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Jun 20, 2008 01:37 PM

Time-Warp: Rat Pack Food?

Can anyone recommend someplace in Austin evocative of that better era where people drank Martini's in lieu of Mojitos, and where the baked potato was the ultimate vegetable? A few of my guy friends and I are going to see a boxing match at the Erwin Center tomorrow, and need an appropriate place for pre-dinner drinks and food (If any ladies would like to dress in ermine and pearls and join us, they're also welcome).

I hate to speak of this in any overly gendered way, but the stereotype is descriptive; we'd really like a "manly" place. Again, is there any place with stiff drinks and crudly hacked cuts of meat that ring a bell? Ideally there'd be dim booths, that carry the stench of pre-smoking ban better times. Melted butter would be the most complicated sauce on the menu.

Anyway, I don't hold out hopes that such a place exists here. The best I can come up with is the Hoffbrau, where I've never eaten. It's old and steak-centric anyway. I've considered and dismissed Sullivan's and Flemings, as we're not looking for something that expensive or high quality (as if those places were) but atmosphere. If anybody knows anything or can ask their grandpa, I'd appreciate it.

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  1. For decor, The Belmont definitely hits your goal. I'm not sure if the food lives up, but the the interior is perfect for that Rat Pack vibe.

    Another option might be III Forks, but I'm guessing it would fall into the same group as Sullivan's and Flemings.

    1. sounds like Joe DiMaggio's at the Domain. Atmosphere fits...maybe too expensive.

      1 Reply
      1. re: danoc

        I think Cielo's in Lakeway certainly could be a possibility, as I feel transported back to the east coast when I'm there (or maybe Palm Springs?)... but it is in Lakeway.

        Speaking of, I really do not want them to move to the galleria.

      2. First of all I feel the same longing for the type of vintage dining that you seek. Unfortunately most of those places have been phased out, as my father and I were discussing last night at none other than...
        the Hoffbrau, where I eat with my father, who ate there with his father. If you have not tried it you should give it one shot, especially if you're looking for something crude and manly. It has absolutely nothing to do with the Rat Pack vibe you're looking for, but it is unique. Just don't go in with any preconceived notions of what a steak house is like, or you'll be disappointed. Thin steaks cooked on a flat grill, swimming in "butter sauce". Giant fried potatoes. Cold cold beer. Certainly no martinis. Delicious in its own way, ie, not when compared to Peter Luger, or even to Ruth's Chris.

        Speaking of Ruth's, I think for masculine lounging their bar gives a good effort. Dark colors, comfortable leather chairs. I used to go often for happy hour--$5 martinis and half price appys in a room that looked as much like a private club as anywhere that I can get in the door.

        As for martinis and Rat Pack flavor...
        I must discuss the Belmont, because it inevitably comes up. I have to say that they did an impeccable job with the decor and atmosphere. But please don't look for anything more than that there. I have been three times, which is twice too many, because the service was so bad. I went once voluntarily, and was dragged along on celebratory occasions two other times, most recently two weeks ago. We were scolded by the waitress because "the kitchen is about to close", even though we sat for 20 minutes without being greeted. When she forgot my salad, she said the kitchen was shut down so she couldn't get it (She did not write down the order for a party of 9 and forgot several things, including the birthday boy's beer).

        More important than the bad service on this night is that they are WAY off on the cocktails. Here is a direct quote from their table tent, which I took a picture of because it made me laugh: "Grey Goose Classic Martini Cocktail--Grey Goose vodka combined with a whisper of vermouth creates this iconic cocktail." First of all a classic martini is not made with vodka, nor is it made with a "whisper" of vermouth. That is a Cold War-era concoction for people who want a glass of iced vodka (in my opinion, bores and alcoholics). The classic martini is made with 3 to 5 parts gin to one part vermouth. The CLASSIC classic throws in a dash of orange bitters. As cocktail historian Robert Hess writes, "A well-balanced cocktail should be able to cloak its ingredients in a slight mystery." The iced vodka that passes for a "martini" in most places therefore does not make the grade.

        More objectively, the Mai Tai on their menu includes amaretto, orange juice, and pineapple juice. A look at any reputable cocktail manual will reveal that none of these ingredients belong in the drink. It should have orgeat syrup, triple sec, and lime juice, which makes a drink very different from the fruit punch on the Belmont menu. By definition, their Mai Tai is not a Mai Tai. If you want a great retro-Vegas decor and nice patio, this is the place. If you want Rat Pack classics, these people have their head in the sand, not in The Sands.

        If you want to hang out with grandpas and smoke cigars in a masculine atmosphere, maybe what you want is a private venue such as the Austin Club... . Or perhaps you need to design a Man Cave of your own. Doug over at the Pegu Blog has been doing an excellent series on home bar design.

        4 Replies
        1. re: tipsytexan

          Have you been to the Austin Club? How is it?

          1. re: tipsytexan

            Good post typsyT. Wet ice and vodka makes a vodka and water, not a martini or even a vodka martini.

            I used to work in the private clubs, and since I now don't belong to one, I miss the attention to detail.

            Tarquin.. I'm trying to come up with a place that suits your needs, but part of being in a rat pack implies that one has a bit of money to throw around. I agree that Sullivan's doesn't work - too expensive for lower quality steak. I'm envisioning a place that was at the top of their game about 20 years ago and is now only holding on via nostalgia. Wood paneling, dark, plenty of room, a long bar with an older bartender that is jaded but knows his drinks. A few late forties and hot early fifties women looking for small talk. Everyone is pissed since they can't smoke. That doesn't exist as far as I know.

            Here's what I'd do: Go to Austin Land and Cattle early. It's pretty dark in there. If it were a weekday, you could feast on half priced apps (including their three types of steak deal). At around two hours prior to the event, go park somewhere between the Capitol and the Erwin Center, but a little closer to the Capitol. Walk to the Cloak Room and drink as much as possible. Call for a cab to arrive eighteen minutes prior to the match. Of course, bring a flask for sipping. When you walk in, you will have a righteous buzz and the flask will keep you in the mood. Find a modeling studio. That's the best I've got.

            1. re: rudeboy

              Rudeboy this is a great description, both of what we need and the next best thing that we have. I thought about mentioning the Cloak Room, but got called a violent obscenity by the bar maid the last time I was there, so have been avoiding it since...

            2. re: tipsytexan

              The bad service at The Belmont I think is a reflection of management--or so I have heard through the Food Service grapevine. Its a good thing they have tables outdoors, too, because how else could you try to evoke the Rat Pack days and not have places for people to smoke cigarettes while they eat?

            3. Thanks for all the wonderful suggestions. I guess I could have been somewhat more descriptive in what I was looking for, but it seems the intentional give in the descriptive joints illicted some good recommendations. As for the price limits, some of my friends are more Joey Bishop than Sinatra...

              I really think rudeboy hit the nail on the noggin' with what I had in my mind's eye. A once regal gin-joint, now passed its prime (or, like their steaks, never having been prime at all), showing its age like its nursing home crowd on their drink-release.

              I wonder why Austin is so lacking in these places? The sad part is a place can't simply open, pre-aged.

              I'll echo enjoying the Cloak Room, and being somewhat judgmental of the Belmont.