Many things about Austin’s East Side Show Room are wonderfully quirky — its idiosyncratic design, French-Italian-soul food menu and offbeat nightly musical performances. So it’s logical that the restaurant-bar’s cocktail menu would follow suit.
“Everything we’ve done here has been left of center,” says Chauncy James, E.S.S.R.’s executive barkeep. His experiential cocktails are, therefore, “a logical addition.”
The bar features unique boutique spirits in its mixed drinks. (You won’t find Jack Daniels here, for example, but you can get George Dickel — and a George and Coke.) And just as the restaurant’s kitchen stringently uses local, fresh and natural ingredients, James and Company adhere to the same exacting standards. Juices are squeezed and fresh herbs are picked daily. Syrups, tinctures and infusions are made from scratch. And drinks may feature house-preserved seasonal fruits and garnishes. The restaurant even boasts that it uses “the finest, cleanest, hardest ice available.”
James has laid out his extensive cocktail menu in two main sections: “Classic Cocktails” and “The House List.” There’s also a short list of unique “Barrel-Aged Cocktails” (all $12), such as the New Pal (rye, sweet vermouth, Campari), where components are mixed together and then matured for four to six weeks in whiskey barrels.
“The classics” feature an ever-changing assortment of vintage recipes that James and his well-versed team put their own riffs on. Featuring artisanal brands of familiar spirits — gin, vodka, bourbon — the classics are an “introduction into imbibing,” James says.
The current 16-drink list of “training wheel cocktails,” as James refers to them, includes best sellers such as: the Bourbon Sour ($8 — bourbon, lemon, farm fresh egg, sugar, Angostura bitters); the refreshing Moscow Mule ($9 — vodka, fresh lime, ginger beer) and the multi-flavored Pimm’s Cup ($9).
Please indulge me for a moment while I wax poetic about E.S.S.R.’s version of this British standard. Yes, I’ve enjoyed a Pimm’s Cup before, but never one quite like this. In the spirit of E.S.S.R., when I asked the young woman at the next table about her gardenesque cocktail, she kindly offered me a sip. And I’m glad I accepted. Topped with a lovely bouquet of cucumber, herbs and fresh fruit, the Pimm’s Cup featured Pimm’s No. 1, fresh lemon, soda, simple syrup with bruised cucumber and a touch of ginger beer. I promptly ordered one for myself.
For those who want to experiment a bit more with their cocktails, James presents “The House List.” “We want to offer things that will appeal to the American palate, but we are also trying to push things forward,” he says. “We want to expose people to new things, but give them their creature comforts as well.”
This drink list, which James intended to mirror a customer’s dining experience, starts with aperitifs (all $10) — some sweeter, others more savory. “These are for whetting the palate, whetting the appetite,” he says.
On the sweeter side, there’s the Tell it to Bellini, which combines Crème Yvette liqueur, blackberries and Prosecco. And among the savories is the pleasantly bitter-strong Cynar Doll — Buffalo Trace bourbon, grapefruit, Cynar liqueur — which my friend Deb opened with.
The bulk of the House List is devoted to “Features” (all $11). Among the most popular are the Japanese Cowboy (Yamazaki single malt whiskey, house-made orgeat, lime, Angostura) and the delightfully named Giggle Water (Bluecoat Gin, St-Germain, cucumber, crème de violette liqueur, lemon, fresh thyme) — I also stole a sip of this one from the girls next door.
Like the dinner menu, the drink list finishes with dessert, or, more accurately, “Dessert Cocktails” (all $10), as well as “Quickies” or shots (all $9). Those seeking a sweet beverage to end their meal, or evening, can sip on the frothy Lush Worker (Averna Amaro liqueur, Rittenhouse Rye, mescal, maple syrup, whole farm fresh egg, nutmeg) or Granny’s Gams (Carpano Antica vermouth, egg, Curaçao, cinnamon.)
Then again, if you’re like me, you might consider ordering another one of those Pimm’s Cups.
East Side Show Room
1100 East 6th Street
Austin, Texas 78702