South Austin’s new hangout Spokesman offers draft beer, coffee and art

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Spokesman serves draft beer out of repurposed bicycle handles, in a nod to one of the co-founders’ love of cycling.

The Yard, the new mixed-use complex built out of old warehouses off South Congress Avenue, is springing to life with new additions this month.

Following in the footsteps of neighboring St. Elmo Brewing at one end of the row are two boozy newcomers at the other end: the Austin Winery, which relocated from the east side of the city, and Spokesman, a coffee shop and beer bar from industry veterans who are finally opening their own space.

The next-door neighbors are planning to have grand opening celebrations later this month, although their doors are open now to offer locals early looks at each. (Here’s what to expect from the Austin Winery.)

Spokesman is the brainchild of C.J. West and Trey Ramirez, who wanted to create a comfortable hangout for the neighborhood that features two of their favorite things. West has helped to open and brew at local breweries like the ABGB and the south location of North by Northwest, while Ramirez developed his love for coffee working at Home Slice and the Brew & Brew.

As a result, Spokesman has opened with nearly two dozen draft beers — primarily local — and a toddy, served in a chilled pint glass sans ice and roasted on-site, that will be the first of many house coffee drinks to come. A few of the taps are also devoted to wine and cider.

Working with coffee for many years, I’ve always wanted to learn how to roast,” Ramirez said. “Getting the control and being able to shape what it tastes like is huge. It can be overwhelming at times, but it can be a lot of fun. And C.J. has been brewing beer for a long time here in town. He’s the other side of it. He’s been pulling in amazing beers from Austin and Texas. So you could say Spokesman is kind of a fusion of both our backgrounds.”

But don’t try to pigeon-hole Spokesman as the place to go solely for beer and coffee. The two co-founders feel strongly that Spokesman — decked out with eye-catching art from local painter Briks, of the Blue Dozen Collective — has more to offer than just drinks.

The name of the coffee bar, for example, comes in part from West’s passion for cycling. Spokesman aims to be “a ride-up shop where you can park your bikes inside and not have to worry about locking them,” Ramirez said, pointing out the vertical metal racks along the front garage-like wall where bicycles can hang. (Another nod to cyclists is the row of tap handles made of colorful bike handles.) 

And then there’s all that wall art.

Walk in and your jaw just might drop at first glance, like mine did, at the larger-than-life figures adorning nearly every available inch of wall space: the plump cat (or is it a raccoon?) with his arms folded, the boombox with dials and two large eyes and lips, the cheerful stork covering the Employees’ Only door leading to the back warehouse. The art is a marvel and so integral to the experience you’ll have at Spokesman.

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. When Spokesman uses its projector to play a show, the screen fits perfectly in the painted screen that local artist Briks created on the back wall.

“To bring Briks onto this project was amazing. I don’t think we could’ve picked anybody else. His art and his sense of humor reflected in his art just made this place come to life,” West said.

He and Ramirez hadn’t expected they’d renovate an old warehouse for their project. They looked for about two years at retail spaces in Austin, none of which were quite right for what they envisioned. Then, West’s friends at St. Elmo Brewing told him about the Yard.

Part of the reason the warehouse works so well is that it’s got lots of extra room to grow into — which, first and foremost, will be used for the expanding coffee program. The goal is to sell bags of roasted beans to go from the shop and to have them in retailers around town as well. But that’s largely phase two, the co-founders said.

In the meantime, Spokesman has a coffee roaster visible to customers in its nook at the back of the shop. Ramirez will continue using it to make the toddy and other upcoming coffee items until Spokesman outgrows it, he said, and needs to move roasting operations to the back warehouse.

We’re starting with just a couple of origins that we’re really excited about,” he said. “We’ve always loved Mexican coffee and African coffee, and we’ve been looking around for coffees that are just right for us and what we want to kind of mix together. The African coffee that we’re doing with our toddy we’re super thumbs-up on.”

West similarly aims to pay careful attention to the draft beer program. He said the taps will rotate out constantly (save for four always-on brews: Real Ale Axis IPA, Live Oak Brewing Gold, Hops & Grain River Beer and Austin Beerworks Peacemaker) and will primarily, but not exclusively, be from area brewers. Austin Beerworks’ limited Grinds My Gears, a hoppy ale with hefeweizen yeast, is only available at the Beerworks taproom and at Spokesman, in a nod to the coffee bar’s bicycling theme.

