Photo courtesy of Trona

Speakeasies have an interesting reputation in Austin. Residents of this "weird" city love a secret. They want to avoid the crowds and the newcomers, but "they" includes the crowds and the newcomers. It's complicated.

There is yet another new speakeasy in Austin, and fans of mystery and exclusivity may be pleased to hear that this time, it's not just a dimly-lit bar in a nondescript building. Visitors will have to follow word of mouth (and perhaps the bar, on social media) to learn a secret phone number, which they can then text to make a reservation.

So-called Trona, after a desert town in Death Valley and the mineral that serves as the base for baking soda, is hidden in plain sight. The colorful graffiti marks the spot for people who know what to look for, making this speakeasy one of the more attention-grabbing secret locales in the city, yet obscuring it nonetheless. An alley entrance (1812 E. 12th St.) ensures that few will be spotted entering.

Although it looks small, it's not tiny: There's enough seating for 49 guests in the "former shotgun bar" renovated under the artsy gaze of Tatanka Guerrero, a Chilean Marfa transplant whose other local triumphs include El Tigre Coffee Roasters, Camp East, and Cork & Screw.

Details are (naturally) sparse, but a release describes what awaits as an "intimate multi-part mixological journey that can't be fully experienced in one visit." The journey will be made in five portions, merging modern Japanese and traditional Oaxacan styles. It seems like these are meant to be juxtaposed rather than seamlessly combined, for air or fantasy or at least a little mystique.

The full bar and cocktail menu will highlight tequilas, mezcals, rare Japanese whiskeys, and "a plethora of natural wines," which will be announced soon.

There is already a phone number on Trona's website, but it does not connect when called. Sending a text leads to an automatic reply that the number is a landline. (Hey, those are mysterious nowadays.)

Trona is the most recent effort of the newly formed Doers and Dreamers Hospitality Group, which includes Guerrero's achievements listed above, as well as Arbor Food Park, which hosts some of Austin's best food trucks including the acclaimed Cuantos Tacos. If Trona matches the tone of its sibling concepts, Austinites can expect meticulous curation behind a slightly punky facade.

Trona is set to open sometime in October. An opening party will be announced soon (and probably covered by CultureMap in that week's food news column).

Photo by The Ingalls

Kelly Wearstler dazzles Austin again with opulent new bar and salon at Proper Hotel

Proper Elegance

Summer travel takes planning and funds; Time traveling through a new cocktail bar takes an evening. The Austin Proper, known for transporting visitors to sublime, faraway realities like tea time and the Mediterranean, is opening an eclectic new spot that is perfect for people who can't decide which decade they'd travel to first.

The Quill Room Austin Proper interior

Photo by The Ingalls

The Quill Room draws inspiration from so many decades, it's practically a full century of input.

The Quill Room, a maximalist but brassy-monotone "cocktail lounge and salon" gives off a dreamy feeling of a liminal space, with herbaceous cocktails to match. The space joins the hotel's other dining concepts, the Peacock, Goldie's, and La Piscina — all helmed by Austin-based MML Hospitality.

Designed by Kelly Wearstler — famous for her work for celebrities, her books, and the other interiors at the Proper Hotels that Austinites may already know — this space could hold anything from an impressive meeting to a comfortable evening of killing time.

The decor certainly looks retro without the limitations of any one style or time period. Here, there's an oriental rug and floral armchairs. There, there's a metallic bar and floor-to-ceiling room dividers. Somewhere there's a transparent piano with what looks like indigenous American art framed on top. It's hard to beat Austin's eclectic sensibilities, and in this way, The Quill Room is right at home.

Some explanation from a press release ties the aesthetic together:

"Inspired furnishings represent a range of design through the decades — '60s to '90s — sourced from across Europe as well as from the nearby and famed Round Top Antiques Market. Stitched leather, rustic woods, blackened metals, and chunky woven fabrics connect to the Texas aesthetic.... An engaging collection of art, books, and a custom upright self-playing illuminated Edelweiss piano further complement the space and provide endless entertainment."

Both the cocktail and food menus are appropriately heady. The "Love Letter" blends elderflower, prosecco, sparkling water and edible flowers, while "La Vie en Rose" with spices things up with jalapeño-infused mezcal, Lillet Rosé, crème de mezcal, and rose water. Martinis abound...at least, four of them.

All that's paired with "light bites" including 24-month Prosciutto di Parma, foie gras custard, a crudité platter, and more French delicacies. There is a seafood bent to the succinct menu, which also features shrimp, salmon crudo, and tuna niçoise.

