Best Happy Hours in Austin

The mussels at Abel's on the Lake are some of the best in town.

Trying to list all of the happy hours in Austin would be like trying to list all of the drummers in town.  While fun and entertaining, they change constantly and you can’t throw a rock downtown without hitting one.  So before you go, call or double check the website to confirm hours and specials.  (Also, please do not throw rocks at drummers.)  A pretty good resource I use is Austin on the Rocks.  I believe they are doing a makeover on the site so hopefully it will be more updated soon but it allows you to sort by area of town and what kind of place you are looking for.

Of course there are hundreds of places that offer drink specials.  My focus is more on the places that offer good food as well, not just the nacho car at Chuy’s (which is also delicious, just looking for something a little more substantial.)

.50 oysters, $3.50 Real Ale beers and Deep Eddy drinks

First up is my newest discovery, Abel’s on the Lake.  Next to the ever popular but overcrowded Hula Hut, Abel’s has a gorgeous deck overlooking Tom Miller Dam and yet it is only a 10 minute drive from downtown Austin. Happy hour is 4-6 Monday through Friday and offers half price appetizers, .50 Gulf oysters, and $3.50 Real Ale beers and Deep Eddy drinks.  Much of what they offer is just pretty good bar food but the mussels here are the real stand out.  Steamed in a butter white wine broth with shallots, capers, and sprigs of thyme I could drink shots of the broth alone but I recommend dipping the grilled bread in it and topping it with those delicious oysters.

Foreground- creamy chicken liver pate Background- wagyu tartare from Fabi and Rosi

Not too far down the road the atmosphere and the food get more upscale at Fabi and Rosi.  Happy hour here goes from 5-6:30 Monday through Friday.  $5 starters and $2 off beer and wine featuring wagyu tartare, chicken liver pate, a delicious cheese plate, as well as some damn fine mussels of their own and even classic escargot.  Thursdays also include half price bubbly both by the glass and by the bottle.  Fair warning, happy hour here easily melts into dinner with such delicious offerings as the classic schnitzel and spatzel made with Richardson’s farm pork or the wagyu steak and frites which is a steal at $19.

 

The beautiful Hibiscus Margarita at Vivo is unfortunately not on the happy hour list but with the rim of black sea salt, it was too pretty not to include.

Vivo has two locations in Austin, one on the east side off Manor Road and one northwest on Lakecreek Parkway.  I am more partial to the north location since one of my favorite chefs, Paul Petersen started working there.  The menu at Vivo is classic San Antonio TexMex with brisket enchiladas that are out of this world but if you go to the north location especially Friday through Sunday, ask if chef Paul has any specials.  His upscale take on TexMex is going to be subject to a full post very soon but take my word for it, what he does with pork belly, scallops, or whatever has taken his fancy that day is a flavor roller coaster worth the ride.

The trio at Vivo features homemade guacamole, old school yellow queso, and a spicy bean dip for half price during happy hour.

 

Happy hour at Vivo runs 5-close on Monday and Tuesdays and 5-7 Wednesday through Friday.  You get half priced appetizers that go beyond just the yellow queso (still delicious, even from the nacho car) like shrimp nachos and comal seared queso fresco.  Drink specials are $5 house margaritas, $2 Tecate and Lone Star, $3 wells, and $3 house wines.  Added draw on any night are the free chips and salsa that I believe are sprinkled with crack because they are so addictive.

For only $8 you can substitute the brie on the sliders at Wink with foie gras. Foie for happy hour, only in Austin.

Wink is one of those places in Austin that has been around forever and sometimes I forget about this little gem tucked away near a dry cleaners off 11th and Lamar.  Shame on me for that.  Next to the formal dining area, Wink opened a wine bar years ago that boasts a very broad winelist that even offers tastings and flights.  From 5-7 daily in the wine bar area you can also get half price appetizers like the brie burgers served slider style, creamy chicken liver pate, house cured salmon, and decadent mac and cheese with truffles.  Note that you can substitute the brie on the sliders with foie gras.  That makes me giggle. Foie for happy hour.

Crispy calamari with spicy marinara at Moonshine

Another old favorite I revisited for this post was Moonshine near the convention center.  Moonshine was at the forefront of the upscale comfort food movement.  I am happy to report that although owner Larry Perdido is busy with his newest venture over at Hopdoddy’s, Moonshine is as delicious as ever.  These gorgeous days we have been enjoying sure are nice sitting in the carriage house or on the porch of this Austin landmark while sipping on one of the patio cocktails.

