Austin’s bar scene is looking better than ever.
By Adam Linehan, Photo by Richard Patterson
Hailing from Memphis, Tenn., Carley Dunavant has been a very welcomed addition to the Austin bar and restaurant scene since she arrived here two years ago. A graduate of Ole Miss, Dunavant started bartending in college, but it wasn’t until moving to Austin that her career took a turn in a more serious direction. Now, after winning the Bombay Sapphire Competition in Austin and competing in Bombay Sapphire’s annual Most Imaginative Bartender in Las Vegas—where her experience was documented in the GQ miniseries America’s Bartender—she has earned a place among the city’s top mixologists.
In the same way young, ambitious chefs have invigorated Austin’s culinary scene in recent years, bartenders like Dunavant are helping to steer the city’s cocktail scene in a fresh and exciting direction with their artisan approach to drink making. Despite all of the positive attention she’s garnered since appearing on America’s Bartender, Dunavant, who bartends at drink.well, acknowledges that she still has plenty of room to grow.
“We have a couple of regular customers who know so much more about cocktails than I do,” she says. “And they challenge me, like, ‘OK, I don’t want anything you’ve ever made me before.’ They’re so specific. You really have to put on your chef’s hat.”
Dunavant’s eagerness to continue developing her craft is just as much of a testament to her unique potential as everything she’s already managed to accomplish in the relatively short time she’s been in the business. With devilish good looks to boot, Dunavant epitomizes what we always hope to find on the serving side of a bar, and that’s why we asked her to serve us up a little piece of her mind.
On the Joys of Bartending “I like that it’s something different every day. I like to make people happy, and I like to make people laugh. I like people to sit down and have a conversation. You make friends and you can change their night.”
On What Makes a Quality Drink “You have to start with really good ingredients, and you have to start with a good spirit. If you’re using juice, it has to be fresh. It’s balance and quality. It has to be fresh and it has to be good. You can’t take the cheapest gin and store-bought simple syrup and sweet and sour, and make a really good drink out of that. It has to take time. It’s the difference between a cake from a box and a cake from scratch; it’s the same thing with a cocktail.”
On Date Spots in Austin “I think the perfect date-night spot is Backspace, which is actually in the middle of the cr aziness. It’s on dirty Sixth, but it’s a little tucked-away spot. You feel like you’re stepping out of Austin and into something really cozy and quaint. You go in there and the fire is going with pizza, and you can get a nice glass of wine. It’s an intimate setting but there’s enough going on. That’s the perfect place to go on a date in Austin.”
On What Makes a Man Attractive “They have to be funny. I’m kind of a smart ass, so somebody who can laugh with me and joke around and not be so serious all the time . Life is serious enough. Being smart and witty—those are my two favorite things. Put those together and you got it.”
On How a Man Should Dress “I’m not super picky, but I do love a man who has really nice shoes, like a good pair of leather boots, but not cowboy boots. I spend time having nice shoes, so I want a man to have nice shoes. I also like a good pair of jeans, but nothing too fancy. I’m a big fan of plaid, and also a good-looking black hoodie. But not too hipster; you have to be able to look nice. There better be a suit in your closet. You don’t have to wear it all the time, but it better be ready.”