bartender

The Highball’s Old Fashioned drink is featured in honor of Sunday’s season five premier of AMC’s “Mad Men”, whose characters sip on classic cocktails. The Old Fashioned contains aromatic bitters, sugar, bourbon, cherry, an orange slice, and a lemon wedge. (Photo Illustration)

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

From protagonist Don Draper’s Old Fashioneds to his ex-wife Betty’s Bloody Marys, the retro adulterers on AMC’s “Mad Men” sip on classic cocktails from dusk ‘til dawn. In honor of Sunday’s season five premiere, the Texan met up with staff from Haddington’s American Tavern, The Highball and Easy Tiger to talk timeless drinks and their Mad Men sensibilities.

We’ve included recipes for the classic versions of these retro concoctions, but here are some ideas to update the drinks for your modern palate.

HADDINGTON’S MODERN MANHATTAN

“We try to stay as classic as possible, but we do spin-offs like the Whitfield Porter, which is our version of the Manhattan,” said Haddington’s bartender Bryan McKinney.

The Whitfield Porter is a seasonal drink on the Haddington’s cocktail menu and consists of two parts bourbon for every one part of vermouth and also has different flavored bitters. The bar changes up the conventional cherry garnish and replaces it with a grapefruit peel.

“Classically, unless a drink has juice in it, you don’t shake it,” McKinney said. “You want to stir the drink until your arm is on fire, that way you don’t bruise the bourbon.”

As for the vermouth, the bar has a specific method for maintenance. Since the liquor is a wine-based spirit, keeping the bottle fresh requires proper care.

“It’s like drinking a bottle of wine that’s been open for a year and a half: of course it doesn’t taste good,” McKinney said of vermouth that isn’t well cared for.

THE HIGHBALL’S UPDATED OLD FASHIONED

“Typically, the classics are a way to cover up the taste of the alcohol,” said Jeff Brennecke, a bartender at The Highball. “People had to make the alcohol during prohibition so they were really not going to wait and taste it.”

That’s why the classic cocktails have simple syrup, different flavors of bitters and mixtures to cover up the strong flavor, Brennecke said.

The Highball does a rendition of Draper’s Old Fashion called the OG. Brennecke said they change up the traditional bourbon with cherry bourbon.

“It’s obvious that the novelty of classic drinks is not wearing off,” Brennecke said. “I think they’re actually making a comeback, and it probably has something to do with ‘Mad Men.’”

EASY TIGER’S HEARTY BLOODY MARY

Aside from its beer specialties, Easy Tiger prides itself on a scotch and whiskey collection.

Amanda Jackson, restaurant manager at Easy Tiger, said it is typically the knowledgeable customer who orders these liquors. “They’re experienced males who are a part of the downtown office working group,” Jackson said.

For a more Betty Draper-themed drink, however, Easy Tiger has recently included a heartier version of a traditional Bloody Mary on their menu.

“We have a house-made Bloody Mary mix made from in-house vegetables,” Jackson said. “We make it with Monopolowa and serve it with a big stick of beef jerky.”

As a garnish, the Bloody Mary is accompanied with a bamboo stick that has pickled vegetables. These range from Brussels sprouts to cauliflower and carrots.

Denis O’Donnell takes his place behind the bar at Hole-In-The-Wall on Guadalupe for his final shift at the loacal haunt. With the help of his friends and other Hole-In-The-Wall colleagues, O’Donnell will open up a new bar in East Austin, The White Horse, with co-owner Nathan Hill.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

The smiling, bearded face of bartender Denis O’Donnell will still greet you by name when you enter the bar.

But it won’t be at Hole in the Wall, the bar at West Dean Keeton Street and Guadalupe Street frequented by students.

Come Friday, O’Donnell and co-owner Nathan Hill will open the doors of The White Horse, the newest addition to the East Side bar scene.

The opening celebration, complete with a live white horse, will be the culmination of three years of searching for a venue and funding to start their own venture.

