What was once East Sixth Street's worst kept secret has become a serious drinking spot. Except this time around, it's no longer a seedy operation. Midnight Cowboy Oriental Massage was originally a massage parlor with mattresses in place of massage tables. After a tip off to the FBI, it was busted for prostitution last spring.
Tim League, the founder of Alamo Drafthouse, took hold of the opportunity and bought the space. He decided to transform it into a speakeasy style cocktail bar that's "not limited to prohibition style cocktails." He invited Bill Norris, who subsequently brought on Brian Dressel as bar manager, to bring his idea to life.
After ripping everything up (including the floorboards), the newly designed space suggests a Victorian-era brothel, with antique mirrors, plush leather booths, and lush wallpapers. A sultry vibe lingers in the private rooms in the back. Flick on the signal light switch and someone will come to your service.
Bartender Stephen Robbins explained that the cocktail are meant to be "well rounded, refreshing, and well balanced. We use obscure, housemade ingredients but make it approachable." They strive to have drinks that "appeal to everyone but try to push people's comfort envelope slightly."
The initial menu featured only original concoctions, but they've since expanded the list to include what they're calling "true classics." You'll find the obligatory Martini and the Old Fashioned here, but .the team chose to "move towards the unfamiliar" with lesser-known classic cocktails as well. The oddest of the bunch is The Alamagoozlum, made with a kooky combination of genever, Navy-strength rum, Chartreuse, curaçao, Angostura bitters, Demerara syrup, and egg white. (They suggest sharing this beast between 2 or 3 thirsty people.)
Several cocktails are made tableside on a trolley wheeled to the table. Dressel emphasizes the importance of customer interaction: "it's not something we commonly get at bars." Though several of the tableside cocktails involve flame, Robbins warns that they're not really putting on a show: "We're not flair bartenders," he says.
So how do you get access to this modern-day speakeasy? Easy: reservations for a 2-hour visit can be made on their website. If you see the vacancy sign lit outside, that means that walk-ins are welcomed, but we've been warned that that's pretty rare. Once you arrive, buzz "Harry Craddock" and a hostess will escort you into the space.
We asked Midnight Cowboy's bartenders to recommend a few drinks from their current cocktail menu. Check out their picks in the slideshow »
Midnight Cowboy Modeling
313 E. 6th Street, Austin, TX 512-843-2715; midnightcowboymodeling.com
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.