Justin Elliott on Austin’s Bar Scene and Cocktails
People of Austin Profile Series
Former Qui bar manager Justin Elliott is behind the bar in a whole new way this summer. After leaving his post as lead bar man at the Paul Qui mainstay to join Penumbral Strategic Ventures as Director of Hospitality Projects, he took his place this July as head of the cocktail program at recently opened downtown bar, The Townsend. Needless to say, as one of Austin’s most notable names in cocktails, Elliott’s pretty in tune with the imbibing among us. Here, he chats with TRIBEZA about his favorite drink, a cocktail even a novice should know, what to expect from his new venture, and more.
These days, I tend to gravitate toward a traditional daiquiri. It’s a pretty good barometer for everything from house style to bartender technique — it’s a very flexible drink. I’ve very rarely met an actual rum, lime juice and sugar daiquiri that I have not enjoyed. Also, a Palmetto — essentially a rum Manhattan — is a classic. These drinks have endured for a reason.
WHAT’S THE TOWNSEND ALL ABOUT?
We’re trying to create something that’s timeless. I would love it if people didn’t think that much about The Townsend, but instead just came to The Townsend all the time. It shouldn’t be hard to sit and enjoy a nice cocktail in a high-class environment without having to worry about it — it should be easy. But I don’t want my fingerprints all over this cocktail program. I want this to be a bar that feels like it’s been there forever and will be there forever.
TIRED COCKTAIL TRENDS
I’m tired of overwrought menus. Lately, it seems that some people are more impressed with how a drink sounds than they are with how it tastes. You don’t have to tell me everything that’s in it. Tell me the key stuff, and make it not sound like a mess. These compound syrups and saffron bitters and coffee maple syrup reductions — you don’t need to list all of that. That’s not to say these aren’t delicious concoctions — many of them most certainly are. Just keep a little to the imagination, you know?
ON KEEPING IT CLASSY
My favorite cocktail bar in town right now is Garage. There’s a tone to the space and the cocktails that just hits me in the sweet spot. I think my favorite thing about it is that while it still has the familiar trappings of a cocktail bar, it doesn’t feel like a reproduction of a better-known cocktail bar from a larger market. Plus, it’s a couple blocks from The Townsend, which doesn’t hurt. Of course there’s The Liberty — we pretty much lived at that place when closing down Qui every night. Drink.well is also fantastic. It’s one of those neighborhood places that I wish there were 10 more of. I also do a lot of drinking at Clark’s. I have some oysters and a couple of martinis at lunch and I feel like a real classy fella.
THE ONE DRINK EVERY NOVICE SHOULD LEARN
No question — an Old Fashioned. Everybody likes an Old Fashioned. Forget the unnecessary muddling of copious amounts of fruit and the iterations thereof. All you need is sugar, spirit, bitters, and water.
WHY LEAVE QUI?
This was a decision mostly based on my family. I’m 35, and it just felt like it was time to own something, time to make something for my family. Qui was amazing, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t my name on the door — it was Paul’s name — and I want to build my own thing. I’m really excited about this opportunity.