“I would hope that people on that side of town have the opportunity to walk into our bar and be romantically overwhelmed with bluegrass, jazz and the dim lights of a honky-tonk, with people two-stepping and twirling around on the floor that is so culturally different than what’s happening over there,” O’Donnell said.

Well-versed in management and bartending, O’Donnell has performed on stage since he was 15 and worked behind the bar at Hole in the Wall for almost four years, serving as the day manager before leaving in November to work on The White Horse.

O’Donnell said he will miss Hole in the Wall, but the owner Will Tanner gave his blessing not only in words but in donated sound equipment and the “that’a boy” they needed to venture out.

“I didn’t realize that this was my dream right off until I started working [at Hole],” O’Donnell said. “I’ve always played in bands since I was a young boy, and I’ve spent most of my twenties running other people’s business.”

Hill, the former manager of Hole, met O’Donnell when they were working in management for Kerbey Lane Cafe. From then on, it was more or less fate.

“We both worked really well together. We had similar goals and management style: that if you treat people well, they’ll work well for you,” Hill said. “If you meet Denis and he said, ‘Do you want to open a bar together,’ you say ‘Yes.’”

The new bar will present a mix of musical styles from Delta blues and bluegrass on Wednesdays to two-stepping on Thursdays and Fridays. On Saturday, they will look “outside the box” to draw talent from around the country.

With the help of friends, The White Horse has been transformed from the former Club La Trampa. By the time it’s done, it will be outfitted with antique lights, pool tables and a bar that stretches across the length of a long wall. A green room for musicians and an outdoor patio are also to come and a trailer parked outside will serve traditional Mexican tacos.

And as for the drinks, well, they’re what patrons of Hole have come to expect from the creator of the “Shitty Lemonade.”

“We’re going to be cheap,” O’Donnell said. “Our place will be competitive in drinks and everybody will get a taste for the fabulous T.W. Samuels that will flow like crazy as our wild ass will be walking the floor with a bottle of whiskey and getting everybody crazy about the place.”

With a lot of popular spots on the East Side, the new owners are sure they’ll offer something which lives up to Austin’s reputation for live music.

“We wish that culture down there embraces this new alien honky-tonk, seedy, honest bar that remembers who you are and what you had to drink,” O’Donnell said. “There will be no arrogant jerk behind the bar — it will be a true place of community and, hopefully, a bastion of culture that keeps people wanting to move to this city for live music.”

O’Donnell, who plays full time with a band called El Pan, will keep his ties with Hole, where his band will continue to play, and said he looks forward to seeing those regulars on his stage as well.

The concepts of the two bars are different, but O’Donnell said the band in the corner will be passive enough so that people can still enjoy conversation and not be chased out of the room. It will also rely heavily on bi-weekly and weekly resident bands that will keep people coming back.

“Loyalty is a two-way street in this business and we’re looking to take care of this band in a way that most people haven’t seen,” he said. “Your commitment to us and having this grow means that your CD is in the jukebox and your retail [goods] are in a kitschy retail counter that we sell eight days a week.”

As for Hole, someone will have to fill the space left behind the bar and both men agree Rio Norris will be the one to hold the reins and surpass the standard for quality O’Donnell and Hill brought to the role.

“It’s an honor to step in Denis’ shoes. I hope I don’t let him down,” Norris said.

And although O’Donnell said he expects The White Horse will draw a new crowd, his regulars from Hole in the Wall, such as Dillon Tulk, insist they’ll be going across town to see the new place.

“Denis is a phenomenal musician and an amazing bartender. He’s just that good at what he’s doing,” said Tulk, who has celebrated his birthday at Hole for the past four years. “It’s the end of an era.”

Hill, who deals more with the numbers side of the bar, said together they’ve built up some great clientele and he hopes to see them on the other side of a bar that they own.

