Canned beer stalwart Oskar Blues’ decision to open its third production facility in North Austin this year confirms, once and for all, that our city is a drinking destination in its own right.
Austin’s beer producers are creating breweries that double as comfortable neighborhood hangouts, while our bartenders are providing accessible but sophisticated experiences at the bars we visit. These places have impeccable service, thoughtful beverage menus, maybe good food to boot — and an identity fiercely tied, in some way, to Austin.
Here are the best of this year’s new bars and breweries.
Blue Owl Brewing
2400 E. Cesar Chavez St., blueowlbrewing.com.
A brewery with a whole lineup of sour-mashed beers might seem ambitious at best, crazy at worst, but it’s actually proved to be brilliant.
The brainchild of Jeff Young, formerly of Black Star Co-Op, Blue Owl Brewing demonstrated when it opened its doors earlier this fall that sour beers sipped out of a can are exactly what Austinites crave. With the help of business-minded Suzy Shaffer, Young turned the eastside brewery into a quirky, blue-hued space where the likes of Little Boss, a sour session wheat, and Van Dayum, a tart red ale, are ordered again and again.
Visit the brewery to learn the secrets behind Young’s process. In addition to a fenced-in patio area, Blue Owl offers regular tours and classes that will get you hooked on sour-mashed brews.
Young’s willingness to try something new and risky has paid off: Blue Owl Brewing is one of the most compelling brewery openings this year.
Red Horn Coffee House and Brewpub
13010 W. Parmer Lane #800, redhornbrew.com.
The underserved Cedar Park area was ripe for a place with both good coffee and beer options when this brewpub opened in the spring. The two entrepreneurs behind Red Horn, Jon Lamb and Chad Misner, didn’t want to drive all the way into Austin just to get a decent drink.
Along with head brewer Zack Gardner and coffee maestro Jared Hill, Lamb and Misner have created a homey hangout for the neighborhood with an impressive and diverse menu of both house and guest beers. They could have stuck to the basics — which you’ll find in their easy-drinking TrailRunner Golden Ale and other year-round offerings — but they’ve gone above and beyond to provide visitors the best of what U.S. breweries have produced. The house beer list alone constantly surprises and delights.
Red Horn has a coffee program to match. And if you’re looking for the best of both worlds, try the House United Coffee Stout made with the brewpub’s own house roast.
The Roosevelt Room
307 W. Fifth St., therooseveltroomatx.com.
The two-story cocktail bar opened by consummate bartenders Dennis Gobis and Justin Lavenue isn’t even the finished concept, but they’re already off to a promising start. Ultimately, the duo plans to knock down the wall between the Roosevelt Room and neighboring lounge the Madison for a whopping 10,000-square-foot, three-level bar and restaurant called De Rigueur, in a nod to the type of place they strive to create.
In the meantime, the Roosevelt Room is a tantalizing taste of what’s to come. In addition to Gobis and Lavenue’s menu of original drinks, they’ve put together a menu of classics that showcases each era of American cocktails, from the early years (Manhattans and Sazeracs) to modern classics (Penicillins and Old Cubans).
With more than 50 drinks to choose from — and that’s not even mentioning the handful of original options — the Roosevelt Room’s service could fumble, but the co-owners and their bar team pull off such a feat with their usual skill and flair. Visit on a Tuesday, when happy hour extends all the way to 2 a.m. closing time.
718 Congress Ave. #100, thetownsendaustin.com.
A bar that can lure away the esteemed Justin Elliott from his post as head barman at Qui has got to be good. But the Townsend has a little something extra, too.
He joined the team behind the Congress Avenue bar, Penumbral Strategic Ventures, and crafted the Townsend’s cocktail menu after hearing about owner Steven Weisburd’s innovative ideas for the lounge-like space. Among them was a concept authors and musicians depend on but bartenders, a different type of creator, don’t typically receive: royalties for their work. At the Townsend, guest bartenders get a 1 percent royalty for each of their original cocktails purchased there.
But don’t miss out on Elliott’s concoctions, either. The dozen or so cocktails on the bar menu are simple, timeless drinks with evocative names, from the funky daiquiri-like Single Engine Plane to the savory split-spirit Carriage House. They showcase Elliott at his finest, although he’s quick to say they’re just one piece of the bar’s allure.
After all, it’s a full package: The Townsend also has food, comfy seating and live music to pair with those drinks.