Live music will keep the energy up, starting with a residency: Rett Smith will serenade visitors with "Dark Americana" stylings from 9-11 pm. Although an artist-in-residence usually implies a multi-night stint, Smith only appears on the calendar for one night so far.

More information about The Quill Room is available at properhotel.com. Reserve a table during the residency on OpenTable.

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Fancy-Western sister hotel to Austin darling debuts in Fort Worth

Hotel News

Now that Fort Worth is one of the top 50 travel destinations in 2024, according to Travel + Leisure, it might be time to get a few hotels on Austinites' radars. Even if staying is out of the budget (can't beat a cheap motel if you're not spending much time in the room), a luxury hotel can be a great anchor during your visit.

A long-awaited hotel has debuted in Fort Worth: Bowie House, part of the Auberge Resorts Collection portfolio, is now open at 3700 Camp Bowie Blvd., with a chophouse-style restaurant and hundreds of pieces of art.

The property is owned by Jo Ellard, who breeds horses and cattle, and is managed by Auberge Resorts Collection, which is part of the Friedkin Group, a privately held consortium of automotive, hospitality, entertainment, sports and adventure companies.

Bowie House, Auberge Resorts Collection is the second property in Texas, joining Commodore Perry Estate, Auberge Resorts Collection in Austin. There's also one planned for Dallas.

The signature restaurant is Bricks and Horses — argh, is that really the name? — a Texas-style contemporary chophouse that will specialize in dry-aged local beef. Executive Chef is Antonio Votta, a Las Vegas native who says the menu will offer an elevated spin on cult Americana classics such as Wild Boar Ribs, Lobster Thermidor, and Big Eye Tuna Crudo with Blood Orange Citronette.

There is also:

  • The Garden, an outdoor space
  • The Billet Room, a "convivial social club"
  • The Mulberry Room, an intimate library bar
  • The Bar, a bar with cocktails, whiskeys, all-day bites, a double-sided fireplace, and a meticulously restored saloon bar

In spring 2024, there are also plans to open Whinny's — argh, is that seriously the name? — a poolside restaurant serving a Middle Eastern-inspired, Texas BBQ menu of light bites, salads, ice cream sandwiches, and frozen drinks.

Photo courtesy of Bowie House

Bowie House has 88 studios, 12 lofts, and 6 suites, several with open-air balconies, boasting a Western-themed decor including hat racks, boot benches, customizable boot shines, white oak floors, woven rugs, textured strié wall covering, linear headboards upholstered in woven leather with stitched belt straps, and curved bar cabinets with sliding tambour doors revealing lacquered aubergine interiors. The signature accommodation is the three-room Goodnight Suite, which comes with its own dining room for eight, and bird’s eye views of the Cultural District.

Photo courtesy of Bowie House

Architectural and interiors firm BOKA Powell has combined modern and Western themes, with brick, cast stone, and glass across more than 10,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space, and more than 400 pieces of art by artists such as Ashley Collins, Max Zorn, Don Drumm David Yarrow, and photographer Constance Jaeggi.

"People ask me all the time what the style of Bowie House is, but like the art collection, it’s not any one style, it’s an expression of different elements coming together to create something truly unique," says Jo Ellard. "Sophisticated and comfortable, reflecting its distinctly Texan setting in an entirely original way, Bowie House welcomes everyone who steps inside not as a hotel, but as a wonderful, one-of-a-kind Western home - that was the goal."

An in-house spa called Ash — argh, is that really the name? these people need branding help — contains five treatment rooms, sauna and steam room, fitness center, nail studio, boutique, and relaxation lounge, with private access to the second floor terrace. Treatments include water dancing, synergistic skin treatments, infrared therapy, non-sleep deep rest massage, an apothecary, and visiting wellness specialists and fitness instructors such as Manjit Devgun, a mindfulness instructor, who'll be on-site December 1-5.

The Nick Fouquet Shop, the French-American designer, will be on-site through mid-February with a custom hat collection inspired by Bowie House, while also offering custom fittings and finishes.

  • December 12: Conversations in the Library is a monthly speaker series kicking off on December 12 with Steve Wrubel sharing the stories behind Ride & Ridden’s limited edition wine label designs as you taste.
  • December 5: Country music writer Heather Morgan will divulge the meaning behind her lyrics in The Mulberry Room’s first Songwriter Sessions.
  • December 7: The Billet Room will welcome Frankie Leonie and Jake Palescic, in the first of regular Thursday Bowie House Records performances.

