Freedmen’s Bar and Smokehouse might not be a household name among Austin’s barbecue elite, but General Manager Myriah Free said the restaurant is gaining traction.

In November, Freedmen’s earned a spot on Texas Monthly’s Top 25 New and Improved BBQ Joints. The bar and smokehouse had only been six months old when the magazine published its 2013 list of the 50 best barbecue eateries in the state.

“Despite a solid debut, the place had yet to find its footing and just missed the final cut,” the November article reads. “Since then, pitmaster Evan LeRoy has more than proved his barbecue bona fides.”

Although Freedmen’s could always use more buzz, it has received a lot of early recognition, Free said.

The business opened in December 2012 in a historic West Campus building constructed in 1869 as a freed slave community. Later, it became home to Austin’s first black newspaper and then a grocery store for several years until it was vacated.

A University of Texas alumnus, owner Cuatro Kowalski had his eye on turning the building, which is an official City Historic Landmark, into a barbecue restaurant for a long time, Free said. After three years of renovations, Freedmen’s became a restaurant.

In addition to serving such barbecue offerings as brisket, ribs, sausage and pulled pork, Freedmen’s is a whiskey bar. It features an array of whiskeys, 127 in total—from a $6 Jim Beam to a $120 Pappy Van Winkle (rare, limited edition expected to be available this fall). Six beer taps are available as well as wine and champagne. The bar’s 12 signature cocktails range between $10 and $12.

LeRoy said the establishment pays close attention to the sides and garnishes, such as its housemade pickle trifecta of red onion, jalapeno and dill pickles ($4.50 for a half-pint); its zesty horseradish potato salad ($5.50 for a half-pint) and focaccia bread.

Free said brisket and ribs are the most frequently ordered items.

LeRoy said the brisket is heavily smoked and not shielded, creating
a crust around the meat.

“What we do is try to start at really good barbecue—really pay attention to the sides and garnish just as much as we do the barbecue,” LeRoy said. “We also try to take a made-from-scratch approach to everything.”

Coming soon to Freedmen’s Bar and Smokehouse

  • The restaurant is expecting in late fall to complete the construction of a permanent structure for its beer garden, which will feature a retractable roof.

  • The bar and smokehouse will expand its 250 capacity by building a commissary kitchen in the Far West Boulevard area. Only barbecue smoking will be done on-site.

  • A whiskey flight menu will launch by the end of September. Flight orders will consist of about five or six whiskey samplings curated by staff in addition to one flight of the customer’s choosing.