Last Friday, we joined friends for happy hour back in the 1800s. Or so it felt. A square, modest-looking place behind a 7-11 off of 24th Street in Austin. The student ‘hood, based on it’s proximity to UT. Prices may not have been lower, but the saloon-like ambiance certainly contrasted to the swanky, modern feel of many downtown establishments a few blocks south. And there was an offset smoker out back, industrial size.
As you can see, Freedmen’s is serious about their BBQ. And rightfully so. In Austin, BBQ places are a dime a dozen – good BBQ isn’t too hard to find. But melt-in-your-mouth BBQ? BBQ brisket thickly sliced, layered across homemade foccacia bread? The edges burnt just the right amount, the center succulent and tender? Not so common. I was literally in BBQ bliss. I wasn’t even hungry! At $5, the Sammy sandwich was worth every happy-hour penny.
And happy hour must involve drinks, of course. Of which Freedmen’s does very well. I splurged on two of their artisan cocktails – the Smokin’ Cactus and Plum something something. The perfect accompaniment to a meal in 90-degree heat.
That’s right – Freedmen’s has no air conditioning*. Hence the time-warp. It doesn’t sound like it would work, but somehow it does. Despite sweaty thighs stuck to brown leather chesterfield booths, I loved the transport to a slower era. The restaurant’s activity seemed to adapt to a slower speed too, everyone lulled into a sweet, relaxed amble from the swelter. It took us probably six visits from our lovely waitress Tara before we actually ordered food. And, unlike the annoyance most restaurant staff would feel at such a pace, it was perfectly fine.
There’s also a beer garden if you’d prefer a slight breeze. Or like that smoke from the smoker to add some more flavor to your experience. But there’s not much of a need for that. I had zero expectations walking in to Freedmen’s, and was more than satisfied as I sauntered out, for once not feeling that shock as a wave of heat engulfs my body. I was already acclimated!
Thank you Freedmen’s for a one-of-a-kind BBQ experience – I’ll be back soon.
*Upon further investigation, it has come to light that this may be rather a matter of them having very weak air conditioners combined with all of the doors being open to the outdoors, creating the feeling of no air conditioning. To be confirmed upon my next visit there…