Settled on Sixth Street between bohemian east and upscale west is a beer garden, restaurant and bakery residing in a late 1800s building. Busy Austinites may dash in and out, but are welcome to stay awhile and flirt with its New York flavor.
Playfully seizing attention with its vintage feel, Easy Tiger Bake Shop and Beer Garden opened its picturesque doors on Jan. 23. With an upstairs entrance, visitors are greeted by a café section and bakers at work, visible through a giant glass window etched with menu items in bold caps. The smell of buttered croissants lingers in the air, while onlookers feast their eyes on giant golden pretzels among Danish pastries, baguettes and rye that hang in the backdrop.
Savory aromas arise from the downstairs restaurant, and it’s hard to help but wonder what goes on behind the façade of the building. It’s definitely beyond coffee and bread.
“There aren’t many places like us in Austin,” said head chef Drew Curren. “There’s a handful of beer gardens here, but their food isn’t up to par with their beer selection.”
Curren is a part of the ELM Restaurant Group that founded Easy Tiger and 24 Diner, a restaurant popular with Austin foodies serving breakfast, lunch and dinner all day. He said it was the idea of merging the beer and bakery concept together, because of their common characteristics ranging from fermentation to yeast, that brought upon the dynamic. “We wanted to do classic beer garden fare that pairs well with beers, German sausages and the bread from upstairs,” Curren said.
Customers have the option of choosing from about 30 different beers. The food fare ranges from a variety of homemade sausage links and sandwiches. These include cured meats, corned beef and pastrami. Baguette sandwiches with salami or smoked salmon are also offered, with an array of accompaniments ranging from sauerkraut, made with green cabbage and salt, to peperonata, consisting of peppers, capers and vinegar.
And although the approach to the menu appears methodical, the fruition of the restaurant itself was not. Billy Caruso, beer expert and Beverage Director of ELM Restaurant Group, said Easy Tiger was a creation based off of spontaneity.
When the ELM Restaurant Group was looking to open a beer garden in East Austin, their plans quickly fell through with a venue they agreed upon. Shortly after, the group was told of the building that was formerly the Cuban restaurant, Habana at 709 East Sixth.
Caruso said the group was at first hesitant about the space, but then instinctively decided the building was a great spot for their beer garden project. They figured the upstairs area would be ideal for a bakery and the downstairs would be the beer garden they had been planning, except now it would be situated along Waller Creek.
When curating the beverage menu, Caruso has beers with depth in mind. Caruso thought of beverages that would compliment and contrast with richer, fattier meat and thicker dry bread. He favors beer that’s light and fresh with an acidity that includes an element of sweetness to pair with the salty peppered meats.
“It’s not like many things in Austin. It feels like you’re in Brooklyn,” Caruso said. “You go downstairs and it’s a different environment with an old feel to it.”
Visually, the setting is a modern-day graphic designer’s haven, with trendy iconography and lofty, crisp typeface. Vibrant blush panels and wallpaper, embellished with profiles of Victorian women, reel customers in; a lush seafoam green floods a descending stairwell with brass-coated chain as a railing. Inspiration from director Wes Anderson is palpable.
Celebrity interior designer Veronica Koltuniak, who has designed for Jennifer Lopez and Madonna, created this Anderson-inspired design, with “Life Aquatic” light fixtures illuminating the speakeasy setting. Koltuniak’s usual approach to design includes drawing stimulus from “character-based research,” and Easy Tiger was no exception.
“I immediately thought of Margot Tenenbaum from ‘The Royal Tenenbaums,’” Koltuniak said. “I was really inspired by the shocking pink wall [the Tenenbaums] have in their home, which is a turn of the century space in Harlem, NY.”
Not yet fully realized, the outdoor patio space at the back of the restaurant awaits a few finishing touches. Video clips will show on a towering rock wall which the owners hope will be up before South By Southwest. Pingpong tables will be brought in, adding to the cozy vibe of the beer garden. Also in the making are two bread delivery vans, a 1965 and 1966 Dodge A-100.
Annie Bond was a visitor on opening night and has since gone back to visit. Bond said the fact that it was a local designer who styled the interior keeps things fresh. “It’s all about adding the modern touch [of the design] to the classic recipes,” she said.