I had the charming waiter jot down the specials on a coaster since I had a hard time locating them online.

The menu changes roughly with the seasons and the latest list of appetizers are below.  The calamari were crisp and perfectly cooked, no chewy rubber bands.  The baked brie came served with sliced apples, grapes, and a bed of arugula that made the plate seem like a nice cross between cheese plate and fresh salad.  The biggest seller on the menu are the corn dog shrimp.  Just like they sound, shrimp are dipped in a corn dog batter, fried and served with a honey mustard sauce with a blueberry swirl.  They are worth trying but I have had them so many times I usually go for something new.

Sushi bar at Uchiko, one of the best seats in the house.

 

With Tyson Cole winning the James Beard award last year for best chef Southwest, Paul Qui about to be crowned Top Chef tonight (knock on wood so I don’t jinx it), Philip Speer nominated for a James Beard award for best pastry chef for a third time, a new Uchi open in Houston and a brand new Food and Wine Fest in April led by chef Cole, Uchi on South Lamar and her sister Uchiko on North Lamar have got to be the hottest ticket in town.  And yes, my friends, I am happy to report they have a “Sake Social Hour” daily from 5-6:30.  Word of advice, get there as close to 5 as you can as this place fills up quickly.  There is also a bit more room at the North Lamar location. The menu here changes daily with the freshest fish and produce available.  Always on the menu is the classic shag roll but daily specials are varied as they are delicious.  Note my previous dessert post, it would be a huge mistake to fill up on dinner and skip desserts here.  Make your girlfriend get her own so you can taste more than one.  Now I must share my Uchi porn with you.

Honestly, I don't even remember what was in this one anymore but isn't it gorgeous??

 

Tuna, compressed watermelon, and cilantro
Shag roll with salmon, sun dried tomatoes, and avocado

 

One of the best damn burgers and fries in town for half price during happy hour at Parkside.

Right in the heart of dirty 6th as we like to call it around here, you will find parkside.  I have been here more times than I can count for happy hour as well as long multi course dinner with friends. With so many inventive seasonal offerings, I made the mistake of skipping the burger for years.  Only recently did I finally give in to a craving for “just” a burger and order this hidden gem on the menu.  The burgers should come with a warning.  They are so juicy that you are likely to get a good dribble down the front of your shirt if you are not careful.  And the fries, oh the heavenly fries.  Fries are calories I usually skip even at good old Mickey D’s.  Fortunately for me they come with the $5 burger plate.  They are perfectly crisp on the outside, meltingly tender on the inside, and are tossed with herbs and garlic for a flavor blast.  Bring friends with you, though because there is so much more here to try.  $14 for a gourmet assortment of oysters, $5 for the blond pate with strawberries.  Really anything you get will be good.  Happy hour runs 5-7 daily with 1/2 price bar menu and 1/2 price beer and cocktails.

Grab a pre happy hour nap in a hammock by Lady Bird Lake on the path behind Trio at the Four Seasons.

The last place on my list I am sorry to say will not be having a happy hour during SXSW.  Trio at the Four Seasons recently got a new chef who is revamping the menu including a new happy hour that will launch post SXSW.  The property and the restaurant are gorgeous and worth a visit, especially if your new record label is footing the bill.  If you are not that lucky, keep an eye out and I will post the specials once I get word.

So many more great places not listed here in Austin to enjoy discounted sips and nibbles.  Please list your favorites in the comments.  I am always on the cruise for a new happy hour!

Trio dining room

Week of 1000 Cocktails Part 1

As the weather gets colder, Austin turns from the outdoor festival mecca to the indoor cocktail soiree.  I kicked the season off with a bang last week doing 4 parties in 1 week.  That may seem like a long weekend to some but it was a wonderfully exhausting tour of some of the best in town for me.

First up was the Amuse Bouche party at the Carillon.  Josh Watkins and his team came up with 8 delicious bites paired with matching wines.  The  guests were free to nibble and socialize between the stations and revisit their favorites as often as they liked.  My favorite was the lobster rillette with caviar and curry aioli but other bites included duck confit ravioli with duck consomme, grilled bronzino with chorizo, charred tomato and corn, and hamachi with foie gras mousse, citrus riesling chutney, and currant reduction.  

