Near the end of February 2012, former New Yorkers Michael and Jessica Sanders opened their American neighborhood pub, drink.well., in the North Loop District of Austin, featuring a delicious selection of all-American cocktails, craft beers, wine, and spirits on the menu.
In visits to Michael’s home state of Texas and music-centric trips to ACL and SXSW, the couple had fallen in love with Austin’s growing and evolving brewery scene. What they had seen start out as a limited craft beer market in Austin had grown leaps and bounds just in a few years, and they wanted to be a part of all the excitement and celebrate the movement.
“The opportunity for us to move to Austin suddenly came up, and I looked at Jessica and was like, ‘Let’s move to Austin and open a bar,’ and she was like, ‘Sure. Let’s do it,’” Michael says. The couple put in their two weeks notice the next day, and so began the genesis behind drink.well.
Years before relocating to Texas, both Michael and Jessica had dedicated blood, sweat, and tears to the notorious “rat race” in New York, working in the advertising agency, making end’s meet, and dreaming of a day when they would have the opportunity to be their own bosses. “I began setting aside money early in my career to be able to open a business,” Michael says. “I didn’t know what it would be, but as the years went on, a bar just seemed like the right fit.” The couple had always wanted to be in business together, so when the opportunity to open a bar in Austin came along, the idea seemed like a perfect fit for the duo.
Michael and Jessica lived on tight budgets day in and day out in New York, but they each discovered one of the main perks of working in advertising was the opportunity to be wined and dined.
“One of the great things about media is you get taken out, and I got to check out a lot of nice places, restaurants, and bars while I was up there that I wouldn’t normally have had the chance to,” he says. “I had always enjoyed bars and restaurants in college, and people would always say, ‘Why don’t we just drink at home,’ but I just loved the feeling of being in a bar. I think that’s one of the reasons Jessica and I fell in love with each other. We both shared that passion.”
Michael and Jessica started out as roommates and platonic friends for four-and-a-half years before they even considered entering into a romantic relationship. “We would just hang out together since we were already living with each other. We always had a good time going out to bars and restaurants, and that was one of the things we bonded on,” Michael says.
In planning the setup and design for drink.well., Michael and Jessica imagined embodying the menu selection of classy bar blended with the hospitality of a neighborhood pub. “We went to this sports bar with old Irish bartender that would remember your name and exactly what you drank, but then we would go to places like Death + Company that had all these great cocktails and great artisanal drinks, but that weren’t big on the hospitality. We imagined creating a mix of those bars.” They wanted to have the best of both worlds: a place where customers would get great craft cocktails, but have the bartender know the customer’s name and, likely, their order.
With a menu selection of cocktails, wines, and special brews, the couple also made sure to include some of their favorites like Brooklyn Brewery, Dogfish Head, Hops & Grain, Magic Hat, and Thirsty Planet on the bar’s menu.
It doesn’t end with the libations, however. Dishes like charred brussels sprouts with crispy bacon, macaroni and cheese with duck bacon, chicken sausage and waffles, homemade Twinkies, and fried bologna and cheese sandwiches is a creative representation of the couple’s effort to prepare classic all-American dishes with a tiny touch of upscale refinement.
“Jessica, my best friend and former roomate Roblé Ali, and I talked about the menu for a long time,and we all felt like the trends of ‘bar food’ were polar opposites. Either you could have fare [such as] chicken fingers and jalapeño poppers on one end and then foie gras profiteroles on the other end. We met in the middle with quality food that was approachable,” he says. An interesting side note: Ali recently got his own cooking show, Chef Roblé & Co., on the Bravo Network.
The bar has only been open a few months, but Jessica and Michael already have a vision of expansion in the years to come. “The planets aligned when this space became available,” he says. “We have a couple of top secret ideas that we want to develop. There is one idea that very much me and one idea that is very much Jessica. We’ll try to see if it would be humanly possible to do both, or we may have to play rock, paper, scissors. It would be wonderful if we could build a home base in Austin and eventually do something in New York or Jessica’s home in San Diego. If it’s possible, we’ll definitely do it, but for now we are focusing on drink.well.”
To check out the menu at drink.well., click here.