Bourbon and billiards combine at Austin’s regal Seven Grand Whiskey Bar

Whiskey has never been in more of a heyday — and neither have the bars specializing in selling it.

One of those watering holes is the recently established Seven Grand Whiskey Bar, from the same Los Angeles hospitality group that expanded to Austin to open Rainey Street cocktail bar Half Step in 2014. Three years later, 213 Hospitality has brought a Texas-tinged outpost of Seven Grand, also in Los Angeles and San Diego, to an old brick-walled building on Seventh Street.

Large and stately, with plaid carpeting, dark wood, taxidermy animals and stag-shaped lamps, the bar houses more than 400 bottles of whiskey from around the world and plans to grow the collection to more than 700. Each bottle is displayed along wall shelves, the very top of which are reached via sliding ladders behind the bar.

Much of Seven Grand’s design takes its influence from the iconic pubs of Ireland, the country where the history of whiskey largely begins. Other aspects, such as the taxidermy and the Lady Bird Lake-inspired diorama by the entrance with vintage fishing poles and empty booze bottles, suggest more of a hunting lodge vibe.

“There’s a bar in Dublin called the Stag’s Head that has been the core inspiration for this concept,” 213 Hospitality’s director of operations, Andrew Abrahamson, said. “With that said, it definitely has Irish pub elements, but it’s not really like Irish pubs in America where they double as sports bars. It’s more of a public house.”

Visitors can order cocktails made from other spirits (the bottles of which are hidden from view) and Texas beers such as Zilker Brewing’s Marco IPA and Real Ale Brewing’s Axis IPA. But whiskey is the main star of the show — from the popular wheated bourbon Maker’s Mark, which serves as the base in all of Seven Grand’s classic cocktails, to far more esoteric offerings such as Charbay’s Hop Flavored Whiskey.

And all those bottles aren’t just props, any more than the ladders are.

At Seven Grand, you can get as in-depth an education on whiskey as you want, whether you’re looking to expand your vocabulary of tasting notes (say, that the Suntory Hakushu 12-Year-Old Japanese Whisky reminds the nose of delicate cherry blossom) or want a veritable history of the world through the lens of whiskey, once a humble farmer’s valuable trading tool and not just a boozy balm for societal ills. Or if you simply want a small taste of something special, that’s OK, too.

The infectious enthusiasm Abrahamson and other 213 employees, such as the California-based spirit guide Pedro Shanahan and his local equivalent at Austin’s Seven Grand, Rashid Barrett, hold for whiskey is easy to catch.

Although it’s still not as ubiquitous as vodka, the aged spirit made from fermented corn, rye, barley and other grains has become prized for its quality and depth of flavor — maybe a little too much. Seven Grand’s proprietors worry that whiskey, tagged with labels like “ultra-premium,” is becoming a little inaccessible for the everyday drinker, in marked contrast to its humble roots.

“The history of whiskey is that it was always made by farmers,” Shanahan said. “It was what people used as money. It was the commerce of the Old World. And the idea that some of these marketing firms have put on it, that it’s for some old boys’ network, is completely false. It’s a fabrication.”

To remedy that, Seven Grand is bringing its Whiskey Society to town. It’s a relaxed meet-up, “an enthusiast’s group that will be open for folks in Austin to take part in,” he said, “with brand ambassadors and master distillers coming in from all over the world to educate the public and taste-test and talk to us about the spirits they make.” Barrett, previously of Peche and Half Step, is the organizer.

Moving behind the bar at Seven Grand has been an easy jump for Barrett to make. To ready for the job, he traveled across the country for 18 months talking to distillers, biochemists and food scientists about flavor and how our bodies perceive it. Being able to turn customers’ flavor preferences into the right dram of whiskey or whiskey cocktail is crucial, he believes, as is helping them develop the vocabulary to describe what they’re looking for.

“I feel like that’s the last bastion in terms of being a really good bartender: having a way to communicate with the customers who aren’t sure what they want or why they like what they like and introducing them to things they wouldn’t otherwise have,: he said. “Explaining whiskey using culinary words. That’s been a passion or, actually, an obsession.”

Of course, if you just want your usual pour of Buffalo Trace Bourbon (or whatever whiskey best wets your whistle), Seven Grand can be the place for a good old-fashioned unwinding. The bar doesn’t have food on offer, but you can play a game of pool at one of the several billiards tables while you drink.

“We don’t do any molecular mixology, anything really cutting-edge. We’re just focused on the classics,” Abrahamson said. “You can’t really get more classic than that.”

Seven Grand Whiskey Bar

What: Modeled after an authentic Irish pub, with lots of dark wood and plaid carpeting, the masculine bar features all the whiskey you could want, as well as pool tables and a patio bar. You can bring in your own food.

Where: 405 E. Seventh St.

Hours: 5 p.m. to close daily


Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Austin360

During Texas Wine Month, these are 10 top Texas wines to seek out 
During Texas Wine Month, these are 10 top Texas wines to seek out 

Do you feel that chill in the air? Finally, the weather in Texas is starting to feel like fall, and there’s no better place to spend an afternoon than outdoors at one of the scenic wineries in the Texas Hill Country. October, after all, is Texas Wine Month. Although this year’s Texas Wine Month Passport has now sold out, people can still...
Uchi restaurants across Texas auctioning private dinners for Hurricane Harvey relief
Uchi restaurants across Texas auctioning private dinners for Hurricane Harvey relief

Uchi restaurants across Texas are holding auctions to raise money for the Greater Houston Community Foundation, which is helping with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. People have the opportunity to bid on a 10-course, beverage-paired meals for 12 at Uchi Houston and Dallas and Uchiko in Austin...
New food truck raises eyebrows and anger with name Poke Me Long Time
New food truck raises eyebrows and anger with name Poke Me Long Time

Kevin Randolph and wife Sherilyn Milch named their food truck Poke Me Long Time with the hopes of getting people’s attention. Fishin’ accomplished. The food truck at 1606 E. Sixth St. has received some negative reviews online for its name, which some see as juvenile and crass at best and racist at...
Actor Gerard Butler rushed to hospital after motorcycle accident 
Actor Gerard Butler rushed to hospital after motorcycle accident 

Actor Gerard Butler is recovering from injuries he received in a recent motorcycle accident in Los Angeles. Butler, 47, crashed his bike after he was run off the road by a car, he told Entertainment Tonight Monday. “I was going along the road doing my thing and this lady decided to go from parked on the other side of the road to an...
Untitled Han Solo project now has a name
Untitled Han Solo project now has a name

The untitled Han Solo project is untitled no more. Oscar-winning director Ron Howard has announced that the “Star Wars” movie he’s been making has been officially named “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” >> Read more trending news Howard also announced that principal photography has finished and that the movie will hit theaters...
More Stories