There’s no shortage of cool places in Austin to hear curated tunes, but a new effort by Hotel Magdalena amplifies the imagination beyond the laid-back trend. Although many vinyl bars, listening rooms, or jazz lounges provide lovely venues to chat and check out of the active listening — if that’s a guest’s preference — Equipment Room is almost too intimate to invite any kind of distraction.
Bunkhouse Group, the hotel’s parent company (along with other boutique hotels like Hotel San José and Hotel Saint Cecilia) designed and operated the space; executive chairman Amar Lalvani collaborated with Mohawk owner James Moody and Breakaway Records owners Josh LaRue and Gabe Vaughn, who supply the records. Rather than hiring a couple of DJs to set the tone, the team is leaving it to Breakaway Records employees on a rotating schedule.
All it requires is good taste; These spinners will be taking a more curational than transformative approach, playing full albums so visitors can hear each “the way it was intended.” Cocktail waiters will pass out handwritten cards so patrons know what’s playing, and can listen more at home. (On March 1: The Cooker by Lee Morgan, 2006.)
Although Equipment Room is not quite a speakeasy (despite having a perfect name for it), the listening room is certainly covert. The front door, in a different building than the hotel lobby, is barely marked at all save for a little floating “E” sign.
Inside, a public-facing seat or a covetous corner are a guest’s choice. A long bar allows visitors to interface with staff and lean into the cocktail experience; plus, they get to sit closest to the main speakers and the turntables. The main room is further segmented with plush furniture in a variety of configurations. Some tables stand alone in the center of the room as if in a restaurant, serving as a point of connection; others on a raised platform around the edge of the room serve as a thin barrier between the cocktail sippers and the rest of the venue.
Some seating creates conversation circles, while other outward-facing couches are placed in command positions to either social or voyeuristic ends. A side room creates a small den for a bigger party to retreat to, or perhaps a few smaller ones to converge in, like a chill room at a rave — were the entire venue not already deeply chill.
Where a guest sits notably changes the experience. Besides inviting conversation, facilitating people watching, or concealing a romantic date, each part of the room sounds different thanks to different speaker configurations and a curved ceiling to spread out the acoustics.
Of course, besides the obscure and nonchalant implications of the name, the Equipment Room must be outfitted with the best audio tools LaRue and Vaughn could source, with the help of acoustic engineers at Klipsch. A full list of equipment on the venue’s website illuminates speakers, amps, and more, including a vintage cassette deck. Recording capabilities will come in handy on some special nights when the “guest selectors” record that night’s repertoire, and the especially high-fidelity equipment will be broken out for album releases and other more pointed listening events.
Audiophiles or otherwise, all do best with a cocktail and some snacks to settle into the space, and an eclectic menu delivers. Divided into A-sides and B-sides (classic and experimental drinks), it includes everything from a traditional French 75 to the ostentatious “Gold Dust Woman” with Still Austin gin, macadamia nut liqueur, Linie Aquavit, granny smith apple juice, spiced demerara, sparkling wine, and “ice gold leaf.”
Four virgin cocktails and seven sakes also grace the menu, along with snacks like a suspiciously tasty “caramel puffed cheese corn” (“like Pirate’s Booty,” explains a staff member, but with a sweet, glossy coating) and onigiri. The Japanese bites tie into the jazz kissaten, or Japanese vinyl cafes, that inspired this decidedly Western Austin treat.
Whatever’s on the audio menu that night — cowboy ballads, Afrobeat, or something psychedelic — every moment just gets tastier as visitors settle into the sensational space.
Equipment Room is open at 1101 Music Lane from Tuesday to Thursday 5-10 pm; Friday and Saturday, 5 pm to 2 am. More information including recommended albums is available at equipmentroom.com.