Austin Musts: Happy hour at Hotel Ella

Note to all happy hour establishments: $1 off wine and $4 beers is not happy hour. It’s just not. And those “special menus” that offer a limited number of food options with prices identical to the regular menu? We see right through your scheme.

Getting to happy hour is no easy feat. Most run from the 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., the hours when traffic is at its finest and your skin has that special I’ve-been-at-work-all-day glow. It’s also the time of day when I really, really need a snack. So if I actually do muster the energy and willingness to make it to happy hour, that shit better be good.

I’ve been to a few different happy hours since moving here, and while there are several good ones out there, none of them have quite knocked it out of the park like Hotel Ella.

Classy, amiright? Courtesy of
Classy, amiright? Courtesy of

Hotel Ella is a little West Campus gem that sticks out like a sore thumb on Martin Luther King. Austin isn’t blessed with tons of old, gorgeous architecture, but the boutique hotel’s facade gives you just the dose of elegance and grandeur that an old city lover like me craves. Goodalls, the hotel’s restaurant/bar, does two things right with their happy hour: 1) they significantly lower your bill on some truly crafty cocktails and 2) they offer real, quality food at a portion size and price point I can work with.

A disclaimer: I like classy happy hours. As I rapidly approach 30, my tolerance for $3 wells is severely dwindling. I want a bartender who knows the difference between a manhattan and an old fashioned (you’d be surprised how many I’ve met who do not) and a menu that has a little fun with what alcohol can accomplish. And while I love me a dive bar, there’s something about being served a drink that took 10 minutes to make that makes me feel, I dunno, like I’m not drinking away the early evening hours.

Hotel Ella's manhattan, served on the rock(s), the only way to drink it if you ask me.
Hotel Ella’s manhattan, served on the rock(s), the only way to drink it if you ask me.

Hotel Ella’s cocktail menu offers lots of different options for about $12 a pop. Their happy hour, however, slices those prices right in half, making a truly exceptional manhattan an affordable venture for someone in my–ahem–position. I’ll forgive them for referring to Knob Creek as “whisky” instead of bourbon because the drink tasted wonderful. And we’re not in Cincy-tucky anymore.

The “spicy bees knees” cocktail, made with Ford’s gin, and Emily’s purse

In the hazy heat on Hotel Ella’s wraparound patio, it doesn’t take long for a grown up cocktail to hit you. So, my troop of gorgeously dressed and giddy happy hour goers and I decided on a couple of items. We ordered a meat and cheese plate ($16) and the baked ricotta ($13). The price may seem steep standing alone, but what arrived was more than enough to satisfy four hungry ladies.

Meat and cheese plate; baked ricotta.
Meat and cheese plate; baked ricotta.

I was truly impressed with the cheese plate. How could I not be? Special treats like pickled watermelon and caramelized onions snuggled up against a creamy french soft cheese, a smoky bleu and a just-mild-enough cheddar? Yum. The spicy salami was divine and the grilled bread… well, we had to order more.

The staff was sweet and accommodating (I would mention the bartender by name if I could remember it) and the place was just crowded enough on a Thursday to make you feel like you’re a part of something. It’s dressier than most places in Austin, but not stuffy in the slightest (I’m lookin at you Truluck’s). I mean, you might see an old lady with her freshly blow-dried poodle wander by, but who cares? Plus, having your credit card charged $20 for two delicious, quality drinks and food might just make your week.

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