At many restaurants, the bar program is an afterthought, the drinks an accompaniment to the ultimate prize of a good meal, but that’s not the case at Juliet, the new Italian eatery on Barton Springs Road.
Juliet, which has gotten early praise for its decor and its food, is like other recent additions to Austin’s dining scene. Many of them have gone beyond the basic boozy tenets of their culinary concepts and are making their drinks with the same care and consideration they apply to the cuisine. They want their drinks to pair with their food.
At Juliet, that means the bar program, helmed by Firehouse Lounge co-founder and sommelier Robert Millican, applies the same sort of Italian focus to the cocktails and the wine as the kitchen does to the food — and it does so with stellar results. The restaurant has a whole menu of Negroni variations, that classic bittersweet symphony of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, as well as an emphasis on grappa, a fragrant grape-based brandy made in Italy that’s not often seen on bar menus here.
Honing that Old World focus was a natural fit for Millican because of his background, he said.
“I was classically trained, so I wanted a focus on the classics, on European spirits and cocktails with three ingredients,” he said. “I wanted the bar to be symbiotic with the design of this place, which has a ’50s Italian feel to it.”
Here are four things to know if you’re going to the Barton Springs restaurant for happy hour or dinner and want a drink (or two) to complement your food.
- The Negroni menu has eight different Negronis available, all made from a variety of different spirits, from the traditional gin to the far more striking Cognac and mezcal. If more than one strikes your fancy, try a tasting; Juliet offers a flight of four at 1 oz. each for $15. Millican said that’s how the Mezcal Negroni has become popular. “You wouldn’t think it’d be a hit, but the combination of flavors works really well,” he said, noting that the smokiness of the Mexican agave spirit might not have gin’s botanical bite, but it still plays nicely with the sweet vermouth and bitter Campari.
- So far, people have also been receptive to the cocktails with grappa in them, he said. “It’s an interesting and potent spirit, but no one has really been featuring it until now,” he said. The Italian Mule, with grappa, lime, ginger beer and amaro, is a “light and easy” introduction to it, especially because “it’s grounded in the familiarity of the name and the ginger beer.” Or, if you’re looking for something a little boozier, the food-friendly Sword Fight, with Cognac, grappa, triple sec and house bitters, is more the way to go. The bold citrus finish of this original creation from Millican can stand up to the salty grip of meats like prosciutto.
- Juliet isn’t afraid to let you try just about any wine on the menu, even the higher-end varieties, because of one nifty tool that allows bartenders to keep the wine fresher for longer than normal. This special preservation system, which uses argon gas to keep out the oxidation process, means that you can enjoy a glass of wine that is usually only available by the bottle.
- Add this place to your ever-growing list of top happy hour spots in Austin. Juliet’s got a large patio area for outdoor sipping, as well an indoor and outdoor bar — and good happy hour deals every day from 3 to 7 p.m. on draft beer, cocktails and rosé wines.
Juliet Ristorante, 1500 Barton Springs Rd. 3 to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 3 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 512-479-1800, juliet-austin.com.