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Austin's Holiday Cocktails

5 favorite holiday cocktails of Austin movers and shakers — and the best bars to drink them in

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Slideshow
Keith Kreeger cocktail
Keith Kreeger Photo by Matt McGinnis
Tim League Alamo cocktails
Tim League Photo by Annie Ray
Kate Hersch August Morgan
Kate Hersch Photo by Matt McGinnis
Rube Jule Coco Lectric cocktails burlesque
Ruby Joule, Coco Lectric Photo by Matt McGinnis
Keith Kreeger cocktail
Tim League Alamo cocktails
Kate Hersch August Morgan
Rube Jule Coco Lectric cocktails burlesque

In between the office parties, your neighbors’ holiday parties and your friends’ crazy Christmas parties, there are bound to be a few times during the holidays when you find yourself without an invitation for an evening out. That’s no reason to bypass holiday cheer. Five prominent Austinites share recipes for their go-to seasonal drinks to order at a favorite bar or to mix at home.

Booze and Burlesque

Ruby Joule and Coco Lectric, co-founders and headliners of The Jigglewatts Burlesque troupe, keep a busy schedule with performances every Friday at the Gibson Lounge in Maggie Mae’s on Sixth Street, at private events, as well as in other singing and acting gigs. They also take the show on the road, with performances in places such as Las Vegas and Montreal, where burlesque is see a high art.

All of that work is paying off for the electric duo, with accolades piling up. Joule, a classically trained ballet dancer, has been named “Crown Princess of Burlesque,” at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival 2013. Lectric, a classically trained dancer, actor and vocalist, has landed the No. 5 spot on the “Burlesque Top 50” list compiled by 21st Century Burlesque Magazine.

It’s not all silky long gloves and twirling tassels. Joule and Lectric like to sip and enjoy an occasional cocktail at home or in quiet bars where they can linger over a conversation. The Gibson Lounge, where they have a Friday-night residency, fits the bill with cozy furniture. “I like the Gibson because the serve all-fresh squeezed juices here,” says Joule.  

Her go-to holiday potion is a twist on the Cherry Frost, a combination of black cherry liqueur, brandy and crushed ice, topped off with sparkling white wine that is at home at any Christmas party. Joule says, “The brandy has a warming effect for cold days, the champagne makes it fancy and cherry liqueur gives it that little pizzazz. Of course, it’s gluten-free and vegan.”

Ruby Frost

  • 3 ounces champagne

  • .25 ounce Cherry Herring liqueur

  • .25 ounce brandy

Pour all ingredients together and garnish with a cherry.  

Lectric likes to imagine escaping the chill of December to soak in the sun on a tropical island. She says, “I prefer an escapist drink that is light and tart. I like to indulge over the holidays with extra treats, so a crisp drink made with fresh-squeezed lemon juice and tequila hits the spot for me. Besides it's Paleo friendly and gluten free.”

Coco’s Island Getaway

  • 1.25 ounce Tequila Avión Silver

  • .75 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice

  • Fill with club soda

Shake and strain over ice and serve in a tumbler with a lemon garnish.

If they fully gave in to the mood of these drinks, Joule and Lectric would dance on stage together inside a dueling duo of oversized margarita glass and champagne tulip with sugared rims. Lectric purrs, “I love Latin dances, and tequila makes everyone want to dance extremely sultry dances with a lot of hips.”

Joule counters, “I would have a lot of rhinestones on in my dance, because I need to sparkle like the champagne. The music would be a dirty, bluesy swing. Underneath the glitter, I like a little grit.”

I’ll drink to that.

The Old Fashioned Potter

Keith Kreeger, the creative hands behind the art flowing forth from the Kreeger Pottery studio, is enjoying a rocket ride of success, with his art showing up in such swank restaurants as Pearl & Ash in New York and the ultrahot Qui here in Austin. He's come a long way from his humble beginnings as a summer-school pottery student at Skidmore College.

Kreeger recalls, “I took one potter class in college and completely fell in love with the process. I was in the studio 14 hours a day and made a ton of ugly pots that I thought were great.”

After completing school, he owned a craft gallery on Cape Cod for a dozen years. The gorgeous Texas weather and his wife’s family's ties to the state eventually brought him to Austin. “When you marry a Texan, you tacitly agree that someday you, too, will be a Texan,” he says.  

It turns out that becoming a Texan is a really good thing for Kreeger.

“Austin has been really good to me,” he says. “I thrive in this creative community. I’ve always had my pottery followers, and I really appreciate those craft lovers. The past couple of years, the trend of people being deeply interested in the origin of their food and wine has carried over into people caring about the kind of plates the food is served on. I’ve been fortunate to be in some good places, and things have grown really well.”  

His days at Skidmore in the bitterly cold winters of Saratoga Springs, New York, influenced his taste in cocktails, too. When he was a senior, a professor took him to the cool, grown-up whiskey bar 9 Maple Ave and introduced him to the Old Fashioned. “It felt cool ordering it, because none of the other students were in that dark, mahogany-paneled bar,” said Kreeger. “It became my cocktail. Now I drink it when it gets cold outside.”

