Bar Congress is a sleek bar that tunnels between Austin's highly regarded Congress restaurant and its casual counterpart, Second Bar and Kitchen. New bar manager Jason Stevens started his first shift in January and recently revamped the cocktail menu to tie in with the food and reflect the restaurant's "Natural American" approach.
Stevens incorporates local ingredients and spirits into his drinks, with an emphasis on supporting "actual local distilleries, like Balcones, as opposed to brands that just use Austin or Texas for marketing" (which he resisted naming).
His focus on crafting his own ingredients to boost flavors in his cocktails borders on obsession. Stevens looked to Colonial-American fruit preserving methods and makes a number of seasonal shrubs, and he jazzes up a boring gin and tonic with hop-infused gin and a homemade tonic spiced with herbes de Provence, grapefruit peel, cassia, and black pepper. He starts his Apricot Beret cocktail with a preserves made with ripe fresh apricot purée, cooked apricot jam, and intensely flavored apricot liqueur.
Bar Congress' ambitious new cocktail menu ranges from bold and boozy to Tiki-inspired thirst quenchers. He strives to offer something for cocktail beginners as well as concoctions that will amuse the most adventurous drinkers. Click through the slideshow for a preview of Stevens' newest creations.