On a recent Saturday night, I found myself on Austin’s notorious 6th Street. The Longhorns were about to kickoff, and every bar on the block was packed full of burnt orange. Good times, to be sure. But hey, I wanted something a bit different. Something a little more low key. Understated. Classy. Hidden in plain sight, if you will. Maybe something that used to be a brothel, but now serves some of the best cocktails in town.
Something like Midnight Cowboy, which opened in March in what used to be an Oriental Massage parlor. Which is really just a euphemism for “brothel.” I must have walked past it a hundred times over the years, but on this night, I finally got to see inside.
But first, it helps to know the protocol. First, you need a reservation. Then, you must find the unmarked door and ring the correct doorbell. (Hint: the password is emailed to you. Mine was Harry Craddock. Bonus points for knowing that name.) Anyway, ring the bell, and a friendly face answers the unremarkable green door and gives you access to a completely different world from the swirling mess of 6th Street. And naturally, she’s quick to shut the door behind you.
The space is long, narrow and dark, with eight red leather booths. Floral wallpaper gives way to exposed brick as we’re led past the bar and into our private booth. It’s the type of vibe that lends itself to spinning a few yarns while 1920s-era jazz standards and ragtime tunes provide the soundtrack.
The two such private booths (both formerly “massage” rooms) can accommodate parties of six or eight, and feature two black leather tufted couches and a marble-top table. One quick look at the cocktail menu, and you understand you’re about to make a serious decision. One that will guide the remainder of your evening. And set you back $12.
I opted for the Lion’s Tail — Rittenhouse Rye, allspice dram, lime juice, turbinado syrup and Angostura bitters. The potent whiskey, spice and citrus made for a well-balanced first drink. Other selections around the table included the Hauptmann cocktail (Old Tom Gin, orgeat, fresh orange juice, orange bitters, egg white and a Peychauds mist, made tableside on a bar cart); the Blackstrap Pawn Shop (Blackstrap Rum, pineapple, Amaro Montenegro, lime, Curacao, seltzer and a funny play on words); and Jasper’s Jamaican Planter’s Punch (rum, Jasper’s secret mix and crushed ice, served in a glass shaped like a parrot).
Drink number two for me was an old friend of mine, the venerable Old Fashioned. Made tableside, the bartender recommended a Willet four-year-old rye, which he described as being “a little wild… like a teenager.”
There’s a two drink minimum at Midnight Cowboy, and honestly, that’s plenty. These drinks are mixed like any good cocktail should be: potent, but well-balanced. So if you’re looking for an evening of conversation and handcrafted cocktails amidst the shot bars and shenanigans of 6th Street, Midnight Cowboy might be the place for you.