Barton Springs Italian restaurant stunner Juliet underwent major changes earlier this summer. After two years, co-owner Dan Wilkins needed to shake things up. “We want to be more part of this neighborhood and we were not,” he said. This meant embracing the casual way of life, from the look to the food and doing away with formal details and modern Italian cuisine.
Parts of the original Juliet didn’t complement each other. Wilkins realized that the restaurant’s design made it seem fancier, which deterred would-be guests. It was also seen as “a little unbalanced,” he said based on customer feedback. The bright open bar area didn’t match with the formal dark back room, and the weird transition spaces people avoided because they weren’t sure if they were allowed to sit.
“You have an atmosphere and you have food that you can’t really cohesively explain,” Wilkins said. “It becomes frustrating.”
Other nearby restaurants on Barton Spring Road skew casual, like Chuy’s and Shady Grove, plus there are people taking advantage of Zilker Park and Barton Springs. The upgraded Juliet needed to fit in and exude informality, so he landed on a family-friendly Italian restaurant, with the help of executive chef Jacob Weaver and architecture firm Design Hound.
As part of the revamp, the space was made brighter by getting rid of darker elements, like walnut, and adding brighter colors. Art is a major focus, like the Austin-inspired mural in the side room that faces Barton Springs road and the plates with Fornasetti artwork in one of the side room (a nod to the bathroom ceilings). Wallpaper perked up another room.
Originally, the main bar area “was huge, empty, and very elegant to the point where it intimidated people,” Wilkins said. To change that, they filled the room with hanging plants, nixed white chairs for printed ones, and added a bar top to the side.
The back room pivoted away from the dark Sopranos-feel by switching out booths for banquettes for seating flexibility, painting blue walls, hanging artwork, and adding fabric panels for acoustics. The in-between transition spaces turned into extra tables and seating.
To make full use of the patio, Juliet teamed up with KUTX for a live jazz series, as well as other live music performances. People are encouraged to add their signatures to the white wall around Juliet’s neon signage. The fence was adjusted so that passersby could actually see into the space and understand the restaurant.
The team broke down old menu, pinpointing what sold well — the pastas and pizzas — and what didn’t. Based on the results, they settled on an Italian-American menu instead of the initial modern Italian one. “Modern means reinterpretation,” Wilkins said. “We backed off of that. Why would you reinterpret something that people already love?”
Keeping it simple and substantial was the guiding force of the new all-day menu, full of pastas, seafood stew, meatballs, lasagna, pastry chef Carly Rossmeissl’s desserts (cheesecake and tiramisu included), and more. A few favorites from Juliet’s old menu remain too, like the grilled octopus.
The reinvention extends into the bar. While the Negroni flights are gone, there are classic cocktails in its place, as well as a lighter, refreshing menu out on the patio. Wine and beer lists remain strong.
Changing the restaurant was Wilkins’ way of ensuring Juliet’s legacy. “I want longevity,” he said. “I want to be here for 20 years. I’m not interested in winning awards.”
He went on, “Our goal is to create this kind of food with the same fresh ingredients that we did before, but turn out super quality food on a large scale,” all to serve the Barton Springs crowd.