The Tasting Panel magazine

October 2015

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Page 32 of 140

32  /  the tasting panel  /  october 2015 A LONE STAR LIFE S urrounded by dozens of bustling bars along Austin's legendary Sixth Street, there sits a rather bland façade that kind of looks like it's trying not to be noticed. In fact, until three years ago, the building housed a massage parlor (in reality, a brothel) named Midnight Cowboy, which passed under the radar for years. When the new owners decided to open a cocktail bar in its place, they kept the name and much of the same discreet- ness as the previous tenants—from the outside it still doesn't look like much of anything. There's no sign, only a buzzer; unless you recognize the name of a certain legendary bartender from London's Savoy Hotel, there's no hint of what's on the other side of the door. "If you can imagine, opening a speak- easy that no one knows about is kind of a dangerous business model," says Michael Phillips, General Manager. He remembers that for several months after opening, the secret bar on Sixth Street was, perhaps, a little too secret. "There were a couple Sunday nights early on that we were playing cards in here. No one knew." Word got around, though, and although some walk-up customers occasionally score entrance, getting inside the door these days typically takes a reservation, which is good for two hours. Long as a bowling lane and nearly as narrow, Midnight Cowboy features swanky, dark-chocolate leather booths, brooding lighting, and an overall historic atmosphere. In back, former "massage" rooms are now cozy private spaces. It feels pretty exclusive inside, which is why there's need to limit the size of the crowd. "In just about every other place on Sixth, especially on a weekend night, it's three deep at the bar. That's never the case here," he says, adding how the secretiveness was novel, but the real emphasis has always been on provid- ing a unique experience for customers. Some drinks are even made tableside. "Once they finally find the place, I didn't want it to be intimidating when they got through the door." It's part of what Phillips calls "think- ing inside the door," which means, in part, creating an oasis away from the outside world while also being flexible and original with the menu. The bar's atmosphere lends itself to pre-Prohibi- tion cocktails, but Phillips says there are a number of places in Austin already showcasing such drinks: "That's who they are and they do it really well. We want to do something a little different here, something that gives us a distinct personality. So rather than looking to what others are doing, our team just crafts the best drinks they can, no mat- ter where inspiration comes from." With a bottom line of quality rather than innovation for innovation's sake, Midnight Cowboy appeals to modern- day cocktail enthusiasts, although, as Phillips points out, the past is never that far behind: "We still get phone calls asking about massage rates." Golden Porsche ◗ 1 oz. Galliano ◗ 1 oz. Black Grouse Scotch ◗ ½ oz. lemon juice ◗ ½ oz. vanilla-chipotle syrup ◗ 2 dashes Angostura Bitters Shake, fine strain into chilled coupe. Despite Midnight Cowboy's historic-looking interior and its speakeasy concept, the menu is not pre-Prohibition. This modern homage to the Golden Cadillac is great for the transitioning seasons into cooler weather. Hiding in Plain Sight FOR TEXAS COCKTAIL ENTHUSIASTS, MIDNIGHT COWBOY IS WORTH THE SEARCH by Anthony Head / photos by Kirk Weddle General Manager Michael Phillips (right) and Head Bartender John Edds think "inside the door" at Midnight Cowboy in Austin.

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