The downtown speakeasy cocktail bar in a former brothel Midnight Cowboy is changing under new general manager Tacy Rowland for the first time since it opened five years ago. This means a freshly updated menu and a new casual walk-in-only space out on the back patio. Everything launches tonight, Friday, December 8.
“I did want to change because you haven’t heard much about [Midnight Cowboy] for a little while,” Rowland explained. She wanted to “watch this place evolve with new life, livening it up, [while] paying attention to the presentation, and just try to go a little bit crazy with it.”
The theme of the Midnight’s cocktail menu is “The Art of Conversation,” which consists of 14 new drinks, all collaborations with Rowland’s bar team. The bar is still all about creating special experiences for the guests in the intimate space, while emphasizing connections and having fun.
The menu is meant to resemble the length and pace of a stay, starting with the “lightest and brightest” drinks, and ending with “more stirred and more spirit-forward” ones. It’s presented in book format, accompanied by watercolor drawings of the drinks.
“I tend to have a culinary approach when I come up with a cocktail,” Rowland explained. “Look at these flavors, how they work together, and how this would be incorporated into the world of a cocktail. A flavor combination works whether it’s liquid or solid.”
The menu’s offerings go beyond the usual classic three-ingredient cocktails. It experiments often with split-based drinks as opposed to single spirit bases, like mixing whiskey and anejo tequila, tequila and aquavit, and pisco with vermouth.
The menu also strives to play around with unexpected ingredients, like ricotta, blue cheese, and artichoke leaves, which are either mixed into the drink or presented as garnishes as a way of adding a “contrast of bringing another element to the cocktail,” Rowland explained.
Then there are the presentations of the cocktails themselves for an added level of engagement with the drinkers. A Proper Introduction is served in a glass that resembles a large test tube, and then there are cactus tiki mugs, and punch bowls with stag head handles.
There are three bar cart drinks, which are made right in front of guests: the Awkward Pause, a dirty martini served with an oyster, and an Old Fashioned made with Japanese whisky and scotch garnished with a piece of nori. Regulars of the bar can also order their favorite drinks from older menus too.
The new and improved Midnight Cowboy goes beyond just drinks. There’s the new casual back patio bar, which is available for walk-ins on the weekends. It includes a separate bar that focuses beer, wine, six cocktails, and highballs (no bar carts). It has been offering seasonal drinks as well, like toddies and mulled wine. It’s “fun and easy,” said Rowland, “a different side of Cowboy.”
As for the proper indoor bar, along with the standard two-hour reservations, Midnight now also offers one-hour bookings too. Rowland is toying with the idea of adding a few bar stool seats too.
Rowland joined the Midnight team this past March. She has plenty of Austin bar experience, like working at La Condesa’s bar during chef Rene Ortiz’s reign and Rainey Street restaurant No Va (RIP). She also helped open Contigo and Drink.Well. Right before she started at Midnight Cowboy, she worked in Vail, Colorado.
Rowland thinks it’s an exciting time for cocktail bars in Austin right now, “because so much is happening.” She sees it as a positive that “we can support these many cocktail bars now, which wasn’t a thing five years ago.”
Midnight Cowboy opened in March 2012 in the former brothel on Dirty Sixth Street from the Alamo Drafthouse team under beverage director Bill Norris and then-manager Brian Dressel. Norris is still the beverage director for the theaters and Midnight Cowboy. Michael Phillips was general manager of the bar before Rowland, but he left to join the team over at Kemuri Tatsu-ya.