BAR EXAM: DRINKS AT THE W.

I figure we’re all friends here. So you won’t judge me too harshly, Reader, if I tell you that parts of my recent cocktail tasting at The W looked like this?:

It’s a little embarrassing to admit. But then, that’s what happens when you see this:

And immediately do this:

Me, enjoying my 36th drink of the evening.

…despite the protestations of your foggy brain, and all the many, many cocktails having led up to that point.

Oh well. Haven’t we all been there?

So, Joyce Garrison is the lady behind the bar at The W. Recently, she entered a cocktail-mixing contest (“Hot Spots, Cool Drinks”) against Austin’s two reigning libation kings — David Alan of Tipsy Texan, and Bill Norris of, well, lots of things, but most recently Alamo Drafthouse – and WON! So right away, I knew this lady meant business.

Photo: Courtesy W Austin

Bubbly and chatty, Joyce is not only the kind of person you want for your bartender, she’s the kind of person you want at your party, bouncing happily on the dance floor, licking the guys at pool, and helping you clean up the mess in the morning. Yes, I am projecting. But I’m a fairly good judge of character, and after our evening together, I can say with confidence that Joyce would do all these things at my future, imaginary party.

We started things off innocently enough, with a Basil Cranberry Margarita:

Juicy and fruit-forward, like biting into a luscious berry salad. 

In the Fall, people tend to set down their bottles of gin/vodka/other clear spirits for the more malty kind: Whiskey and bourbon. But Joyce explained that she wanted a Christmasy drink, one that still felt like a party — not a slow, sipping affair. So she chose tequila as her base, riffing on the margarita with a Thanksgiving table staple: Cranberries.

Next came the R&R:

(Psst: This is the drink that beat Bill Norris and David Alan!)

This was the panel favorite of my drinking companion – Amy – and I.

The R&R starts with Cruzan Aged Rum, which has been one of my favorite, most coveted spirits for years. (Years.) Carmely and smooth, it’s perfectly sippable on its own, but when infused with rooibos tea, like Joyce does for this drink? Oh. My.

The result is a subtly sweet blend, enhanced by pineapple and peppadew pepper simple syrup. Those last two ingredients ensure that the whole drink isn’t too sticky sweet, and that there’s some acid to balance things out.

Double trouble.

Next up, a drink designed specially for F1 visitors: The Tailgate.

Do you shop locally, Reader? Well now you can drink locally, too. The Tailgate is Joyce’s official welcome to out-of-towners, spiked with homegrown spirits (Deep Eddy Vodka, Paula’s Texas Orange), cut with blood orange bitters, and made frothy with the scientific wonder that is egg white. Citrusy and cold, it reminded me of a tall glass of lemonade.

In truth, that one was a little too vodka-heavy for me. But then, I’m more of a dark spirits gal.

Not that vodka is ALWAYS a problem…

This menacingly pretty thing is the Midnight in Valencia, and, whoa.  If you follow this blog on Facebook, you may recall a tipsy note I posted from this night — the one about a sexual hug – and, I’m pretty sure I was describing this. Now that I think about it though, it may have been Joyce who coined the phrase?  Oh dear. Never drink.

Anyway, The Midnight in Valencia is just naughty. It’s vodka, Patron Cocoa (think coffee-infused tequila with a healthy helping of chocolate), ancho chilis, and orange. I KNOW.

Joyce then sidled up to the table carrying this, and Amy and I clapped our hands. “Healthy!!” we cried.

I mean, look at the cucumbers!:

Clearly, this was a wellness tonic.

As we toasted to our health, Joyce explained that Tru Gin — this drink’s base — is organic. She then adds cucumbers, lime, and green Chartreuse: an herbal liqueur (HEALTHY!) that is apparently the hipster Jagermeister.

To me, Jagermeister defiles everything it touches — mixers, lips, souls — so I’ll happily opt for green Chartreuse instead.

One, or two, or five sips later, our hostess hugged us, and sauntered back to her station at the bar. Amy and I did that thing you do at The W: gaze at all the fancy people, guess which ones are celebrities, make your way through the low lit rooms to the front door, taking the long way so you walk by the fireplace, let people hold open doors for you, pretend you’re not sad to be leaving, pretend you didn’t just stumble in your heels, pretend to be rich.

I’ve been to The W a handful of times, but its dark, maze-like corridors will never stop feeling exotic to me, making me forget that I watched the construction of the whole thing, and that it’s a hotel — it’s just a hotel.

But it’s a little world, too, and if you ever get the chance to sit there and do nothing more than giggle on the couch with your buddy over Joyce’s marvelous drinks/health tonics — well, I can’t recommend it enough.

  • ChelleLynn

    Ah, the W. I have been in Dallas’ W once several years ago, and it was super intimidating. I felt under dressed in my simple sundress and flats. Before that moment, I never imagined that one could feel under dressed in a place where people sleep. I have been wanting to visit the Austin location for ages, though, feeling more prepared to pretend to fit in with the celebrity/influential/wealthy.

    Also, I agree with your sentiments about Jager, a drink which I have imbibed twice in my life, both times with disastrous consequences. First, was my very first time to get drunk – I remember severely bruising my hip on a concrete lawn deer and wondering why the room was spinning. Second, was two weeks ago when I was commiserating with a friend going through a bad time. I somehow made it to work six hours later, in body if not in spirit. These experiences have taught me never to take a drink which someone has described as either “Jager” or “bomb.” We live and we learn.

  • http://www.amyrenepowell.blogspot.com/ Amy

    I’ve always wanted to stop in there & have a drink, and now you’ve convinced me! cheers!

  • Kaleigh

    That Basil Cranberry Margarita looks to-die for. Must try my own concoction!

    In such a casual city, I love getting dressed up and hitting up the W for a special evening out.