Normally when I’m asked to visit a bar, it’s a new operation — so fresh that often the paint isn’t even dry. I had no idea when I stepped into Austin’s Swift’s Attic that it had been around since 2012 — with general manager and beverage director Curtis Hansford at the helm for virtually its entire lifetime.
Swift’s Attic — which can be found on the top floor of fairly short building in downtown Austin — is both bar and restaurant, and it’s tough to tell which is the focus, as the square footage seems about equal for both sides of the house. I experienced both the food and the drink. I’m still not sure which one I liked better.
But let’s start with the beverages.
Swift’s Attic has a sizeable collection of whiskeys which are outlined in broad strokes in the back of its menu. If you want to get into specifics, you’ll need to inquire verbally. Someone stole the fancy, printed menu some years ago and Hansford never made a new one. More likely than not you’ll start your evening with one of Swift’s cocktails. Arguably the most famous of these are its collection of ice ball cocktails, which are a “Swift’s Attic exclusive” that freeze all kinds of goodies into an ice ball, then have the main spirit poured on top. The Ice Ball Oldie is a spin on the old fashioned that includes Cherry Heering, orange, lemon, and and Luxardo cherry all frozen into ice. Tin Cup whiskey is poured on top. As the ice slowly melts, the flavoring agents imbue the whiskey with various delights, becoming stronger and stronger over time. Swift’s invites you to “reload” with another shot — or some other spirit — if you want to continue the evolution, which can last for several hours if you pace things out.
I also loved the seasonal Pay-pa-plane, which adds strawberrry-and-orange-peel-infused Aperol to 8 year old Dickel, lemon juice, and Montenegro to refashion a modern classic, loading it up with fruit notes. The Ubriaco, another seasonal, refashions a margarita again by adding that same fruit-infused Aperol to the classic recipe, brightening it up and making for a fresher, fruitier tequila cocktail.
Hansford creates all the drinks here himself — sometimes with just a moment’s notice — and often opts for slight variations on the classics. His Razz-Beret adds raspberry infusion and yuzu syrup to Prosecco to remake the French 75, while Your Favorite Drink adds butterfly pea flower-infused vodka to give a French 76 some lively color. (Hansford, by the way, takes credit for introducing the world to butterfly pea flower as a purple-blue cocktail colorant, saying he got the idea from his grandmother, who would put it in her tea back in Costa Rica.)
On the food side, Swift’s menu is wildly eclectic and built around Texas favorites, often spun with Asian ingredients. (Swift’s parent company also operates two Chinese restaurants.) Charred edamame, with a side of salt and unflavored pop rocks that you dip them into, are too crazy (and fun) to pass up, while the How We Roll reinvents the sushi roll as a delivery mechanism for rare sirloin steak instead of raw fish. The galbi dipping sauce is too good on its own to pass up.
For an entree, we opted for the mixed grill Texas Fight, which includes a kaleidoscope of shrimp, wagyu jalapeno and cheddar sausage, and zucchini atop a layer of cheddar grits. The plate doesn’t look particularly daunting, but it was plenty of food for two people to share — and that sausage is some of the best I’ve ever had.
Something of a hidden gem that’s slightly off the beaten path for downtown Austin watering holes, it’s a place I’ll definitely be returning to — both for dinner and drinks.
315 Congress Ave., Austin, TX 78701