Spirited return

Texas Hill Country distillery branches out with charming new restaurant and bar

Texas Hill Country distillery branches out with charming restaurant

The Cocktail Lab Treaty Oak interior
The Cocktail Lab's interior is Texas Hill Country chic. Photo courtesy of Treaty Oak Distilling
The Cocktail Lab Treaty Oak detail
The bar's cushy couch is an ideal spot to sip whiskey. Photo courtesy of Treaty Oak Distilling
Alice's Treaty Oak interior
The interior is wrapped in staves made from whiskey barrels. Photo courtesy of Treaty Oak Distilling
Alice's Treaty Oak shrimp grits
Creole shrimp and grits are one of the comfort food favorite on the menu. Photo courtesy of Treaty Oak Distilling
The Cocktail Lab Treaty Oak interior
The Cocktail Lab Treaty Oak detail
Alice's Treaty Oak interior
Alice's Treaty Oak shrimp grits

First, the bad news. Ghost Hill, Treaty Oak Distilling’s Dripping Springs eatery, has vanished after a year in business. But that doesn’t mean that the spirit maker has completely given up on the restaurant game. After quickly renovating the Texas Hill Country space earlier in October, the brand announced a charming new restaurant has already taken its place.

Alice's Restaurant is the culmination of a major revamp for the brand. In August, the distillery discontinued its Treaty Oak rum and Starlite vodka lines to focus on gin and whiskey. Along with that change came a new distribution deal that would spread the portfolio past state lines and a redesign of logo and bottles.

Although the restaurant shares a name with the iconic 1967 Arlo Guthrie tune, Alice’s has a much more personal inspiration. According to a release, Treaty Oak founder and CEO Daniel Barnes chose the name to pay tribute to his mother, who ran The Navaho restaurant and motel in Menard, Texas.

“The Navaho was open every day of the year except for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Barnes in a release. “We share that same work ethic but are also passionate foodies who draw upon our culinary roots for inspiration. We’ve developed a unique program at Alice’s Restaurant that highlights a Central Texas terroir experience.”

As Barnes hints, the menu is still very much at peace with its Hill Country surrounds, but moves away from Ghost Hill’s focus on barbecue. Head chef Justin Richardson — who earned his stripes in the kitchens of renowned Texas chefs David Bull and Andrew Weissmann —  reworked the offerings to reflect the diversity of Texas cuisine with coastal, Mexican, and Southern influences.

The appetizer list is kept simple with a pair of salads (one a classic wedge and the other a more delicate pickled beet and arugula pairing with tarragon vinaigrette); an achiote-spiked roasted cauliflower soup; and two charcuterie selections: a cured and smoked meat board and a rabbit rillette with mascarpone cheese, orange, and chicken crisps.

The four mainstay entrees are pure comfort. Smoked Bandera quail is served with apple, raisins, cornbread stuffing, and candied pecans. Chicken fried steak has sides of bacon-wrapped asparagus and smoked garlic whipped potatoes plus a dollop of Bourbon-mushroom gravy prepared from Barnes’ mother’s original recipe. Rotating large plate specials rotate to always give guests something new to try.

Desserts are kept unfussy with two very different options. A sweet potato tart topped with Bourbon cherries and a ginger crumble is unexpected while a chocolate-peanut butter s’mores parfait pleases with nostalgic flavors.

Alice’s Restaurant isn’t the only change at Treaty Oak’s sprawling ranch. The distillery has also debuted The Cocktail Lab, an intimate bar that will showcase the brand’s portfolio of three whiskeys and three gins. Manager Meghan Webb, a fixture in the Fort Worth craft cocktail scene, returned to her native Austin to create a program that melds serious barcraft with a sense of humor.

The drink names all take their cues from ‘90s hip-hop, from the Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like That), a clarified milk punch made with Red Handed whiskey, dehydrated orange, and cracking cinnamon, to Shimmy Shimmy Ya Ya, Waterloo antique gin with simple syrup, egg white, and hibiscus bitters.

The Cocktail Lab and Alice’s Restaurant have a cohesive look guided by Treaty Oak’s multi-skilled VP of Marketing Rachael Barnes. Ghost Hill’s Banksy print has been replaced with barrel stave-covered walls. Cushy upholstered banquettes have been installed in the corner and a mix of high- and low-tops fill out the main dining area. The Cocktail Lab interiors overall are much lighter, complete with reclaimed wood ceilings and contemporary fixtures.

But perhaps the best feature will be the frequent presence of Alice herself. The family matriarch is on-site daily sharing the hospitality that kept The Navaho popular for 25 years.

It’s about putting people in a good mood — guests are attracted to that,” she said via release. “We’re happy people who enjoy life and we offer that with a cocktail in hand.”