A new Irish pub and microbrewery opened in Round Rock this week. Cork & Barrel is found at 4000 East Palm Valley Boulevard as of March 17. Currently, it is only open for dine-in service, but will add curbside pickups starting on Friday, March 19.
“We wanted to bring a little bit of Dublin and a little bit of downtown Austin to the suburbs,” explains co-owner Jay Kudla back in August, “for those who haven’t been to Ireland or don’t want to deal with traffic on I-35.” Cork co-owner Sam Darlington is from Belfast, but has spent the last 30 years in Austin. For him, the restaurant serves as a tribute to his Irish roots and recent Austin history.
“We wanted to bring the vibe and ‘craic’ of an Irish gastropub,” continues Kudla, referring to the Irish term for news and gossip, “and join it with the Southern hospitality, cuisine, and live music of the greater Austin area.”
Executive chef Josh Watkins is overseeing the menu, which is heavy with Central Texan and Irish dishes. On deck will be oak-fired pizza, burgers, sandwiches (including a take on the Monte Cristo ), slow-cooked pork spare ribs, and a seared ahi tuna salad. As from the Irish side, there is a Texas take on Irish stew and Guinness-battered fish and chips.
From the microbrewery, the duo is brewing four in-house beers, which will include rotating seasonal ones such as the juicy IPA, Dublin red, and vanilla stout. The bar will also offer 20 other draft beers. Cocktails include a watermelon cosmopolitan and a smoke and fire margarita. It will also carry its own barrel from Maker’s Mark, along with other whiskeys.
“We all know that COVID has made the world a fluid, ever-changing place,” Kudla told Eater back in August, “so we are preparing for our protocols to evolve as needed with the times.” The physical space is large — nearly four acres — so they’re confident about being able to space guests and tables six feet apart safely. Current novel coronavirus safety measures include requiring that employees and guests wear masks and get their temperatures checked.
The pub features a chef’s counter, Irish snugs (small private areas), a wine cellar, indoor and outdoor stages for live music, and a nearly acre-wide beer garden called Yard 401. The latter includes a 10-seat booth built out of barrels, a pavilion, floating fireplaces, and television screens.
As for the name, “we wanted the specific naming sequence of two items,” explains Kudla. “There is a certain symmetric poetry to pubs named accordingly.” The ‘cork’ portion refers to the Irish county of the same name and wine corks, and the ‘barrel’ to whiskey barrels.
Kudla is also the president of RS3 Strategic Hospitality, which is the food and beverage company behind the Dell Diamond, Circuit of Americas and the Germania Insurance Amphitheater (née Austin 360 Amphitheater). Darlington is also working as Cork’s general contractor and builder. Ahead of joining Cork & Barrel, Watkins had been working at the RS3 culinary team for the past year. Before that, he was part of the opening team of barbecue trailer Whitfield’s, ran downtown hotel restaurant Chavez briefly, and was the executive chef of campus restaurant the Carillon.
The pub had offered advanced memberships, where people would be able to get daily beer pints or house wine, use of special glassware for dine-in service, merchandise, access to specials and discounts, and an engraved paver stone in the beer garden. These began at $549 and went all the way up to $920.
Update, Thursday, March 18, 2021: This article has been updated to reflect Cork’s opening date and service models.
Update, Monday, August 31, 2020: This article, originally published on August 27, 2020, has been updated with new images from Levy Architects.