Eater Austin stopped by North Loop's newest neighborhood haunt, Drink.Well, today to talk shop with owners Jessica and Michael Sanders, who broke ground on their American craft-inspired tavern back on October. Michael is a University of Texas grad and Jessica's from San Diego (that's her up above with her Star Wars apron), and the couple met in New York City and worked in advertising before heading to Austin to open their dream bar.
They're soft-opening tonight from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. to test-run their menu, featuring Southern-influenced dishes developed by Bravo's own Chef Roblé Ali (he's close friends with Michael Sanders) and Aaron Zarczynski, formerly of The Porch in Dallas. Highlights: a "ZLT" with "zucchini bacon," charred Brussels sprouts and Twinkies made fresh daily. Behind the bar you'll find Tacy Rowland--maybe you'll recognize her from Contigo and ACL Live--pouring classic cocktails, eight draft beers and her own concoctions, like the Dead Man's Party, a whiskey-ified take on the Tiki favorite Zombie.
So what can North Loopers--and the outsiders who are making the neighborhood a new drinking and dining destination--expect from Drink.Well?
"We wanted to have a serious, craft-forward program but in a space that was fun and vibrant," Jessica Sanders says, "So you don't have to choose between your neighborhood dive and getting a real cocktail that's made with fresh ingredients and house-made cordials and an extensive whiskey list and great craft beer."
The neighborhood aspect of the bar is important to the couple, who say they "never wanted to be a Sixth Street bar." They looked at space on the East Side, but according to Jessica, didn't think the area had the "homey-ness" of North Loop.
"It's not that common in Austin for people to have a bar they can walk to from their houses," says Michael. "Most places, people drive to and they go up and down the street there."
Drink.Well has a lot of brothers and sisters in the craft-oriented tavern movement, but their dedication perhaps more patriotic than some: they're hyper-focused on American products.
"We'll have a lot of the standards," says Michael, like Grey Goose and Absolut and that kind of stuff, "but we're trying to promote as many American spirits as possible." And then wine list? With one notable exception, it's all American.
"I hope it's not too scandalous a concept for my somm friends to have a wine list that's all American wine," jokes Jessica. And the Drink.Well list is more than just the Hill Country and Napa Valley--Arizona, Virginia and the Pacific Northwest are all represented. Her exception to the American wine rule? Their Madeira.
Jessica explains: "During the American Revolution, anything that came from Madeira was not taxed, so very often colonial soldiers would order it in bars as an f-you to British soldiers that were at the bar, like, oh I'm drinking this and you're not making any money off it."
Ultimately, says Jessica, Drink.Well will be "the kind of place you could come to a couple times a week." Sure, adds Michael, "there are a lot of places doing the craft thing," but "we wanted to give somebody what we thought was our own selections. It's curated."