By Marshall Wright
Few things represent the spirit of Austin more than Tim League’s Alamo Drafthouse theaters. From their innovative approach to cinema and dining to their funky preshow movie reels, live events and brazenly bold attitude about talking and cell-phone usage, the Drafthouse has helped shape our Keep Austin Weird ethos. It’s no surprise, then, that League’s approach to the burgeoning craft-cocktail movement would be the same. Joining the ranks of his wildly successful Highball cocktail lounge are two new bars under the Drafthouse umbrella: Midnight Cowboy and 400 Rabbits.
As League’s beverage director, award-winning bartender Bill Norris (formally of FINO) is confidently at the helm.
For over 30 years, the seedy Midnight Cowboy Oriental Modeling Agency operated a questionable personal-service business among the nightclubs and restaurants of Austin’s famed East Sixth Street. But in March of this year, the formerly nefarious spot received a much-needed makeover.
Just past the red light and unmarked door now dwells a 48-seat, reservation-based cocktail lounge featuring a bar menu designed by Norris and Midnight Cowboy manager Brian Dressel (formerly of FINO, East Side Showroom and Bar Congress). The luxurious interior was designed by Joel Mozersky.
The rotating bar menu features a mix of original cocktail recipes along with obscure classics and modern twists—all using hand-cut ice, freshly squeezed juices and masterful techniques.
“The best part about Cowboy is seeing people walk in and just relax,” says Norris. “It’s such a beautiful, low-key spot.”
Bringing the cocktail movement to an actual Drafthouse was an important part of what Norris was tapped to do as well. The first of these concepts, 400 Rabbits, recently debuted at the Alamo Slaughter Lane location.
After traveling to Guadalajara to study the production and distillation of agave, Norris and General Manager Traci Helton built a unique cocktail lounge with a focus on tequila, mezcal and agave spirits.
“I think it’s the most comprehensive agave spirits program in Austin,” says Norris. “There are people with more tequila, but no one with the breadth and depth across the agave category.”
400 Rabbits also offers a selection of classic and new cocktails, beer and wine. The new space serves as a spot for guests to gather before or after a movie, as well as a stand-alone destination for the neighborhood.
Top Photo: Bar Manager Brian Dressel prepares a Smoke and Mirrors cocktail table-side at Midnight Cowboy (see opposite page for recipe). Second Photo: Dressel hand-cuts the ice used in the cocktails at Midnight Cowboy. Entrance into the cocktail lounge requires knowing which buzzer to push. Dressel serves a Lovebirds cocktail to a bar patron. 400 Rabbits Photos: Alamo Drafthouse Beverage Director Bill Norris in action at 400 Rabbits. General Manager Traci Helton puts the finishing touches on the Lester Burnham cocktail.
Smoke and Mirrors
By Bill Norris.
1½ oz. Highland Park 12-year-old Scotch
1 oz. Bodegas Gongora Duque de Carmona Orange Sherry
½ oz. Benedictine
3 dashes Bad Dog Bar Craft Sarsaparilla Dry Bitters
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe. Rub an orange peel around the rim of the glass, flame the oils over the drink and discard.