The service was impeccable with each station attendant giving not only great descriptions of the food but also the wines and why they were chosen to pair.  Unsightly dirty plates were quickly whisked away and fresh real silver readied for the next bite.  The best and the brightest stars in the Austin food scene were there as well making for a delightful evening of food related chatter.  The regular tables were all full as well as a private party going on upstairs but the kitchen cranked out small batches continually ensuring a fresh taste.  I hope they put on another show like this soon!

Next up was a fundraiser for the Sustainable Food Center which is a marvelous organization that promotes eating locally and runs one of the biggest farmers markets in the area.  When I saw the chefs list for the dinner, I immediately bought a ticket.  Seven of the best in town in one meal!  The dinner was held at La Condesa with a pre-dinner cocktail party upstairs at Malverde.  We even had mixologist rock stars including local legend Bill Norris.

Hors d’oeuvres from Zack Northcutt at Mulberry included Richardson’s farm pork sausage wrapped around quail eggs for a delicious scotch egg and foie gras hot dogs with chutney.   The spices used for the hot dog masked any of the delicate flavor of the foie but I appreciated the creative effort.

After munchies and cocktails upstairs, we were seated downstairs in a family style setting.  I was seated at a booth with a couple of very interesting ladies that I enjoyed getting to know as the best in local produce and meats were showcased for us by the finest chefs in town.  First up was Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due Supper Club.  Get on Griffiths’ mailing list for dinners as well as charcuterie offerings at the farmers market.  The catfish terrine he made for the dinner that night came from fish so local that they probably had relatives swimming just blocks from us.  The fish was neither muddy tasting nor overpowering in this creamy concoction.  Fresh herbs and crunchy flatbread dressed up the common catfish.

Todd Duplechan from Trio was up next with gulf shrimp served on top of bear boudin.  Cajun boudin is basically a sausage casing stuffed with a rice dressing similar to dirty rice.  Crawfish, alligator, and pork are more traditionally used as the protein in a boudin, so the bear meat was a nice riff on the classic.  The taste of bear meat depends on age, size, and even what his diet consisted of but most closely tastes to me like a cross between venison and pork.

Rene Ortiz, our host at La Condesa, did not disappoint with one of the best bites in a stellar night with caramelized pork hock and belly, beetroot and chili marmelade, and watermelon radish and basil salad.  The pork was a meltingly tender blend of meat and fat encased in the thinnest crackle of a perfectly caramelized shell.  A spicy marmelade on top played off the sweet sauce beneath to strike a harmonic chord on the tongue.

James Holmes from Olivia served an absolute work of art with crispy braised lamb topped with bison bresaola with mustard tuile.  Bresaola is an air dried salty meat, so gourmet jerky bits on top of chicken fried lamb.  Delicious!  Somehow I have not found my way to Olivia yet.  But I will very, very soon.  Holmes even joined us at our table after his course and we chatted about his use of offal and other cuts of meat not commonly used like his famous lamb’s tongue.

Paul Qui from Uchiko has to be the hottest thing in town with the very successful launch of Uchiko in July as well as his wildly popular trailer East Side Kings located behind Liberty Bar.  He is kind of Austin’s version of David Chang taking Asian flavors and street food to a new level.  Tonight we had quail with fuyu persimmons, fried cashew miso, and marigold.  The delicate quail was cooked to perfection, only a shade past pink so it was still moist and tender.  Sweet persimmon on top with the crunchy fried cashew miso beneath blend to create contrast of taste and texture.

Shawn Cirkiel from parkside served a salad course with the best produce he could find at the farmers market.  There were ribbons of roots, veggie chips, table pickles, relishes, as well as fresh herbs and greens all arranged in an abstract canvas.  So much more than a simple salad, this veggie plate was an absolute showcase of produce all grown within fifty miles of Austin.


Dessert came from La Condesa’s Laura Sawicki with goat’s milk cremeux, apple and quince confit, and sherry gastrique.  Cremeux translates literally as “creamy”.  It is a cross between a mousse and a custard, very light.  The tart quince contrasted nicely with the apples giving a taste of fall to the barely set cream beneath.

Whew!  I’m worn out just reliving the festivities.  Next up is part two with a mixology class and a $500 bottle of wine.

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