By Terrence Henry
“We don’t have any tables open at the moment, but you can wait at the bar,” is a line every diner has heard at some point or another. It’s one met with disappointment or despair. Well, at least it used to be. As Austin restaurants and diners have embraced the unique benefits of bar and counter seating, these solo spots have morphed into some of the best seats in town.
Take Odd Duck on South Lamar, where there is no bar in the traditional sense. In its place is a large, open kitchen surrounded on three sides by counter seating, where diners can watch as their dishes and drinks are created. “We like putting the talent of our kitchen on showcase,” says Jason James, general manager of Odd Duck. “You sit at these seats and you say to yourself, ‘Damn, I can see everything!’”
The same is true across the river at modern Italian newcomer Juniper. Located on East Cesar Chavez, the restaurant’s open kitchen is flanked by an intimate line of counter seats distinctly set apart from the main dining room. “You see people sitting there who are having a blast just watching the action,” says Nicholas Yanes, executive chef and partner of Juniper.
The perks go beyond the free show. At the bar, your server is never hard to find, which translates to even better service for guests.
“I like having them available to me at all times,” says James, who always opts for the bar when dining out. “I like that personal touch.” Diners can strike up a conversation with their server or bartender and learn more about the ingredients or spirits at play. (And it’s not unheard of to have a query about an obscure liquer, for instance, lead to a complimentary tasting.)
More and more in Austin, bar and counter seating offers the best opportunity to see Austin’s finest cooks and drink makers in action, whether it’s the counter seats at Sway that let you spy on the cooks flash-frying a whole fish, or the bar seats at Dai Due where you can watch the crew char local meats over an open flame on their custom indoor grill. At the aptly named Counter 3 Five VII downtown, there are no tables, just counter seat after counter seat surrounding the open kitchen, for an evening of “front row dining.”
And while a restaurant’s kitchen and bar operations used to be fairly separate entities, the two are increasingly being fused into one operation. At venues like Odd Duck, the cocktail menus are given the same amount of thought and prep that food menus are. “The ethic in our kitchen translates into our bar,” says James. “Our bartenders come in and do prep shifts just like a cook would in the kitchen.” This translates into drinks like Odd Duck’s Cold Shoulder, which pairs scotch with kitchen-crafted ingredients like toasted almonds and espresso. Along with other local stalwarts like Contigo, Foreign & Domestic and Launderette, Odd Duck is helping to close the gap between dining and drinking, helping Austin’s culinary culture echo places like Barcelona and Madrid, where going out for drinks and tapas have been one and the same for centuries, or Tokyo, where Izakayas (a Japanese gastropub) have long offered the opportunity to simultaneously imbibe and ingest.
“Today, the bar seat is a crossover to get people more engaged in restaurants,” says Yanes of Juniper. That seat used to be easy to come by, but as more and more diners and restaurants catch on to the beauty of eating at the bar, best belly up while you can.
by Joanna Steblay
As the warm weather begins to set in and patio parties hit our calendars, we can’t help but embrace that summertime has returned to Austin. If you’re anything like us, you’ll be celebrating the return of the season with decadent ice cream, healthy smoothies and icy cocktails from your favorite local spots.
For those days when it’s too hot to venture out, we went to Austin’s sweet treat professionals and compiled the ultimate collection of DIY recipes to make from your home. Click through the galleries below to learn how to make everything icy and sweet, from poptails for date night to ice cream sandwiches for a dinner party.more
The spring edition of the Renegade Craft Fair returns for its seventh year in Austin May 14-15 at Fair Market. With over 125 makers on the roster, the scene is sure to be bustling with local artisans and DIYers slinging their unique, one-of-a-kind wares. In addition to great shopping, the RCF offers activities, special showcases and plenty of food and drink options for visitors. This year, celebrate your hard work shopping with a snack from Burro Cheese Kitchen and Lucky Lab Coffee Co. before commemorating the afternoon with some snapshots from Magnolia Photo Booth Co. But before...more
by James Ruiz
Inspired by the beautiful outdoor living spaces featured in our May feature The Space Between, we went window shopping and found some great outdoor furniture and accessories to liven up your outdoor patio, porch and pool. Flip through the galleries below to see how you can add a pop of color and style to your outdoor hideaway.more
Hundreds of people are moving to Austin each day, and downtown is one of the major hubs of growth for the city. Local real estate expert Jude Galligan discusses smart urban growth and what to expect this year as the skyline continues to evolve.
Your blog keeps Austin updated on the latest news in downtown. What is the most exciting development happening right now?
From my point of view, the most exciting development is the Waller Creek District Master Plan. Decades in the making, this transformative project came to life after designers competed for the contract. It is finally coming to downtown, bringing an imaginative chain of parks,...more
by James Ruiz
As you flip through the pages of our February Love Issue, one thing you’ll notice is the beautiful blooms that pop up throughout the magazine. We got some major googly eyes for the bouquets featured in our "Real Weddings" features, and earmarked the TRIBEZA Wedding Guide for even more Pinterest-worthy petals.
Instead of letting all that inspiration go to waste, we tried our hand at flower arranging to see what we could create. Since we consider ourselves floral design novices, we asked a few top designers...more