Steakhouse Cocktail Culture is Alive and Well in Austin
Everything old is new again — with a twist — at the bar programs of these meat-forward restaurants
I hate to break it to y’all, but Texans didn’t invent the steakhouse.
All due respect to the Lone Star State, the modern steakhouse evolved from England’s 15th century chophouses. Created to provide the working class with a quick bite, chophouses offered all manners of meaty delights, including offal and savory pies. Women were prohibited from these early eateries, as they were also banned from the chophouse’s more refined 19th century sibling, the steakhouse.
The first American steakhouse, Delmonico’s, opened in Manhattan’s Financial District in 1837, ushering in an era of alcohol-fueled fine dining and dimly lit exclusivity that flourished through the 1980s. By the mid-century, family-friendly steakhouse chains like Sizzler and Mr. Steak also proliferated the American landscape, offering cheap cuts, abundant sides and all-you-can-eat buffets.
Cocktails and steaks have long gone together because most high-proof spirits can stand up to the richness of the food. Classic drinks like the Martini, Tuxedo, Martinez, Negroni, Manhattan and Old-Fashioned practically beg for a fatty, succulent cut of beef and evening of unapologetic indulgence. Coincidence that many steakhouses have historically been in luxury hotels and thus a quick stumble from bar to bed? I think not.
Says Michael Fojtasek, executive chef and co-owner of the South Congress Hotel’s Maie Day (with MaieB Hospitality and New Waterloo) and an avowed steakhouse aficionado, “For me, a whiskey cocktail is the first thing I consider when walking into a steakhouse. It needs to be a strong pour, so Manhattans and Sazeracs are my go-to’s. I always like dark cocktails in places that typically have dark wood.”
While Austin isn’t quite a steakhouse city like Dallas, the city does have a few old school spots like Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille, ALC (formerly Austin Land & Cattle) and Bob’s Steak & Chop House, along with more recent iterations, like Dean’s Italian Steakhouse, Maie Day and Salt & Time. Some of these establishments also feature modernized bar programs that honor traditional steakhouse culture, while offering lighter and lower ABV options, as well as N/A offerings that ensure you’ll not just enjoy your dinner, but remember it.
I’ve also learned to embrace current steakhouse (and steakhouse-inspired) culture. Below are my picks for excellent food and drink around town, regardless of your carnivorous proclivities and spirit preference. Dig in.
Located in the J.W. Marriott Austin downtown, this four-month-old restaurant is one of my favorite new finds. With a dark, moody interior, stellar service and a focus on prime Texas and Japanese Wagyu beef and seafood, it captures the vibe of a classic American steakhouse, but brings the uniformly excellent food and drink into the 21st century.
I particularly love the tightly curated Old Fashioned menu, as well the selection of rare American bourbons and ryes. The Signature Old Fashioned, with Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon, vanilla demerara syrup and black walnut bitters, is a standout.
While the interior is a bit generic, the large rectangular bar at Perry’s is still a great place to settle in for happy hour or a nightcap. The Jameson Mocha Old Fashioned is easily one of the best drinks in town, a perfectly balanced blend of Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition whiskey, homemade coffee syrup, mole bitters and a touch of orange.
This bright, airy eatery turns the concept of a steakhouse on its head. Fojtasek refers to it as a community chophouse and “anti-steakhouse steakhouse,” with seasonal food and lighter drink and a playful vibe. Opening beverage director J. Endress has departed, with the bar program now overseen by general manager Brando Lapuh. Santiago’s Lament brings together Denizen white rum with Cherry Heering, grapefruit oleo and lime, while the Peach Pit nods to Fojtasek’s fondness for brown spirits with Bendt No. 5 whiskey, Amaro di Angostura, Naranja demerara and peach bitters.
This butcher shop/restaurant brings approachable, seasonal cocktails to the forefront, in keeping with a menu that celebrates local and sustainability grown ingredients. Using classic cocktails as inspiration, drinks like Chauncey the Gardener (High West Double Rye, Punt e Mes, Montenegro, Luxardo) channels a Manhattan, while Just Try It riffs on an espresso martini with mezcal, cafecito and vermouth.