Academia in Austin is Danny Ronen’s latest project. A collaboration with his partner, Bar Rescue’s Russell Davis and industry vet Chris Daus, the new bar and lounge boasts lots of bells and whistles. There is a timed aromatics system, an insane sound system, and lighting by Cirque du Soleil’s Tech Director. However, Ronen’s focus is honed in on something different: old fashioned hospitality.
Ronen’s bonafides include top tier roles with Liquid Kitchen, Unlimited Liabilities, DC Spirits, and the USBG Foundation and his immense knowledge is evident via Academia’s vast drink list which he created with his partners and bar manager Greg Mayer. The menu is divided into three sections, Undergraduate (Golden Age classics), Graduate (modern classics) and Electives (originals from the staff). However, Ronen cautions not to get caught up in these flourishes. “We simply make drinks for the purpose of showing our guests a good time. We put as much care into a Cosmopolitan as into any obscure Jerry Thomas recipe.”
Ronen’s words are backed up by print. Indeed, the menu does feature a Cosmo built with great care. The cranberry juice is pressed in-house and the addition of lemon oil rounds out the drink. For cocktail nerds, treats like the Angostura based Trinidad Sour are available as well.
Still, in Ronen’s opinion, service trumps all. “It’s not about convincing the guest to order a cocktail that the bartender themselves would drink,” he mused. “Good service will make the customer feel comfortable and builds trust. After you’ve established that trust, then the customer might be more interested in trying out some new drinks.”
Naturally, executing this level of service requires one heck of a team behind the bar. “We cherry-picked this staff. Our team has a wide range of experience, but each member of the team brings unique skills that they use to help lift each other up,” explained Ronen. “This is our greatest strength. We collaborate, we do volunteer work together, it’s more than just about the bar.”
As for the bar’s bells and whistles, Ronen is not dismissing those either. “These things all contribute to the guest’s comfort. We wanted to create a place where you could meet friends or just walk in yourself and be perfectly happy reading a book,” he elaborated.
To achieve that goal, the space offers several sections with their own distinct feel. A classic marble topped bar is flanked by old fashioned metal and wood stools. Long, communal tables equipped with power outlets and USB hubs run along the length of the room. Venture a little deeper and you will encounter plush couches and chairs (made from recycled material!) for those more inclined to lounge. This will be a perfect place for a more private meal once the kitchen opens in the Spring.
Adding to the ambiance are collegiate \pennants suspended from the exposed beams of the high ceiling. “The large banners could fit in at Harvard and Hogwarts. A series of symbols on each one alludes to a different literary figure with historic tie-ins to drinking culture.”
However, if you prefer modern tech to history, Academia has got you covered. HumanMusic, Grammy nominated sound engineers, installed a killer sound system. Marketing materials boast “a custom application to curate playlists that can be programmed to sync up with the beats per minute (BPM) of guests’ hearts.”
Peter Thompson, Technical & Lighting Director for Cirque du Soleil, is responsible for a lighting system that will put your high-end bulbs to shame. Colors and brightness of the lights will change with the mood throughout the evening.
And then there’s the olfactory element; we’ll defer to the release which promises, “Ambient scents will be introduced to prompt sensory reactions and heighten moods within the space.”
Ronen told us that despite his current home in the West, he has deep roots and family in Texas. This new adventure in the Lonestar State is actually a second home for the hospitality expert, as well as a homecoming for his partner Davis, who hails from East Texas, but Academia exists in a place that neither ever left. He prefers to look beyond the fancy lights and stay set on the service. Academia will focus on the guest, a gospel that he has preached throughout his career.