Joe Pannenbacker isn’t your typical wine connoisseur, and his path to opening APT 115, a new wine room located at 2025 E. Seventh St., was just as unconventional.
A working musician, Pannenbacker first got into the hospitality business out of necessity. Between touring and recording with bands like Think No Think and Semihelix, the native Austinite made ends meet by working in Austin’s burgeoning restaurant scene. During that time, he developed a love for the industry.
After settling back in his hometown after years out on the road, Pannenbacker's friend Paul Ozbirn, a local advanced sommelier, nudged him forward on his path to opening APT 115, which officially debuted May 14.
“He kinda helped build my confidence to do this,” says Pannenbacker. In the moments of doubt that go along with building one’s own business out of a longtime hobby, Ozbirn told him, “‘You know your wine, you know what you’re doing. Just make it your list, make it fun.’ And that’s kinda what I did.”
“I’ve always really loved wine,” Pannenbacker says, “always had a strong passion for it.” But, unlike many oenophiles who want a career in wine, he didn’t ditch his music gig in favor of studying for his own sommelier certification. “I want wine to be fun! I don’t wanna take tests,” he says.
Such is the ethos behind APT 115, a space designed to feel like a good friend’s home, appropriate given that its neighbors are the residents of the 7East apartment building.
Pannenbacker welcomes hardcore wine geeks and newcomers alike, offering a small food menu of cheese and meat boards and fine service in a laid-back, comfortable atmosphere. To add to that relaxed vibe, the staff even selects a handful of records out of Pannenbacker’s personal collection to play each night.
The connection between music and wine, however, runs deeper than vinyl. “You can kinda nerd out on a wine ... kinda like you can read liner notes for records,” he says. “You can know who played bass on that one track on this live Elton John record from 1971. But to the average person who’s hearing the song, they don’t care. They just wanna hear a good pop song.”
Similarly, many patrons just want to enjoy a good glass of wine. “We curate the music, we curate the wine list, so just sit back and enjoy it,” Pannenbacker says.
To that end, APT 115 features a $7 per glass wine special each night. “And it’s not crap,” says Pannenbacker. “It’s an awesome glass of wine.” Guests who want to go bigger can do that, too. “We have bottles that are in the $400-$500 range if you wanna go that route,” he says, “but it’s not for everyone. I want a broad audience.”
Even without sommelier certification, Pannenbacker can tell you the minute details of every bottle on his list. “It’s 2018, man, and Google works great,” he says. “I like to self-teach, and that’s what I do every day. I’ll go down wine wormholes.”
When you take a seat at the tiny wine bar, you can expect the opportunity to trip down those wormholes with him — or not. Maybe you just want to sit back, listen to some tunes, enjoy some good charcuterie, and sip a thoughtfully selected glass with some friends. Either way, it’s all good at APT 115.