On the top floor of Goldwin Smith Hall, at the end of a long corridor, past offices lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and occupied by little old men with suspenders, thick-rimmed glasses, and bow ties, there was an office belonging to one Professor Dan McCall. Professor McCall was an expert on The Great Gatsby, and other American authors of that era. I used to love going to his office, where he would open a scanned copy of the original Gatsby manuscript with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s hand-written notes. When Midnight in Paris came out last year, I was taken back to my love of Prof. McCall’s office and the fascination with the writing and events of that Fitzgerald’s time period. And last night, here in Austin, I got to relive it again when I took a trip through pre-prohibition and then prohibition at Peche and Midnight Cowboy.
My new friend, Kristin, invited me to join her and a friend from out of town for dinner at Peche. The photos on their website looked extremely cute, but the in-person ambiance was even better. The wall behind the bar was a bookshelf of spirits, complete with an old metal ladder reminiscent of classic libraries. Peche specializes in absinthe and pre-prohibition cocktails, which, as our server explained, means no vodka (vodka didn’t become popular in the United States until the 1940s). I ordered the Tru Blood, which was a blend of absinthe rouge and champagne, while Kristin and her friend opted for two egg-white absinthe cocktails. The Tru Blood had that initial tart, champagne kick and then melted into the absinth-y licorice flavor. It was tasty, but I preferred the other ladies’ choices over my own.
The three of us split the sage gnocchi off of the standard menu, and the butternut squash soup and duck foie gras off of the specialty menu. It was the perfect amount of food for the three of us. The gnocchi and butternut squash soup were absolutely amazing – creamy and full of flavor without being overpowering. The foie gras was our only disappointment, as we couldn’t find a breaded vehicle that complemented the foie gras – the crusty bread was too hard, and the plain bread was too buttery. Nonetheless, we all decided we would come back.
Moving on to prohibition era beverages, we wandered down the street to the Midnight Cowboy – identifiable only by the house number on the outside. We knocked rang the doorbell and, as if out of some gangster movie, the hostess asked us through the wire security door if we had a reservation. There is a two drink minimum per person at the Midnight Cowboy and they don’t serve food. But the drinks were absolutely amazing and packed with dimension. Kristin and I split the signature (and un-pronounce-able) cocktail and each time we sipped the drink had an entirely different flavor. Alamo Drafthouse, who owns the Cowboy, clearly selected a talented mixologist as beverage director. The evening was a very unique experience and I can’t wait to take out-of-town guests on Austin’s little trip through time.