“We take a lot of pride in the breweries that we feature because for me, personally, this is my contribution to Texas craft brewing,” West said. “I went from the production side to this side. In the brewing industry, everybody wants to be a brewer. It’s like the star quarterback. The lead actress. Everyone wants to do it. But brewers can’t do it alone.”

For now, Spokesman is open 4 to 10 p.m. on weekdays at 440 E. St. Elmo Rd. A small menu of cafe food is to come. After the grand opening — look for that date to be announced on the coffee bar’s social media accounts — it will be open 7 a.m. to midnight daily.

For more information, visit spokesmancoffee.com.

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Enjoy local beer, like Zilker Brewing’s Murderino, while admiring wall art from local artist Briks, who completely covered Spokesman’s interior with his expressive characters.

Second Bar + Kitchen launches happy hour at revamped downtown bar

When fine-dining restaurant Congress closed at the end of 2015, making way for an expansion of sister spot Second Bar + Kitchen, the bar that connected them, Bar Congress, shut down, too.

But the recently renovated space is back as the Second Bar and has begun offering happy hour every weekday from 4 to 6 p.m., with a small selection of cocktails that you can only order during that time.

Photo by Jody Horton. Second Bar + Kitchen’s famous black truffle pomme frites are on offer during the new Second Bar’s happy hour.

The cocktails range between $5 to $7, and happy hour specials also include a $1 off draft beer and half-off select bottles of wine. Pair those with snacks like black truffle pomme frites, bacon-wrapped dates and flank steak satay while you sit in the bar or on the outdoor patio that faces the bustling Congress Avenue.

Here are those happy hour-only cocktails. Thirsty yet?

  • Bennett: choice of gin, vodka or tequila with lime juice and peel, turbinado and Angostura bitters
  • Sidewinder’s Fang: Kong’s Island Spice Rum, passionfruit, orange and citrus with tiki preparations
  • Brown Derby: Kentucky bourbon, honey, grapefruit and lemon
  • Normandy Sidecar: Cognac & Calvados, Cointreau, lemon and a fine sugar rim
  • Shandy: Miller High Life pony with lemonade

Second Bar + Kitchen and the adjacent Second Bar are located at 200 Congress Ave. The former Congress is now Congress Hall, a private dining and events area with an airy, modern design aesthetic that mirrors Second Bar + Kitchen.

For more information, visit secondbarkitchen.com/second.

What to expect from Alamo Drafthouse Mueller and its Barrel O’ Fun bar

Ricardo Brazziell / American-Statesman. The carnival-themed Barrel O' Fun has actual boardwalk games in addition to drinks inspired by old-fashioned soda fountains.
Ricardo Brazziell / American-Statesman. The carnival-themed Barrel O’ Fun has actual boardwalk games in addition to drinks inspired by old-fashioned soda fountains.

The new Alamo Drafthouse in Mueller is gearing up to open with a focus on kid-friendly activities by day and more adult-centric fun by night in addition to offering six theaters with reclining chairs, gender-neutral bathrooms and plenty of validated garage parking. It opens March 9 for the general public.

There’s no doubt film fans are going to love the second-story walk to each of the theaters; as with other locations, the Alamo Drafthouse has decked out the long hallway with film posters and other wall art, as well as a Devil’s Tower with Spaceship installation that acts as the Mueller location’s photo op spot, in a nod to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

But perhaps the biggest highlight of the sixth Alamo Drafthouse in Austin for many will be the carnival-themed Barrel O’ Fun space on the ground floor, which the company has gone above and beyond to make sure it straddles two very different audiences.

By day, the Barrel O’ Fun the entrance to which is, in fact, shaped like a gigantic barrel provides family-friendly fun; by night, starting at 8 p.m., the place transforms into a bar (so that’s when you call it the Bar O’ Fun, OK?). But there are elements of the hangout that people of all ages will enjoy.

For instance, the room has functioning boardwalk games, such as Eggs in a Basket, Chunk the Puck and Toss Off. One side of the barrel-shaped drinks menu at Barrel O’ Fun is entirely nonalcoholic, but they aren’t your typical Coke and Dr. Pepper offerings. Instead, even adults might gravitate toward house-made sodas like the Cherry-Lime Rickey (cherry syrup, lime and seltzer) and floats and ice cream sodas like the Snickerdoodle (ginger beer and Mexican cinnamon ice cream).

