Hotel restaurants are often soulless caverns devoted to conveniently serving captive out-of-town guests unimaginative, substandard grub at highly inflated prices. Until recently, the Liberty Tavern in the Hilton Austin downtown fit that bill. Heck, it wasn’t even a tavern at all. It was known for its expensive breakfast buffet and subpar service for convention goers. That’s all changing with a complete makeover.
The newly renovated Liberty Tavern opened for business this week with one big addition that officially makes it a tavern: It now has a bar. The Liberty will still cater to the hotel breakfast crowd with the typical buffet. In fact, the lunch and dinner menus are standard Hilton fare, but the new bar menu introduces a distinctly Austin focus, with specialty items like seafood ceviche on avocado marble made with Tito’s Handmade Vodka. I went for the Beer Dinner, a manly one-pound hunk of chili-rubbed roast pork shank served with an iron skillet laden with cheesy spaetzle and paired with a flight of five Texas craft beers.
The Texas-themed bar menu and beer-and-cocktail list are the conception of General Manager Michael Creecy, who recently left the upscale gastropub Neighborhood Services in Dallas. He isn’t cut from the corporate Hilton cloth and brings a new focus on Austin’s craft-beer and cocktail scene.
“People come to Austin to get the Austin experience. Austin craft beer is a big part of that experience,” he says.
Creecy plans to meet that expectation with a menu of seven Texas craft brews out of the 12 beers on tap and 20 bottles. One draft beer tower is dedicated to Texas craft brews such as (512) Brewing Pecan Porter, Austin Beerworks Pearl Snap, Real Ale Firemans #4, Thirsty Planet Buckethead, and Austin Amber, Stash IPA and Saison from Independence Brewery. They also carry other local beers in cans and bottles, including Hops & Grain Pale Dog, Rahr & Sons Ugly Pug and Jester King Noble King and Drink’in the Sunbelt. Dog lovers, any time you buy a Hops & Grain or a Rahr & Sons Ugly Pug, Liberty Tavern will donate $1 to Austin Pets Alive.
Creecy was at the epicenter of the craft-cocktail explosion in Dallas, with a strong bent on Texas spirits. He is keeping the Texan theme going at Liberty Tavern with a Texas-based spirits-and-cocktail menu featuring Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Treaty Oak Rum, Dulce Vida Tequila and Rebecca’s Creek Whiskey. Liberty also has a selection of 15 scotches and 10 bourbons, with a focus on small-batch. Not all of the whiskeys are on display, so ask the bartender to show you the good stuff.
The folks at Liberty Tavern hope to attract out-of-towners hankering for an authentic Texan experience, as well as thirsty locals. While elements of the bar are decidedly masculine, Creecy says, “This is a good place to bring a date to watch a game. We have some cocktails specifically geared toward women, like the Lady Bird, made with Tito’s Vodka, St. Germain, Prosecco and blackberry puree, and the French 75 and Liberty Lemonade.”
Hotel restaurants aren’t always noted for excellent service. Creecy brings four-star-dining sensibilities to the Liberty Tavern and is putting a big emphasis on proper service.
“Timing is essential to a good experience,” he says. “Our servers will pay a lot of attention to aspects of graceful service like the placement of items, the timing of drink and meal orders.”
It sounds like good old-fashioned Texas hospitality.
When you go:
- Liberty Tavern is located in the Hilton Austin downtown at 500 E. Fourth St. between Red River and Neches streets.
- Call ahead for reservations at 512.682.BREW (2739), or visit opentable.com.
- Save a couple bucks on seven Texas specialty cocktails and 15 Texas beers during the reverse happy hour from 9 to 11 p.m.
- The tavern occasionally books live music and has 14 hi-def TVs with a never-ending supply of sports.
- Leave your car at home. There is a MetroRail station right outside with trains running every 30 minutes and there is a cabstand in front of the hotel.
- For more information, visit libertytavernaustin.com.