Get to Know Holiday on 7th: The East Austin Bar Serving Up Refined Cocktails and Quality Service
Visiting this new favorite really is a vacation
John DiCicco, co-owner of E. 7th’s Kinda Tropical, approached Erin Ashford, his former coworker from Olamaie, one afternoon in 2020. “He said he wanted to open a bar, and he wanted to do it with me,” recalls Ashford, previously the beverage director at the popular Southern restaurant.
While the timing seemed “wild” in the midst of a pandemic which had shuttered many hospitality destinations, something about it felt right. They soon decided that Peter Klein, formerly of L’Oca d’Oro, Carpenters Hall and Olamaie, would be the right pick to lead the kitchen.
“We love the way Peter cooks,” Ashford says. “He likes to throw big dinner parties, really snacky with cocktails and wine, and that’s how we wanted our new space to be.” While Klein’s laissez-faire cooking style comes across effortless, high-quality ingredients, crave-able recipes and shared plates make Holiday on 7th’s offerings far and above typical bar food. There are the standard marinated olives but they are elevated with provolone, fennel pollen and citrus. Other plates include steamed mussels and pork schnitzel, as well as the boquerones and butter, anchovies sourced from Spain, paired with cultured butter, a preserved lemon salsa verde and Texas French Bread baguette, a well-executed opener Klein suggests pairing with a dry martini.
When it comes to the beverages, Ashford, who acts as bar and service director, makes guests feel right at home with a nostalgic and playful drink menu, which include martinis, zero-proof tonics and house favorites, which she’s named “fancies.”
“I wanted it to feel fun, easy and not too serious but still make the best cocktails in town,” she says. One of her favorites, the Nineteen Twenty-Nine, is an aromatic and earthy choice, a “Moscow Mule with a lot more going on,” featuring St. George Terroir Gin, walnut liqueur, ginger beer, pomegranate and celery bitters. The Virgo’s Groove, a play on a Beyonce song, uses Desert Door green bell pepper-infused sotol, Gentian liqueur (a French aperitif), velvet falernum (a sweet Caribbean syrup), bay leaf, basil and lime, and is a vegetal, smoky spin on the classic margarita.
“We wanted to make fancy drinks but not ones that felt too stuffy. They’re cheeky, have high-end ingredients, and often come in a fun vintage glass,” she adds. For those looking to go a different route, there’s prosecco, wine, beer and martinis, including a frozen Mexican martini, which pays homage to Trudy’s. “I love a frozen Mexican martini, and as someone who has been in Austin a while (I moved here in 2008), I have been to Trudy’s many times.”
The martini, served in an oversized TexMex cactus goblet, is just as much an enjoyable drinking experience as an Instagrammable moment. “As a bartender, I love the high-low,” she says. “Yes, I can be a snob with what I like to drink, but a cocktail doesn’t have to be too serious.”
When it came to the location, E. 7th Street seemed like an ideal choice. “John knows the East Side well and had been eyeing our property for a while,” Ashford recalls. “Kinda Tropical is so successful that he wanted to do something higher end and a totally different concept in the neighborhood.”
The building, located at 5020 E. 7th St. and the corner at Shady Lane, was constructed in the 1950s and is the site of a former auto body shop and car dealership. “The space itself is completely different than how it looks now,” she says. “One half was where cars would pull in, and our big window wall used to be garage doors, while the front room used to be the office and showers for the mechanics.”
Luckily, Ashford, DiCicco and Klein had a clear vision to transform the once “cave-like” space through plenty of windows, plants, a full bar and kitchen, new bathrooms, with a light and breezy palette. They collaborated with architect Fred Hubnik, JCP Construction, and Tropic of Capricorn Design to bring it up-to-date. For the trio, Holiday on 7th’s design is welcoming and fills an important gap in the market, one that walks the line between the exclusive speakeasy and uninhibited dive bar.
“It was important for me that it not feel too masculine,” Ashford adds. “There’s not a lot of feminine-leaning bars in Austin.” Additionally, hospitality was a leading factor. “Most cocktail bars feel very exclusive,” she says. “There are reservations and they can feel uptight and less inviting. We didn’t like that.” When it came to working with Tropic of Capricorn, designer Candice Bertalan, who also happens to be DiCicco’s partner, already had an aesthetic they loved. “Her style is light, minimalist and natural. Being in East Austin we didn’t want to come in and make something all shiny and new. That wouldn’t be true to the neighborhood.”
With Ashford’s fine dining background and time spent as a cocktail server, she’s enjoyed getting to transition into a more curatorial role. “My favorite part is helping people get what they need and helping them find their spot,” she says. “I find a lot of joy and excitement with welcoming guests in and being on the floor. Everything here is thoughtful, and our staff wants to make it all about your experience.”
Since opening in April, Holiday on 7th has ushered in many guests, some which have even already become regulars, and Ashford is thrilled with the support. “We have a lot of great neighbors,” she says. There are many new apartment and condo developments, plus it’s walking distance to a handful of surrounding restaurants. “We are the new watering hole,” she says. “We will have people start here then walk to a restaurant.” Justine’s and Central Machine Works are just down the road.
And with no reservations, the bar, which is open from 5 p.m. to midnight daily, is a place to get lost for hours on end. “We see people come in to get olives, then two hours later they are ordering the schnitzel and more drinks.”
Maybe it’s the food, maybe it’s the cocktails or maybe it’s the summery design that makes Holiday on 7th a place to grab a seat, unwind and take a much-earned vacation.