Flip over the menu for the alcoholic potions. The program, originally designed by the Alamo Drafthouse’s beverage director Bill Norris, takes a focus on barrel-aged cocktails, highballs and flips. Bar O’ Fun bar manager Ryan Hollowell, fresh from other esteemed bar programs in town like Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, is excited to soon put his own stamp on the boozy offerings with an upcoming secret shots menu.

He’s particularly excited about the barrel-aged drinks like the Perfect Martini (London dry gin, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth and orange bitters in blue corn whiskey barrels). Bar O’ Fun also has 45 beer taps, with an opening menu that includes the Oasis, TX Brewing Slow Ride Pale Ale, Independence Austin Amber, (512) Dubbel, Community Mosaic IPA and Zilker Coffee Milk Stout.

No matter what time of day you’re there, Hollowell said, you’ll find something on the drinks menu that will appeal to you.

“We went with a soda fountain theme, so there’s a lot of really cool kind of throwback-inspired (nonalcoholic) cocktails,” he said of the Barrel O’ Fun side. “We make our own syrups in-house, really beautiful black cherry soda, awesome traditional Brooklyn-style egg creams as well. At night, we took all of those ideas and transitioned them into cocktail menus. Our highballs are all based on those syrups, those homemade natural elixirs and tinctures that we’re working with, as well as adult egg creams and milkshakes.”

At night, a stage at the far end of Bar O’ Fun will enliven the space with DJ sets and bands, especially during happy hour. The games will be available to play in the later hours as well. Food includes a focus on wood as well, with items like wood-planked broccolini (cheddar cheese polenta and wood-roasted broccolini).

The upstairs theaters which range in size from 43-person to 136-person rooms, all with comfy reclining seats will also have their own food and drink menus. The food side, in particular, is going to have new items, without abandoning fan favorites.

“We definitely are holding onto a lot of the classics here that we’ve been successful with in the past, but to be really honest, we noticed there was certain areas of our menu that we wanted to update,” Alamo chef Trish Eichelberger said. “This facility is a really great place to start testing and updating, making an effort to be even more hands-on, to have an even more from-scratch menu… We have a wonderful tofu banhi mi-type sandwich; we have a roasted pork sandwich. We’ve got a couple new pizzas.”

It’s also worth noting that the gender-neutral bathrooms, the sound of which could stir up a fuss, guarantee you complete privacy, with floor-to-ceiling walls not just stalls in between each toilet and doors for each one. The 36,559 sq. ft. Mueller theater has six separate urinals for men and two family-accessible bathrooms with changing tables upstairs as well.

The hours for Barrel O’ Fun are 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays, 12 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays and 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sundays. Alamo Drafthouse Mueller is located at 1911 Aldrich St., in the up-and-coming Mueller town center known as the Aldrich Street District.

For more information, visit drafthouse.com/austin/theater/mueller.

Ricardo Brazziell / American-Statesman. Installations like the Barrel O' Fun entrance were fabricated by Blue Genie Art Industries.
Ricardo Brazziell / American-Statesman. Installations like the Barrel O’ Fun entrance were fabricated by Blue Genie Art Industries.

Austin Beerworks expands hours to seven days a week

Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Celebrate Austin Beerworks' new taproom and brewery at a grand opening party Saturday
Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Austin Beerworks will now be open seven days a week thanks to its brand-new, Michael Hsu-designed taproom.

Now that Austin Beerworks has a dedicated taproom, the North Austin brewery is making sure it’s open seven days a week so that we can get our beer fix in.

Austin Beerworks officially debuted the brand-new taproom earlier this month but waited a few weeks before implementing the hours change. Starting Monday, it’s now open from 4 to 10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays, 12 to 8 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 7 p.m. Sundays.

It will also be easier than ever to share beers with your entire table or to sample some of Austin Beerworks’ taproom-only releases. Also coming Monday are branded pitchers, 4 oz. sample flights with four pours and style-specific glassware.

As the brewery noted in their announcement of the exciting changes, “this whole dedicated taproom thing is pretty sweet.”

