
When: 9pm on a Monday night
The Order: Jason is drinking a beer, Nicole a Campari and soda.
Why: According to Jason, Firehouse Lounge "executes classics well. Their "Cheers mentality" means that any night of the week, the bar is packed with service industry folks after their shifts end. It's a meeting place for bartenders, sommeliers, and chefs.
Other Insights: When Jason and Nicole hit up a bar, they pay attention to how the bartenders use their space. Jason says each station should be set up so a bartender barely has to move. Nicole adds that, "You should not ever even cross yourself," so that when the bar is slammed, it can be "eye of the tiger" and not pure panic. Jason calls the perfect bar flow a moment of "infinite zen" when a bartender feels like they have "five arms."
In addition to cocktails, the table downs a good deal of water. Nicole says Campari and soda is her go-to drink because the soda hydrates, and Campari has a comparatively lower ABV. Jason adds that he always tries to end the night with a drink that pairs well with a Topo Chico.
Where: The Cloak Room, 1300 Colorado St
The Order: Jason gets a scotch and soda; he recommends Dewars White Label. Nicole orders a Bulleit rye neat with "a drop of water." She later asks for bitters, which she shakes in herself, because that's how The Cloak Room rolls.
Why: Nicole loves The Cloak Room because "I don't have to run into anyone I know. It's the opposite of Firehouse Lounge." Jason calls their basement bar "the perfect set-up" with "the best jukebox in town." Nicole says the Cloak Room is perfect for "intimate, quiet moments" and adds, "Don't write about it too much." Both agree with Jason's assessment that they have "service you can't get anywhere else."
Other Insights: The bartender asks Jason to help turn off the fire alarm, which has accidentally been tripped. Nicole reveals that she grew up working at her family's Oakland restaurant, The Fat Lady. She says her experience there makes her appreciate old school places like the Cloak Room. She argues that servers used to build their careers around their personality but now it's "all about the cocktails." Bartenders maybe have "personality in their mustaches or their phenomenal drinks" but don't own the bar.
Jason returns, having fixed the fire alarm, and adds that that approach "hearkens back to a time when the bartender was the ruler of the space, an age when the bartender was the end all and be all."
Where: Weather Up, 1808 E Cesar Chavez St
The Order: Jason drinks a Little Italy, and Nicole another Campari and soda
Why: Jason calls Weather Up an interesting contrast with The Cloak Room. He points out there's a similar light gradient and "old-fashioned feel," creating an intimate space. He adds that, "The older I get, the less I want hoards of people in the bars I'm drinking in. It's hard to think."
Other insights: Jason and Nicole point out that being a bartender is like working front and back of the house at the same time. Bartenders are both making a drink and serving it right then and there. Nicole says the job calls for "a jack of all trades."
Later, Nicole and Jason engage an intense and passionate debate about whether Bar Congress's T.C. Negroni can be called a "negroni" even though it uses Gran Classico instead of Campari. Nicole argues that the effect of the drink is notably different, and it should have a new name. Jason is not a fan of rapidly multiplying cocktail names, when someone "adds a bar spoon of vermouth and calls it a new drink." Nicole sees where he is coming from but says, "Fuck it - by the way I love Jason." She adds, "Secretly all bartenders want to make a cocktail that blows up."
When: 12:30am Tuesday
The Order: Jason gets a pastis and Topo Chico. Nicole abstains. Qui's Justin Elliott and Rachel DelRocco are already there. Justin is drinking a Lone Star, and Rachel is drinking a Fernet Branca, neat. At some point, the whole table gets 100/100 (double 50/50) shots of Fernet and Metaxa.
Why: Nicole says at Whisler's she never feels "out of place." Jason adds the outdoor space is welcoming at night, and they have an "exceptional back bar." Bartenders remember your drink and will even have it out for you.
Other Insights: Bartenders appear to love drinking with other bartenders while arguing about the relative merits of various beverages. Justin Elliott later describes the night as involving a lot of "hilarious yelling," and he and Rachel ended the night with "some shameful Whataburger drive-thru action." Jason and Nicole ran into even more (non-bartender) friends, and headed off to their fire pit.
· All Cocktail Confidential Coverage [EATX]
· All Jason Stevens Coverage [EATX]