My commute home sometimes takes me through The Heart of The Beast aka downtown Austin via I-35. Given the leisurely pace of traffic and my adaptive cruise control, there’s plenty of time to savor the street-side sights, one of which is a beautifully mural’d wall hugging the eastern frontage road near 4th street. “I wonder what’s in there?” I wonder as I wander by. As it turns out, what’s in there is Native Bar & Kitchen, next up in our A to Z tour of Austin places we’ve never eaten at before.
Native Bar & Kitchen is, at first, confusing. We were expecting a sit-down restaurant, but it’s really, in its current form, a bar and coffee house with food slung up by a Ranch Hand trailer out back. Further complicating matters is that this is really a hotel bar or, more accurately, a hostel bar associated with Native Experiential Hostels. But don’t let these little facts dampen your plans: Native is a hip place that oozes with interesting people, great drinks, and decent eats.
Once we figured the place out (“Where’s the restaurant?” we asked. “You’re in it!”), we grabbed the corner of the bar and ordered a Cherry Limeade (cherry vodka, lime, luxardo syrup; $10) and a French I-35 (floral gin, elderflower, lemon, cava; $10). The Cherry Limeade, garnished with a black-as-death Luxardo cherry, was the best mixed drink I’ve imbibed in a long time. When I ordered it, I was a wee bit afraid it would be too sweet, but it was just-a-touch-of-sweet with adult cherry limeade flavor. I’ve been yearning one ever since. The bride enjoyed her French I-35 but agreed that the limeade was “something special.”
We arrived a few minutes after the intriguing brunch menu closed out at 3p, so we started off with Guac. Chips & Salsa Roja ($9), which were adequate (but not enough chips). For “mains,” I chose the Wagyu Sliders ($12), and the bride picked the Rosemary Bowl (organic spinach, purple rice, sweet potato, apple, roasted pepitas and goat cheese; $9 + rosemary & garlic chicken breast; $4). The sliders got the job done but with little flare. However, the Bowl not only looked good and tasted good but was good for you. Fair warning that the actual bowl is a bit of a ski jump that nearly resulted in a salad-sliding disaster. You have been warned.
Native’s decor reflect the old warehouse it’s in with a healthy dollop of legit wabi-sabi with a dash of it-might-be-steampunk. It’s comfy and hip without being too precious. Because of problems with the music, the bartender took over with a delightful array of punk classics from Devo, the Sex Pistols, the Runaways, among others. Unfortunately, management appeared much too soon to repair the issue, replacing the punk with faceless deep house (and we like deep house).
The crowd leans to the young side, but not so much that a couple 50-years-olds felt uncomfortable. One gentlemen in fatigues and a beret appeared to have just gotten off duty bodyguarding Fidel Castro’s brother. A gaggle of young ladies dressed like old ladies huddled at the bar with their IDs. Creative classers tromped in and out, stopping for occasional selfies.
Since I’ve been thinking a lot about that Cherry Limeade and we both enjoyed the setting, we’ll be back. It would be nice to check Native out when it’s hopping during on hours, with someone on the decks, a band on stage, and the bartenders back in control of the tunes.
This review is part of our sequential tour-through-the-alphabet of Austin’s restaurant scene. Now you know our ABCs!
web&where: interwebs; 807 east 4th street
what’s the deal? upscale wabi-sabi hostel bar with bar eats; table service
overall: *** (food**; drink****; atmosphere****; service***; instagrammability****)
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
**** yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best]
dig the up-lighting on the bevs