More Austin beer news:

  • The Yeti flagship store at the corner of Barton Springs Road and South Congress Avenue is hosting a weekend-long grand opening celebration and will have a handful of beers available at the bar area, where a back well is decked out in more than 12,000 bottle caps, among other neat features. The opening beer list, which will change out frequently in the future, includes Shiner Bock and Shiner Light Blonde, Live Oak Pilz, Austin Beerworks Eagle and Lone Star.
  • St. Elmo Brewing has started getting one of its beers — the easy-drinking Carl Kolsch — to a few local bars, including the Draught House and Wright Bros. Brew & Brew. The brewery isn’t aiming to have wide-scale distribution, so these places are a neat opportunity to have St. Elmo beers beyond the South Austin taproom.
  • After winning our hearts over with the now year-round Red Bud Berliner Weisse, Independence Brewing is introducing another canned sour brew to the market with Illustrated Man Dark Sour with Berries. Celebrate the launch tomorrow at a party that will double as a competition for tattoo lovers looking to win $300 toward their next tat.
  • Uncle Billy’s Smokehouse & Brewery is hosting an Academy Awards watch party starting at 5 p.m. on Sunday with free popcorn and a pretty special beer. The Hell or High LAWger, which the brewpub originally made in honor of the film “Hell or High Water,” is coming back on tap to celebrate the four Oscar nominations that the bank heist movie has gotten, including Best Picture. The lager features prickly pear cactus as a nod to the setting of “Hell or High Water,” the rough-and-tumble desert of West Texas.

Yeti’s flagship store on South Congress, coming soon, will have a bar

Austin-based Yeti Coolers has had a retail store, the Yeti Flagship, in the works for awhile at the corner of South Congress Avenue and Barton Springs Road — and as construction on the project continues, we know one important thing about it: Yeti will have a bar.

Excuse me, a “barrrr.” That’s the name of it, the Barrrr, because if you drop the ‘A,’ then it spells ‘brrrr.’ Get it? The artist behind the locally based Neon Jungle was in charge of working up a prominent neon sign in front of the space with just such an effect — making the letter ‘A’ flicker off and on while the others stay brightly lit.

Contributed by Yeti. This rendering illustrates what Yeti could have in the works for its first flagship store, which will include a bar.
Contributed by Yeti. This rendering illustrates what Yeti could have in the works for its first flagship store, which will include a bar.

The store with Yeti wares, at 220 S. Congress Ave., is part of the South Central Waterfront Plan, a multi-year effort to revitalize older buildings and empty lots along Lady Bird Lake’s south-central shore, in the hopes that the area will become a vibrant destination for both Austinites and tourists.

Yeti’s flagship store will certainly help with that once it opens later this winter. The company, which sells coolers, premium drinkware and other branded gear, told the American-Statesman in November that it will “be a place for the community to gather for various events, such as concerts and film screenings,” in addition to a store. And at the Barrrr, visitors will be able to order cold drinks while they watch sports games on TV.

The expansive indoor and outdoor bar area will include a bottle-cap wall in front of which is the flat-screen TV. Also expect at the Yeti Flagship “a product customization station, showcases of iconic outdoor equipment, a slew of local artistry, an array of Yeti’s historical artifacts — including prized possessions from founders Roy and Ryan Seiders — and much, much more,” according to Yeti.

Part of the city’s South Central Waterfront Plan includes closing the right-hand turn lane at Barton Springs and South Congress Avenue and converting it into “a public green space that extends from the Yeti Flagship,” according to November’s American-Statesman article.

In other words, the Yeti Flagship might open with a lot of things that Austinites love.

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A second B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub comes to Mueller neighborhood in March

A rendering of the upcoming B.D. Riley's Irish Pub showcases the patio area of the bar and restaurant
A rendering of the upcoming B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub showcases the patio area of the bar and restaurant

A longtime fixture on Sixth Street is expanding into another Austin neighborhood.

After 16 years in business, B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub will open a second location in the town center of Mueller a week or two before St. Patrick’s Day. Like the first, it will have a focus on beer and whiskey, comfort food and family-friendly activities in an authentic setting — built largely by Irish carpenters and craftsmen.

Owner John Erwin had been wanting to expand his business into another part of town but hadn’t found the right spot until one of his oldest employees convinced him to visit the Mueller area. There, he found exactly what he was looking for: a neighborhood feel, he said, and a wide, walkable main street with the likes of the Thinkery, the soon-to-open Alamo Drafthouse and other coming attractions dotted alongside it.