Kreeger’s Old Fashioned

  • 1 sugar cube

  • 2 healthy dashes orange bitters

  • 2 dashes Angostura

  • 2 ounces Angel's Envy Bourbon

Muddle the sugar cube with the bitters in the bottom of a rocks glass. Stir in one ounce of the bourbon over two big ice cubes until the sugar is dissolved. Add the remaining bourbon and stir with two more ice cubes. Garnish with an orange twist.  

Kreeger makes a mean cocktail at home because he is drawn to process of making them, just as he is with cooking and in the studio. He believes in following the right steps to get the right result. He is just as happy to order an Old Fashioned at Whisler’s or Weather Up, as he enjoys the experience, the craft and the process that goes into those places.  

Cocktail Napkin Queen’s Morning Crush

Even if Kate Hersch didn’t display her wry wit on linen cocktail napkins, the twinkle in her eye would reveal the cleverness bubbling under the surface. Hersch, owner of August Morgan, started the company seven years ago by repurposing vintage needle point pillows and selling them at stores like Barneys and One Kings Lane. She is now branching out into other home accessories, such as acrylic trays, blankets and those whimsical napkins.

Like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice trying to find a place to contain all of the water, Hersch uses August Morgan as a place to try to capture her overflowing creativity. She seems to be a never-ending fount of droll cocktail humor splashed across tidy white cloth napkins.

“My inspiration comes when I drink,” muses Hersch. She started creating the cocktail napkins two years ago with four patterns and has been continually adding designs ever since.  

For Hersch, the holidays are an excuse to start her inspiration engine early in the day. She said, “My holiday cocktail of choice is a Bloody Mary to start the morning off right. I like them spicy with a lot of olives. Tabasco. I like to keep it local with Deep Eddy Vodka, Dripping Springs Vodka or Tito’s Vodka.”

To keep things going, there is no reason to mix just one at a time.

Hersch Bloody Mary

  • 12 ounces Deep Eddy Vodka

  • 3 cups tomato juice

  • 2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • .5 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

  • 1.5 cloves garlic, passed through a garlic press

  • .25 cup Worcestershire sauce

  • 2 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • 2 Tbsp. steak sauce

  • 2 tsp. cracked black pepper

  • 2 tsp. celery salt

  • 2 tsp. Tabasco

  • 1 tsp. wasabi

  • 1 tsp. dried ginger powder

  • 1 tsp. soy sauce

  • Several speared olives to garnish

Excluding the vodka and garnishes, marry the ingredients in a blender. Fill a glass pitcher with ice, add the vodka and stir in the tomato mixture. Pour into ice-filled pint glasses, then garnish with a totem pole of olives and a stalk of celery. Makes 10 drinks.

When I asked her what new cocktail napkin design this Bloody Mary would inspire, she barely paused before she quipped, “Do you know those Chinese Crested Dogs? You know the ones that are bald except for a flowing tuft on its head, paws and tail? I’d have a picture of one of those with its paw perched on a tipped over bottle with a caption underneath saying, ‘hair of the dog.’”

I think we may see several new cocktail napkin designs from August Morgan after this holiday season.  

Movie Mogul’s Midnight Run

Tim League, the founder and CEO of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, the theater chain known for its indie films, quote-alongs, film festivals and in theater dining, has a deep appreciation for good movies, food and cocktails. When League gets a hankerin’ for holiday hooch, he doesn’t have to go outside the bars in his theaters. However, he prefers to head to Midnight Cowboy, a former brothel turned cozy cocktail lounge that he opened across the street from the Alamo Ritz along with Alamo Drafthouse beverage director Bill Norris and bar manager Brian Dressel.    

League would rather head to the Cowboy for a cocktail than go through the machinations on his own. “At home," he says, "I don't make too many complicated cocktails.  I usually drink beer or wine. My dad and I built a wine cellar a couple of years ago, so I tend to open a bottle rather than stir a cocktail. I go to Midnight Cowboy regularly for my cocktails. I love their creations, and I can justify regular visits by calling it quality control assurance work.”

For his Christmasy cocktails, League leans toward classic whiskey drinks, such as twists on an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan or a Vieux Carre. “This year, though, I’ve been quite smitten with a riff on the Vieux Carre that is built with rum instead of whiskey,” he says. “They [the crew at Midnight Cowboy] call it the Navesink Towers, named after the Navesink Lighthouses in New Jersey, home of Laird’s Distillery, the producers of the Bonded Apple Brandy in the drink. Javier and Brian from Midnight Cowboy perfected the drink, and it has become my 2013 favorite holiday cocktail.”

The Navesink Towers

  • .75 ounce Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy

  • .75 ounce Smith and Cross Navy-Strength Rum

  • .75 ounce Cocchi Americano

  • .25 ounce Apfelkorn

  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

  • 2 dashes Josh Loving’s 5-spice bitters

Stirred and served over a large ice cube in an old fashioned glass and garnished with an orange twist.

When asked which film he would to watch to pair his holiday drink, League replied, “The Vieux Carre is a New Orleans cocktail, so if I were to watch a movie while sipping a Navesink Towers, I would have to go with the greatest New Orleans film of all time: Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant.” Damn, that’s a good choice.

Whether you head to your favorite bar or make these drinks at home, these Christmas cocktails are sure to make your eyes twinkle and your cheeks rosy.  

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