First Look: Cocktails at Whisler's in Austin, Texas

[Photographs: Melody Fury]

Note: First Looks give previews of new drinks and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.

Veteran Austin bartender Scranton Twohey's experience behind the bar ranges from high end Uchi to Bridget Dunlap's Rainey St. family of bars (Luster Pearl, Clive Bar, Bar Ilegal). For years, he loved Rabbit Lounge, a casual joint on East 6th known for its ice cold beers. One evening, he bumped into Rosalio "Rabbit" Duran drinking with his buddies at the Lounge. He tried to persuade Duran to sell the bar to him, but Rabbit refused. Eventually, Rabbit yielded and the two negotiated a long term lease.

After several months of renovations, Twohey opened Whisler's very softly in mid May (before he even had liquor shelving in) and allowed the word to spread organically. "I like shotgun-style houses and this building reminded me of New Orleans. I didn't want to change anything; I wanted to keep the feel of the Eastside." Twohey explained. He reused as much of the original wood and possible so the space would look "like it's been there for a hundred years." The indoor bar area has high ceilings and walls lined with weathered wood panels. A long outdoor bar also serves the expansive patio area.

Whisler's Exterior Bar

The shaded exterior bar.

The concept is based on Twohey's self-proclaimed "weird personality". "I want people to have no idea what's going to happen," he explained. "It's the stories that come out of a place that intrigue people." One Sunday, for example, an opera singer gave an impromptu performance that wowed the crowd.

Twohey has no lack of opinion on the craft cocktail scene, which simultaneously motivates and frustrates him. "I hate the word craft because everyone has a craft," he said. While he thinks it's a good thing that bartenders researched how cocktails were made through history, he's no longer inspired by those who "go back in time and take other people's craft and replicate it." On a trip to New York City, Twohey visited 27 bars in 4 days, and after returning, he lamented the lack of creativity in Austin's cocktail scene. "Everything has been done already and it's frustrating to work in bars where they don't experiment." He hopes to foster his bartenders' creativity, so they can "grow and be who they want to to be."

Whisler's Interior Bar

Bartender Cesar G. Aguilar behind the interior bar at Whisler's.

Twohey also stresses that he does not want his customers to have to wait. Cesar G. Aguilar (formerly of La Condesa) is one of several experienced bartenders that helped bring Twohey's vision to life. They designed each well so all ingredients are within a 1-foot reach away. They also ditched the fancy glassware and opted for standard bar glasses. They streamlined each recipe so there are as few ingredients as possible, but most incoporate house made jams, syrups, bitters, and infused liquors that can all be made in advance.

Despite his need for speed, Twohey encourages guests to ask for off-the-menu drinks. Twohey often challenges his bartenders to create drinks for him on the spot, particularly with as few ingredients as possible. Check out the slideshow for a peek at the cocktails on their debut menu »