The Mueller town center is being called the Aldrich Street District, and it’s one of Austin’s most promising new entertainment areas.

For the most part, the second B.D. Riley’s will be very similar to the first, albeit with a more vibrant storefront modeled after Dublin, Ireland’s most famous pub, the Temple Bar. The bar and restaurant also aims to fit into Mueller by being even more welcoming to families than it already is, Erwin said.

“Because of the neighborhood feel, we can do some of the things we do here, but we can enhance them out there,” he said.

At 204 E. Sixth Street — just west of the high-volume bars along the popular drinking drag — the current B.D. Riley’s has been offering an open mic night on Mondays for the past 12 years, encouraging kids to come “to develop their stage presence and musical skills” in front of a crowd that isn’t just their mom and dad. On Wednesday nights, B.D. Riley’s also hosts a pub quiz.

Those will take place at the new location as well, along with a couple of other new events. Erwin’s friend might teach classes on the Gaelic language on Saturday mornings, for example.

“We’re looking to do different and other things,” he said.

A longtime Austinite, Erwin knows opening a business here isn’t easy, but he’s hopeful the Mueller location of B.D. Riley’s will catch on because of the family vibe he has established that makes the pub a homey place to be.

“We’ve got a lot of people working for us that have been here for a real long time,” he said. “They know each other and treat each other like family, and I think that gives us a giant advantage in expansion.”

His employees aren’t the only ones he’s relying on to establish the second B.D. Riley’s. As with the first location, the pub was built in Ireland — with consultation from Erwin and his business partner — and then shipped to the U.S. In a couple of weeks, Irish craftsmen will travel here to assemble the pub piece by piece, from the furniture to the facade, the bar to the cabinetry, erecting it exactly as Erwin has envisioned it.

That’s how even Irish pubs built in Ireland are put together, he said: created off-site first, then moved to the proper location and assembled. Having Irish contractors handle the construction, he said, “adds to the authenticity, and it’s something they’re good at. They go around the world and do this.”

He’s also having a local company, Blue Genie Art Industries, design a water tower shaped like a 17 foot tall Guinness pint. The tower will recycle rainwater from the roof. Blue Genie — which is also in charge of creating many of the pieces for the Alamo Drafthouse Mueller’s carnival-themed bar — will “stick a beer tap on it, paint it black and put our logo in front of it. It ought to be very weirdly Austin, I’m hoping,” Erwin said.

B.D. Riley’s will open across the street from the Alamo in March. For more information, visit bdrileys.com.

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Circus-themed Unbarlievable to become newest Rainey Street bar

“The Greatest Show on Earth” might be shutting down for good this year, but one Rainey Street bar is bringing the circus to Austin every night.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will hold its last show in May. Before that, in mid or late February, Unbarlievable plans to open as a “decidedly offbeat” spot, “shrouded in eclecticism and whimsy,” according to the bar’s Facebook page.

The circus-themed Unbarlievable, still under construction but opening sometime in February, is hailing itself as the "greatest drinkery on earth."
The circus-themed Unbarlievable, still under construction but opening sometime in February, is hailing itself as the “greatest drinkery on earth.”

One of Rainey Street’s century-old bungalows is housing the bar and is currently being renovated to incorporate the circus theme, with walls of sky blue, fire-engine red and sunshine yellow getting painted into chunky stripes. A wrap-around bar will serve up a full menu of beer, wine and “creative cocktails,” which people will be able to enjoy either inside or in Unbarlievable’s backyard.

There will also be food, although details about that and the beverage list are still being finalized.

Despite the shuttering of America’s biggest circus, the theme is flourishing in Austin. We’ve long been home to the Carousel Lounge, which is decorated with elephant and lion tamer murals on the walls, among other related items, and we’re about to get the Barrel O’ Fun bar in the newest Alamo Drafthouse location at Mueller.

The carnival-inspired concept at the upcoming Drafthouse, expected to open early this year, will be a family-friendly gathering spot by day and a bar with barrel-aged brews and craft cocktails at night.

Keep an eye on Unbarlievable’s Facebook page, at facebook.com/unbarlievable, for opening details. The circus will live on at 76 Rainey Street.

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