- Arianna Auber American-Statesman Staff
Backbeat, the second cocktail bar of husband-and-wife team Michael and Jessica Sanders, is now open and finding its rhythm along a bustling section of South Lamar Boulevard.
Backbeat, sister bar to Drink.Well, was announced last fall as one of the first standalone bars on South Lamar, where so many of the watering holes are tied to restaurants. Its 2,200 square feet include a rooftop patio with views of downtown Austin, and with that size and status, the Sanders faced a tall order: provide a well-defined, well-rounded cocktail menu to lure locals in.
That’s exactly what they’ve done with a program that brilliantly divides each of the drinks into three sections: Upbeat, Downbeat and Offbeat.
Upbeat cocktails feature “vibrant spirits, often shaken with citrus, fresh herbs or seasonal fruit,” according to a news release. “Exemplifying the Upbeat spirits is Backbeat’s namesake cocktail, a bright and herbaceous variation of the classic Southside cocktail with gin and fresh-pressed celery juice.”
The Downbeat cocktails, on the other hand, are going to be more booze-forward with more robust flavors and “brooding spirits.” These drinks include the Pick-Up Artist, a bittered bourbon julep in which “the bracing zing of Fernet-Branca is balanced with coffee-infused demerara, cinnamon and a zesty dash of cardamom bitters,” as the menu notes. (The menu, it’s worth noting, is written like poetry for cocktail lovers.)
And the Offbeat cocktails, as you might guess, are going to be the oddballs, the ones that don’t fit cleanly into a category: the dessert drinks and tiki offerings the Sanders couldn’t leave off the menu. One such example is the Neon Jungle, a “smoky and electric mezcal and Jamaican rum swizzle balanced with coconut-washed bianco vermouth, fresh pressed pineapple, lime, island spices and blue curaçao,” according to the menu.
(The best part of the Neon Jungle is the straw, but it’s well worth the surprise to find out why for yourself.)
Plus, the bar has six craft beers on tap and 10 wines by the glass — and a rotating champagne program that showcases a single grower-producer champagne house at a time, starting with Jean Vesselle.
These can all be enjoyed in a space with warm colors and natural lighting — and that irresistible rooftop deck, of course.
Backbeat also has a menu of small bites, such as chicken liver mousse and a pate melt with house pork, chicken pate and melted gruyere. With so much to offer, the bar is hoping to become South Austin residents’ go-to spot for fun.
“South Lamar has always been an important cultural destination in Austin and, over time, has become a culinary one as well,” Michael Sanders said in the news release. “We are looking forward to Backbeat being a spirited part of this community and the vibrant social scene here.”
Like they’ve done with Drink.Well, the Sanders are giving Backbeat a big heart, too. The Moon Bridge cocktail on the Upbeat menu, a Japanese whisky highball with verdehlo madeira, spiced tonic and sparkling water, is an homage to Isamu Taniguchi, who single-handedly built the Japanese Garden in the 1960s that’s now preserved at Zilker Botanical Garden. To honor his work, the Sanders are donating a dollar of the proceeds of each Moon Bridge purchase to the Zilker gardens.
“We just think what he did deserves recognition,” Jessica Sanders said during an opening event at the bar.