I first set foot on Rainey Street in Austin a few years ago, when Lustre Pearl (cousin of Houston’s own Pearl Bar on Washington) was the only concern going. Walking its length this past weekend, it seems as though every one of the few dilapidated houses that haven’t been converted into bars already has a notice of application to sell alcoholic beverages hanging from a front window. While I’m sure it will have its misfires, and it already has bars with trite names based on their address (Bar 96) or a singular noun (soon-to-open Bungalow), I don’t think Rainey risks becoming Washington – all of its establishments remain in freestanding houses hewing to the relaxed backyard aesthetic that Lustre Pearl pioneered.
I caught a tweet from the Petrol Station feed a few days before heading up to the hipster mothership, touting a new place that had just opened up with 100 taps – and it looked amazing. Reuniting with a bunch of college friends, we obviated the logistical nightmare of cabs and caravans, so we didn’t venture too far from our S. Congress motel all weekend. On Sunday, however, the 3 of us heading back to Houston didn’t have any particular schedule (we also needed a couple of beers to calm our near epileptic cerebra after the sensory overload at Toy Joy on Guadalupe), so we decided to swing by Banger’s for the afternoon.
On any developing street lies the opportunity to acquire a rather large tract of land before everyone gets too squeezed in, and Banger’s sits on an expansive property with two buildings on either side — one the bar proper, the other the back-end of a performance stage — and a sprawling biergarten, complete with dog run, strung with lights and filled with picnic tables. Passing through the main building, you’ll see the 101 taps on the back wall (as they were keen to clarify) and a well-appointed beer hall that is at once cavernous and inviting, rife with patrons chatting animatedly over brats and brews. The hostess will seat you or lead you out to the backyard and hand you a rather daunting menu. The beers are grouped helpfully, and, given the attention to glassware and general aesthetic of the tap wall, it looks like they took more than a few pages from the Hay Merchant playbook. I wanted to stay pretty local, especially with beers I couldn’t get back home, so I started with Austin Beerworks. You can find these in Houston occasionally, but I had not yet tried their Fire Eagle IPA, one of their core offerings and a well-executed one at that. Stepping it up to one of their special releases, I was knocked the eff out by the Flying Headbutt, a Belgian DIPA that was both indulgent with hop bitterness and temperate with Belgian yeast brightness.
Perusing the sausage menu, there were quite a few I wanted to try, but I ended up with the Boerewors, a South African spiced blend of pork and beef. Through the Banger’s methodology, you pick your sausage, then your bun, then from an array of toppings and condiments. My Boerewors on a kolache bun with caramelized onions, sauerkraut, spicy mustard, and curry ketchup was quite frankly a thing of beauty. On this multiple choice test, I came up aces. The spices played well together, and the savory sausage against the sweet kolache bun made an excellent contrast.
One of our party strayed from the sausage menu and ordered the Kofta, a juicy, Mediterranean-spiced sausage link on a stick, served with a thick hummus, refreshing tabouleh, creamy tzatziki, and sprinkled with feta cheese. Whether this sort of Greek or Lebanese style meat is spelled Kefta, Kafta, or Kofta, I spell it e.x.q.u.i.s.i.t.e. Everything we ordered was well executed, from the first bite of chili cheese fries to the last bite of hummus.
Only open about a week, there are still some kinks to be worked out at Banger’s. First, they were out of a few specialty beers, but more than a few of their menu items. I had wanted to order the antelope and venison merguez (gone) on a pretzel bun (86’ed), the new staff had trouble keeping the 100+ beers straight, and there was a mysterious peanut in our chili cheese fries. All of these critiques become infinitesimal though when viewed in the larger perspective of the place’s potential energy, rather than just the actual kinetic energy of the pistons firing now. What’s more, the staff was eager to rectify any oversight or mistake, and couldn’t have been more attentive. Gregarious too, glad to chat with us and gauge whether we liked the place – which is easy to do: impressive tap list, robust, piquant snausages, old-world beer hall, dog-friendly biergarten, and a live-music-ready dais.
Though I can get it back in Houston from time to time, I couldn’t pass up the oak-aged Old Ale and Imperial IPA blend that is the Dogfish Head Burton Baton, which led me to wrap things up with another Austin brew, the Alt-eration Old Ale from Hops & Grain, a malty beer not dissimilar from the recent Saint Arnold DR12 release (though the hat tip has to go to Saint Arnold). On that note, I would have liked to have seen more Houston beers on the menu. I understand it’s an Austin bar, but they should show some Texas love – I only saw a couple of Southern Star offerings, Summer Pils alone from Saint Arnold, and no Karbach, No Label, or Buffalo Bayou at all. But sitting out on that patio, sipping a cold beer, and playing Bananagrams (it’s bananas!) purchased at Toy Joy all made for a great afternoon. I’m underwhelmed by the name, but even with something so prosaic, George Orwell would be glad to hear of it, and as you may have gathered, I can be an onomastic curmudgeon. Rainey St. has plenty of other bars, but it’s decidedly un-Sixth St. with its jägerheads, Banger’s is well designed, has draft stouts, fine glassware… in fact, Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden has come about as close as one can to earning 10 out of Orwell’s 10 moons.