EAST AUSTIN, TX — Need a drink? You might want to head over to Half Step in the city’s trendy Rainey Street corridor that is among Esquire magazine’s list of best cocktail bars in the country.
The venerable men’s magazine annually compiles what its editors deem to be the nation’s best watering holes, and Austin was doubly blessed given the city name. The listing is not ranked in order of preference but alphabetically, yielding prime magazine real estate for the pub in the magazine’s pages.
Esquire recommends a drink to have there while alluding to the gentrification wave that’s swept over East Austin, bringing with it high-end establishments catering to a different incoming demographic drawn to the corridor.
"Ten years ago, Rainey was just another sleepy residential Austin street," editors correctly state. "Today the colorful houses on this half-mile stretch play host to the city’s hippest drinkers and favorite local bands. Your best bet is this little blue bungalow, whose name pays homage to the Grateful Dead song."
There’s advice for the uninitiated: "Prop an elbow on the padded bar and watch your cocktail materialize from the fresh ingredients cooling on ice. Pick the bartender’s choice. Or call for the Medicina Latina, which mixes tequila, mezcal, ginger, and lime to cure what ails you."
Half Step is located at 75 1/2 Rainey St. The magazine gives another shout-out to Craft Pride just down the block at 81 Rainey St. for beers and Detroit-style pizza.
Half Step opened in the midst of that aforementioned gentrification of East Austin, opening its doors in 2014 as something of an offshoot of the much-ballyhooed Varnish bar in Los Angeles.
The only other Texas cocktail bar making the list. Esquire gave props to Houston’s Julep at 1919 Washington Ave., describing it like this: "Between devil-may-care thoughtlessness and flair-first egoism is the bull’s-eye of barmanship. Julep has reverence for the past yet manages to serve elegant, unpretentious drinks."
The vibe starts with that bar’s aesthetics: "It starts with architecture. There are cushy booths and a curvilinear bar that draws you to its bosom. The drinks, too, have impeccable structure: Jefferson cups, chipped ice, fine garni. Look up and a polished copper canopy winks like a lady’s lashes, reminding you that Julep’s owner, Alba Huerta, has her eye on every detail."
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