One of the best restaurants in Austin and one of the city’s few white tablecloth dining establishments will serve its final meal on New Year’s Eve. Executive chef David Bull’s Congress (200 Congress Ave.) will close on the heels of its fifth anniversary. The restaurant’s parent company, La Corsha Hospitality Group, will expand its adjacent Second Bar + Kitchen to include the space of the former fine dining restaurant. The Second remodel, which will include an expanded patio and bar and a 50-seat dining room for private events, is expected to be completed by late spring.
The expansion of the downtown location coincides with the dramatic growth and success of the Second Bar + Kitchen brand. La Corsha will open a Second Bar + Kitchen at the Archer Hotel in the Domain next year. Bull will serve as executive chef at that restaurant, which will be responsible for banquet dining, catering, room service, and more at the 171-room boutique hotel. He will also serve as executive chef for a 1,500-square-foot location of Second Bar + Kitchen at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
“I couldn’t see operating Congress without me here every day,” Bull said of the restaurant he had considered a professional dream.
The chef, whose impressive career includes time at Austin’s Driskill Grill and the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, admitted that closing Congress was “definitely bittersweet,” but added, “I’m also incredibly excited for the future opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.”
The first restaurant to be awarded five stars from former Statesman critic Mike Sutter, Congress, as I wrote in this year’s dining guide (where the restaurant ranked #7), has never been afraid to be the adult in this flip-flop-clad Peter Pan of a city.
Though service was carefully honed, wine and cuisine thoughtfully curated and décor elegant, Congress always had a friendly vibe befitting the city. It was a serious restaurant that wasn’t afraid to rock out a little bit, as evidenced by the dining room’s soundtrack, though some may have seen the restaurant as an anachronism better suited for a different era or city.
While Second Bar + Kitchen has consistently drawn busy crowds for lunch and dinner, Congress struggled at times to fill its chandelier-dappled dining room. The uneven business is indicative to me that, though guests may desire excellence in service, food and wine (all hallmarks of Congress), traditional white tablecloth dining and its formal trappings hold little appeal for regular Austin diners. Outside of Jeffrey’s, there are few other dining rooms in Austin that match the level of measured sophistication. It is a trend that can be seen in other markets around the country, as well.
In addition to the propulsive growth of the Second brand, La Corsha is also opening Boiler Nine Bar + Grill at the Seaholm development next year. Earlier this year, the group headed by Jeff Trigger also took over ownership of the historic Green Pastures, which it plans to update, and is overseeing the revamping of the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells. Ethan Holmes, who served as the opening chef de cuisine at Second Bar + Kitchen, will move to executive chef at the downtown location of Second, and current Second chef Jason Stude will serve as executive chef at the forthcoming Boiler Nine.
Congress will be open for dinner on Dec. 29 and 30 and offer two New Year’s Eve seatings, the first starting between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. and the second between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. There will be a five-course options for $125 ($195 with pairing) and a seven-course dinner for $185 ($265 with pairings). Reservations can be made by emailing email@example.com or through OpenTable.
While the New Year’s Eve dinners are being billed as the final meals at Congress, Bull teased to an ever-evolving and unknown future.
“I know our regular customers will be very sad,” Bull said. “But you never know. With all the projects we have going on, we may build something like this again.”