What’s a restaurant to do when the initial buzz quiets down to a murmur? For an increasing number of shopworn Austin names, the solution is to dust off the cobwebs, bring in new furnishings, and reopen under a new name. Such is the case of downtown’s Sophia’s, which quietly closed in mid-September for a refresh.
According to a rep, the 500 W. Sixth St. space is being transformed into an unnamed new concept to debut in the late fall. Local firm Nova Hospitality, the company behind private club The Pershing and upcoming projects TenTen and Mayfair, will be managing the venture in conjunction with Sophia’s Chicago-based owners, BDG Hospitality. The rep didn’t give a reason for the rework.
Sophia’s attracted a breathless round of publicity when it was introduced in August 2016, taking over the space once occupied by Sandra Bullock’s Bess Bistro, which closed in 2015. Thanks to touches like nightclub-style lighting and a pop-up fireplace/DJ booth, it became an early favorite of Austin’s fledgling Instagram industrial complex. In 2017, CultureMap readers even voted it the Best New Restaurant as part of our annual Tastemaker Awards.
But interest soon dissipated. By 2018, the restaurant was receiving increasingly scattered media attention. The speakeasy atmosphere of Sophia’s soon felt dated in comparison to sunnier, social media-ready newcomers like Anthem or Hank’s.
The Sophia’s team isn’t saying whether such market pressures drove the decision. Managing an Austin restaurant could have simply become unsustainable for a Midwestern-based team. Or perhaps Sophia's simply bowed to the Capital City’s panting hype machine (much like Bullfight's transformation into Vamonos).
Regardless of the reason, diners won't have to wait long to see if the new concept can survive Austin's increasingly cutthroat restaurant world.