A dessert bar is as sweet as it sounds, and in Austin, it really exists. Nightcap opened earlier this week on a quieter stretch of West Sixth Street with the goal of becoming locals’ go-to stop for the things we crave at the end of a long day: drinks and dessert.
The menu has savory small bites for people not wanting to skip dinner, but that side of the flavor spectrum is in the minority, a choice Nightcap owner Christin Rowan-Adams made from the start. “We’re a dessert-forward restaurant, so we wanted to have as many, if not more, dessert items than savory items,” she said.
She came up with the concept a few years ago while she was bartending at Kenichi, a sushi spot in the Warehouse District that closed two years ago. Although she’d known she wanted to open her own place — just like her parents, who used to own a bar in South Padre — she hadn’t known what it would be until the idea struck her like a bolt of lightning.
“I approached the chef (at Kenichi) and asked him if he wanted to open a restaurant serving dessert and sparkling cocktails,” she said. “He said ‘yeah.’ ‘Well, do you want to call it Nightcap?’ ‘Yeah!'”
He’s not the same chef now in charge of crafting the food menu at Nightcap, and the dessert bar also doesn’t limit its booze menu to cocktails topped with sparkling wine. But Rowan-Adams, who went to school for architecture so she could design her ideal bar and restaurant one day, has largely stuck to her original vision thanks to help from Chef Drew Dunston, Pastry Chef Annabelle Turner (both formerly of Paggi House) and Nightcap catering and events manager Liz Shelton. Shelton and Rowan-Adams put together the cocktail program.
And it’s about as fun as you’d expect from a place that puts as equal a weight on cheesecake (here made with bourbon cherries, feuilletine and thyme) as roasted beets (made with horseradish, green apple, puffed barley, champagne, vinegar and mint). The cocktails are all, for the most part, classics that have been playfully rechristened: the Tall, Dark and Stormy with Gosling’s dark rum and ginger beer; the Rye You No Call with Bulleit rye and Angostura bitters.
“The idea was to do traditional cocktails that people like and can understand, but with fun names,” Rowan-Adams said.
There are also original creations like Punch Drunk Love, a lavender milk punch featuring Treaty Oak bourbon and almond milk, that looks just about perfect for date night. And don’t miss out on the boozy dessert options, either, such as the Milk & Honey shake with vanilla, bourbon, orange liqueur and honeycomb candy.
One cocktail was named after the architect who helped her convert the 1920s-era bungalow into Nightcap — and also served as a role model for her when she was still at Kenichi, dreaming about the dessert lounge she wanted to open.
“I really admired Dick Clark (of Dick Clark & Associates),” she said. “I got all teary one night at Kenichi and told him he was the reason I went to architecture school… I was so excited when he agreed to design this idea I had. He’s been so supportive. He even came in to have dinner here the other night.”
She found the old bungalow where Nightcap is located after going on a walk along West Sixth with her husband, Cole, a few years ago and knew she had to have it. Clark and the other architects in his firm transformed her vision for the space into the homey, elegant restaurant it’s become; they even painted the outer and inner walls a rich plum as a tip of the hat to her father.
“My parents were in the restaurant industry for a long time, so I wanted to pay homage to my dad by painting the house purple, his favorite color,” she said.
Ultimately, she hopes that Nightcap will become the sort of welcoming spot that Kenichi used to be.
“I want to create this place as an extension of my home. I want to bring back that family feeling, the sense of camaraderie, that made working at Kenichi so special,” she said.
Nightcap, at 1401 W. Sixth Street, is opened 5:30 p.m. to midnight Tuesdays through Saturdays. For more information, including a look at the food menu, visit nightcapaustin.com.