Tell us a little about yourself and the bar(s) you work at…
In the five years since he returned to his home state, Justin Elliott has become one of the most prominent, respected bartenders in Austin, Texas. Having done turns behind the stick at Péché, Midnight Cowboy, as the general manager of The Volstead Lounge & Hotel Vegas compound, as the head bartender at Qui (where he was named Eater Austin’s 2014 Bartender of the Year), and now in his role as chief wrangler of food-and-beverage at The Townsend, Elliott has consistently produced
forward-thinking cocktail programs that have been recognized by Bon Appetit, Playboy, Texas Monthly, Zagat, Southern Living Magazine, Imbibe, Food Republic, Star Chefs and many more. His illustrious cocktailing reputation belies a different pedigree, though, as his formative bartending years were spent in neighborhood dives around New York’s outer boroughs and Elliott’s particular obsession is attempting to strike a balance between the culinary obligations of craft bartending and the social and cultural obligations of the corner pub.
Where do you draw your cocktail inspiration from?
It always depends on the project and very much the physical architecture and design of the space itself. I’ve always said that a cocktail program should accomplish the same function in a bar or restaurant as the wallpaper or the jukebox. We want it to reinforce the total experience, not be the experience. To that end I like to deal generally with classical cocktail construction—time tested ratios, flavor affinities, etc, and when and where it does seem appropriate to dig further into more culinarian, modernist flavor & ingredient explorations, I still try to keep those explorations accessible to the guest. A lot of that has to do with presenting the drink, the components, etc, clearly in the menu copy and a lot of it has to do with making sure the more esoteric flavors are presented clearly enunciated in the cocktail itself.