In concept shift, downtown bar Isla now a Caribbean cantina

Isla, the downtown rum bar next door to sister bar Peche, might look the same tropical haven as it has since opening earlier this spring, but staffing and menu changes have tweaked its concept slightly.

Once a place where tiki reigned supreme — with a rum selection that would make Don the Beachcomber sloppy — the bar is now going for more of a “Caribbean cantina vibe” following the hiring of a new chef de cuisine and bar manager. Both Roman Murphy, Isla’s new chef, and Miguel Lopez, Isla’s new bar manager, came from Bess Bistro, Sandra Bullock’s restaurant that closed a few months ago.

Isla is becoming more of a Caribbean cantina in its downtown home next to sister bar Peche.

Isla is becoming more of a Caribbean cantina in its downtown home next to sister bar Peche.

Trey Jenkins, whose love of tiki helped to form Isla’s original bar program, has left his position behind the bar to become staff mixologist at a local distributor. But Isla owner and founder Rob Pate doesn’t doubt that Lopez will succeed in his shoes.

“We believe he will make a great addition to our team,” Pate said in a press release.

He decided to change up the food, drink and happy hour menus after noticing that Isla visitors were wanting something different out of the island-focused bar and restaurant.

“Isla has always been about island-inspired eating and (imbibing) in a laidback atmosphere,” Pate said in the press release. “We’ve learned quite a bit since opening this past March and sensed our customers were looking for more of a ‘Caribbean cantina’ vibe from our menus — more comfort food but still with an island flare.”

The simplified beverage program, according to the press release, “highlights rum and tequila that is meant to complement the food, with less of a tiki focus.” That means cocktails like the Rum Old Fashioned, with aged rum, orange, lime peel and five-spice bitters, and the Pineapple Margarita, with reposado tequila, pineapple, dry curacao, lime and coriander salt. But popular Isla drinks like the Painkiller, with navy-strength rum, coconut cream, orange juice and pineapple, are also joining the newcomers on the menu.

Happy hour is your best bet at getting to know the new Isla. Running from 4 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays — and all night on Wednesdays — happy hour includes specials like $5 cocktails and half-priced food items such as oysters, empanadas, sandwiches and tacos.

Isla is located at 208 W. Fourth St. For more information, visit www.islaaustin.com.


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