By: Scott Nishimura
Anchoring the eastern end of Magnolia Avenue is a repurposed building that is humming a new tune. Not only did Bill Smith breathe new life into the historic building that once housed the Lions Club, he filled it with music and lively conversation.
The building’s massive footprint left ample room for the loft-like open lounge and bar area inside and an intimate music hall, complete with performance stage and state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems. Then he crowned it all with a huge outdoor deck upstairs to take in views of downtown and enjoy the mature live oak trees, whose branches are adorned with twinkle lights and seem to sway to the beat.
When they first opened last June, the idea was to offer an upscale menu, but the patrons quickly cast their vote for an interesting and affordable pub-style menu instead, more in keeping with the casual atmosphere. Everything you love about Austin can be found at Live Oak Music Hall, minus the requisite body art and piercings (which are strictly optional here).
On a warmer-than-normal December night, we dined on the rooftop with a full crowd. It still felt quiet and relaxing. We loved the effect of the live oak branches dangling overhead. The eclectic menu has appetizers ranging from Pork Chile Verde Frito Pie with slow-cooked pork chile verde to calamari with fresh jalapeños, tobacco onions and lemon aioli. They were random combinations that I had trouble wrapping my head around, but in the end present plenty of options for every taste.
We tried the Buffalo Toes ($12), which were chicken-fried portions of buffalo, like steak fingers. Four crispy strips were laid on top of a mound of home-style mashed potatoes, and they proved to be a filling starter. The batter was delicate, and the plate was dusted with fresh parsley. A side of traditional cream gravy was offered for dipping.
Taking a total left turn, we sampled the Poke ($14). Served in a footed ice cream bowl, the scent of sesame oil was unmistakable. A very generous portion of sashimi-grade tuna was diced, and the bright red chunks were tossed in sesame oil with avocado, green onions, black sesame seeds and curly Japanese seaweed. Since this one is little awkward to share, with too many forks in the mix, pick your friends wisely.
While they do not currently offer lunchtime service, there is a gospel Sunday brunch you might want to try. What kind of music do they showcase in the evenings? Well, according to manager Torre Dougherty, there are few things you won’t find at Live Oak Music Hall. “No techno, DJ, rap, hip-hop or heavy metal. We have a lot of singer-songwriters, and a lot of them are coming from Nashville. When well-known headliners come to town, it is standing room only,” Dougherty says.
Live Oak is garnering a good reputation for being a true beer pub. The more than 40 craft beers on hand change seasonally, and they are even beginning to provide beer pairings with their food. All the staff members are well versed about which suds to serve. Tell them what you prefer, and they will guide you. Our efficient waitress knew her stuff and guided us to ordering the proper pint.
The extensive beer menu is a hoot to read as well, with funny, tongue-in-cheek named brews, all trying to get your attention. Some of the stand-outs were Moylan’s Kilt Lifter, Clown Shoes Chocolate Sombrero, Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils, or Peticolas Royal Scandal. The point is...if your beer doesn’t have a funny name, you probably shouldn’t be drinking it! Let’s face it...there is nothing amusing about Miller or Coors. Don’t worry though, you can’t go wrong; they don’t even serve beers with boring names at Live Oak.
We also sampled The Havana sandwich ($12), with its chewy Bolillo roll. Filled with Mojo marinated pork, Black Forest Ham, and both provolone and Swiss cheese, they got it just right, and all the flavors blended wonderfully. You could taste all of the little additions like banana peppers, onions, pickles and mild Dijon mustard. The sandwich was served with a pile of hand-cut, well-seasoned fries on the side. Plenty to share.
While we noshed and sipped, we noticed the flexible seating of four-topped, high-legged tables slowly grow to 12 and then on to 16 as more and more friends arrived to join the group across from us. The outlying tables are simple picnic-style tables with bench seating. They will need to add a few heaters to keep patrons warm in the winter months. (I am hoping that by the time you are reading this, the weather has finally transitioned into more seasonable temperatures, and there is now a chill in the air.)
While the cavernous lounge area needs some sprucing up with the addition of interesting decorations and artwork, the music hall itself is warm and well thought out. Whether you are looking for munchies, music or just a perfect place to meet friends, Live Oak has you covered.
By: Scott Nishimura