I like drinking alone. I know that sounds kind of sad, but when the other option is sitting alone in a hotel room, I’d rather go out to a bar. So that’s what I did last night in Austin, Texas, where I am for the International Association of Culinary Professionals convention.
After a longer-than-expected stroll down Fifth Street (Yes, Sixth Street is where the action is, but I wasn’t looking for action), I came to Haddingtons. It’s a bit pubby, both in decor and in the neighborhood feel of the place, but the cocktail list is completely pre-Prohibition modern with reductions, shrubs, egg whites and homemade everything.
It was too much. I couldn’t decide. So head bartender Bill Norris helped by asking what I like to drink. Old Tom gin. Mezcal. Rye whiskey. To which he replied with the Pasado de Moda, described as an updated Old Fashioned made with Del Maguey Vida mezcal, Smith & Cross navy strength rum, honey and Bitter Truth Xocolatl Mole bitters, stirred, with a skewered orange peel for garnish. At first rum dominated, but as the pile of dense ice cubes melted, mescal smokiness moved forward, rounding out into a solid drink.
I sipped and watched in awe as a regular on the next stool downed three drinks in quick succession—the only one I managed to ask him about was the Haddingtons Word, an amalgam of single malt, Maraschino liqueur, Strega and lemon. The twenty-something on my other side gingerly tasted The Paloma Flower, made with reposado tequila, St-Germain elderflower, grapefruit juice and Angostura bitters, with an egg white shaken in for froth.
Meanwhile, Norris cheerfully answered my questions about the state of tequila (too much of it is industrialized, destroying the heart of the spirit and the people who make it), where else to drink (Bar Congress and its cohort Second Bar + Kitchen) and what to order (“I always come down on the side of organs,” he says, so I put in for a plate of the kitchen’s succulent sauteed sweetbreads).
Would I have enjoyed the evening more if the husband were with me? Absolutely. But in his absence, I’ll take the company of a good bar any night.