Almost as soon as Michael and Jessica Sanders opened their North Loop pub, Drink.Well, they would get asked, “So when are you opening a new bar? When are you opening one down south?”
They can finally give a concrete answer: hopefully by the end of this year. The Sanders are opening Backbeat, a two-story cocktail bar with a rooftop patio, next door to the South Lamar Boulevard location of Ramen Tatsu-Ya after quietly beginning construction on the 2,200 sq. ft. space in June.
“We didn’t want to do a second project just to do a second project,” Jessica Sanders said. “We wanted some place that contributed something to the neighborhood it was located in. It came down to finding the right neighborhood. That part of town has so many fantastic restaurants but not any standalone cocktail bars.”
In many ways, Backbeat will be like its sister bar Drink.Well — offering stellar cocktails and beer and an expanded wine list in a welcoming setting — but it’s got its own distinct tune, too.
With such a large space that includes a rooftop patio with views overlooking downtown Austin, Backbeat is allowing the Sanders to stretch their creative muscles and have a variety of different drinks upstairs and downstairs, rather than just one seasonal cocktail menu for both. The rooftop is going to be the place for low-ABV cocktails, perfect for outdoor drinking, whereas the indoor bar below will be devoted to a larger menu of classics.
“We’ll be one of the first true cocktail bars on South Lamar that’s not tied to a restaurant,” Sanders said. “We want people to rediscover classic cocktails that aren’t top of mind, in addition to the original cocktails that we create.”
Unlike Drink.Well, which is as much a dinner spot as it is a bar, the new place won’t have a large food menu, although it will offer bar snacks that will be made at Drink.Well, Sanders said. She and her husband envision Backbeat, to be opened until 2 a.m. each night, as the bar Austinites will go to before or after a dinner at Ramen Tatsu-Ya, Odd Duck or any of the other top dining choices along that stretch of South Lamar. That’s in part why they aim to make the cocktails at Backbeat very good.
“What’s distinct about the restaurant scene in that area is that they have very bold cuisine,” she said. “Very bold and vibrant flavors. So how do you take that and turn it into a drink menu that complements the food? We’re making that our focus.”
They decided to call the bar Backbeat — a musical term referring to the second and fourth beats of a four-beat measure that give jazz and rock ‘n roll their sound — to highlight “the rhythm behind the bar,” she said. Plus, “the rooftop is set back from the downstairs space, so we envision the spaces feeling different. Downstairs, comfortable and intimate, it’s like a little bit of a downbeat. Upstairs, an upbeat al fresco patio. So I think the space itself has a backbeat with the two levels.”
Two visually compelling levels, that is. Backbeat is being designed by Jamie Chioco of Chioco Design (he’s done up many of the restaurants and bars in Austin, including Counter 357, Perla’s and Winflow Osteria), and he’s got some impressive ideas for transforming the space.
At heart, the Sanders just want their new bar to reflect the part of Austin it’s located in.
“Michael and I are very much about bringing great drinks and great experiences to neighborhood spaces,” Sanders said. “I feel like Austin is at that place where if we are thoughtful about it, we can have self-sustaining neighborhoods with their own bars, restaurants, shops. Places that will make you feel like you’re in a particular part of town.”
For a first look and taste of Backbeat, check out the cocktail lounge at the Contemporary Austin’s La Dolce Vita Food and Wine Festival on Oct. 16. The Sanders will offer a couple of drinks there “in the style of Backbeat,” as well as a glimpse of the branding.