New York. Beverly Hills. Downtown Los Angeles. After many years away, Chris Bostick, the former general manager of Los Angeles’ clandestine classic cocktail den The Varnish, has returned to the Lone Star State.
His new venture, Austin’s recently opened Half Step, has been hotly anticipated from every cocktail-loving corner of the country. “This bar is about having worked in places like New York and Los Angeles and then offering those great experiences through the lens of Austin,” Bostick says.
It only took a week of filing papers in a doctor’s office as a teenager for Bostick to realize the sedentary life wasn’t for him. In fact, while in high school, he started washing dishes at a strip-mall Tex-Mex restaurant, “and realized right away I was meant to work on my feet,” the native Texan recalls. “When they asked me to move up to busboy, I was amped. ‘This is living,’ I thought.”
That revelation led Bostick to bar jobs in Texas and New York, then in Texas again—everywhere from a TGI Friday’s to Austin’s ornate shrine to Mexican cooking, Fonda San Miguel. Eventually, Bostick headed to Los Angeles. There, he slung drinks at the Beverly Hills Hotel and become enveloped in the cool embrace of Southern California’s farmers-market obsession.
In time, Bostick moved to downtown Los Angeles’ famed speakeasy The Varnish, where he ran operations for nearly four years and helped the intimate bar win the 2013 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Award for Best American Cocktail Bar. “It was eye-opening,” he says of his California years. But the lure of the Texas capital brought him southward again.
A collaboration with Los Angeles–based 213 Nightlife Ventures, Half Step is set inside an old bungalow in Austin’s Rainey Street Historic District. The neighborhood has always thrived on packed bars, rowdy patrons and cheap beer. Now, locals can sip Juleps built with perfect pebbles of ice made in a Scotsman machine and “shaken masterpieces,” as Bostick calls them, like the Floradora (Beefeater Gin, raspberry syrup, ginger syrup, lime juice) and Remember the Maine (rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Cherry Heering, absinthe).
But Half Step is no stuffy bar designed for prostrating before the altar of cocktail worship. “We set Half Step up to be approachable, not intimidating,” Bostick says. The indoor bar features Art Deco light fixtures and floral wallpaper; the outdoor drinking area is more easygoing, an open-air space for conversing over large-format Swizzles and Cobblers.
Half Step approaches the bar world differently from Bostick’s first Texas stints, when he “bounced around the Tex-Mex world, banging out beers, Margaritas and tequila shots.” But Bostick, the people’s bartender, isn’t above serving those crowd-pleasers at Half Step.
Get the recipe for Chris Hardwick’s Floradora cocktail.