“I hope they embrace us,” O’Donnell said. “Everybody on that side of town better get used to the fact that I’m going to know every single person’s name that walks in that door and what they have to drink. And I’m going to be their bartender because I look forward to seeing their face when they walk in the door. That will set us apart.”

Printed on Tuesday, December 6, 2011 as: Loyal bar owner moves east

It is often difficult for bartenders to prevent underage drinking. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission enforces steep disincentives for bartenders in an attempt to keep minors away from alcohol. (Photo Illustration)

Photo Credit: Allen Otto | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: This is the last installment in a three-part series on underage drinking, focusing on the role of bartenders.

Any system of rules and regulations based on controlling alcohol requires some level of trust between all the players involved.

However, when you’re a bartender you can never fully trust anyone who walks into the bar since they could either be a minor with a fake ID or a cop on a sting operation.

“As a bartender, you’re constantly dealing with situations that can end in fines, community service, jail time or loss of your license and your vote,” said one bartender who has worked downtown and around campus for three months but chose to not be named. “The stakes are extremely high because failure to respect the law results in unfair consequences. It’s not something you want to gamble with.”

While the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the UT Police Department conduct sting operations that take note of Greek life’s events and alcohol-related incident statistics to decide when and where they’ll strike, the bartender is held more liable than the minor.

“The difference between you being fined and going to prison and the bartender being fined and going to prison is if you destroy your ID. The consensus among my [underage] friends in that situation is to get rid of the fake IDs before anyone asked to see them,” added the bartender.

This is where the ability to control the substance fails. A bartender or store owner who serves a minor faces a Class A Misdemeanor with a fine up to, but not exceeding, $4,000 and/or one year in jail. The minor could potentially receive the higher Third Degree Felony if they’re caught with a fake ID that has a penalty of a $10,000 fine and 2 to 10 years in jail. But, if no counterfeit is found on their person, the charge is reduced to the lowest misdemeanor, Class C, and a maximum fine of $500.

Although it was unclear from the interviews conducted how exploited this potential legal loophole is because of the sensitive nature of the issue, current legislation does place more blame on those who would enable a minor to acquire alcohol.

“If there wouldn’t be any adults giving alcohol to minors there would be much fewer of them drinking and fewer deaths,” said Carolyn Beck, TABC director of communications and governmental relations. “I haven’t heard anything about minors destroying the ID, though. Who is the TABC more likely to believe? The bartender or the drunk minor?”

Controlling a substance such as alcohol is extremely difficult, especially in Austin during festivals such as South By Southwest. I know from personal experience that minors have purchased alcohol when bars became inundated with inebriated festival-goers. Bartenders respond that it is difficult to keep up with all of the demands from customers as well as every single law.

There are roughly only 250 TABC agents for the entire state, forcing them to rely on local law enforcement, bartenders and convenience store owners to uphold laws.

In the last round of minor sting operations, where the TABC had minors ages 16 to 18 without IDs attempt to purchase alcohol, there were a total of 9,256 discreet stings from June 15, 2010 to 2011. While that may seem like a lot, Houston, the fourth largest city in the U.S., has a total of 7,584 currently active retailer licenses.

So, how can we fully regulate and control alcohol? Or any substance for that matter? In Texas, we rely upon those who deal with the daily hand-to-hand transactions and hold them more liable than the minor, a responsibility bartenders and other alcohol purveyors should live up to.

“It’s all a part of the game,” said Paige, a bartender who’s worked downtown since February 2009 but asked for her last name to be withheld. “You must card everyone and know the consequences if you don’t. Either you do that or your ass is on the line.”

Still, bartenders are faced with steep disincentives to keep the substance under control.

“As a bartender, you have to be smart and just assume everyone else is smart,” said the first anonymous bartender. “We don’t want anyone to hurt themselves. This is just our job. We make human errors, though, and I think the system is broken if our customer’s human errors result in unequal punishment. [Bartenders] are agreeing to be arrested for crimes that we’re not trying to commit.”

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Printed on Thursday, August 4, 2011 as: Unequal blame game