Seven venues for rental include the terrace of Laney’s Room, the Silverton Room ballroom, the lofty Arcade, or The Billet Room.

3 steps to get a Texas medical marijuana prescription online

Easier Than You Think

Getting a prescription for medical marijuana in Texas is easier than you think. With telemedicine appointments, Texans can get qualified from the comfort of their homes.

In 2015, the Compassionate Use Act passed, legalizing medical marijuana treatment for Texans living with intractable epilepsy.

The program has since expanded several times, allowing treatment for more than 150 conditions including PTSD, muscle spasms, neuropathy, cancer, autism, Alzheimer’s, ALS, MS, Parkinson’s, and more.

Texas Original, the leading medical marijuana dispensary in Texas, makes the process of receiving a prescription online easy. It all starts with a few simple steps:

Step 1: Schedule an appointment
To find out if you qualify for medical marijuana in Texas, schedule an appointment with a doctor registered in the Compassionate Use Program. Appointments can be completed securely online from the comfort of your home.

To connect with a doctor, visit Texas Original’s website and fill out the form. Make sure to check your email for a confirmation after submitting.

Step 2: Meet with the doctor
During your telemedicine appointment, the doctor will review your medical records and confirm if you are eligible for medical marijuana in Texas, then discuss your treatment plan.

Once approved, your doctor will add your prescription to the online medical cannabis registry, where licensed Texas dispensaries can access it.

Step 3: Place an order
After your appointment, call 512-614-0343 to place your first order. The dispensary team will help you select your products, then schedule you for a pickup at a location nearest to you.

Texas Original’s medicine is made locally in Texas, and all products undergo rigorous testing to ensure quality, consistency and purity.

As a legal treatment for more than 150 conditions, medical marijuana provides Texans with a legal, safe option to help alleviate common symptoms like pain, insomnia, nausea, and anxiety.

If you or a loved one are interested in getting a medical marijuana card in Texas, reach out to Texas Original to get started. Plus, enjoy a 20 percent discount on your first order at Texas Original.

Famous Austin smash burgers find a new flagship on East 6th Street

Smashing Success

Opening a restaurant called Not a Damn Chance (NADC) is an ironic move for a chef who keeps flipping opportunity like burgers anywhere he goes. Add one more location to that list, as NADC Burger moves into its first flagship location today, December 4.

Phillip Frankland Lee, who rose to prominence in Season 13 of Bravo's Top Chef, has since been building a culinary empire around Austin. With help from his wife, Margarita Kallas-Lee, that includes two fine dining restaurants that have produced successful spinoffs: Pasta Bar and Sushi by Scratch, decorated with a Michelin star in Los Angeles (where the Michelin guide exists).

Frankland Lee has a different collaborator for the back-of-house burger joint, which slings stacked up smash burgers oozing with cheese out of a window behind the Rainey Street bar Idle Hands. Professional skateboarder Neen Williams, whose brand of spice rubs gives NADC Burger its name, adds both cool points and flavor to the operation, which could easily disappear into obscurity, but keeps drawing cultish visitors.

The food menu is short and simple, with just one option: a third pound of Texas Wagyu, American cheese, "secret sauce," onions, pickles and fries. According to social media and Reddit buzz, this formula certainly ain't broke — so they're not fixing it. There is technically one way to put a twist on the recipe, by adding cheese, pickles, jalapeños, special sauce, and seasoning to the beef tallow fries.

Instead of drawing burger lovers into the shadows (which does have its perks for people who like to feel like they're in on an industry secret), the new location at 1007 E. 6th Street will be its own brick-and-mortar with 20 indoor bar seats.

It'll keep the industry feel, though, by situating those seats around the chef's work area "so guests can watch them cook and have a good time together," according to a release. (It even adds a special for after-shift service industry visitors after 11 pm: a PBR Tall Boy, a burger, and a shot of Jameson for $20.)

It shares this in common with Frankland Lee's other restaurants, which take a chef's table form. Considering how casual this venture is in comparison, it will most likely feel more like Kallas-Lee's pastry workshop, Wolf and Wheat, next door. The burger spot will even feature her desserts as a rotating menu item — although it might be worth it to wander from one location to the other for the vibes alone.

The new location also adds outdoor seating and the restaurant's first bar and cocktail program, basically replacing what Idle Hands provided at the first location. Visitors to the Chicago location can compare to the Drop In bar, where NADC operated a similar burger window. Both bars are part of Pursuit Concepts — owner Matt Wolski continues to stay involved on East 6th. (NADC will also join another Pursuit concept, Other Racquet Social Club, as a food truck when it's ready.)

In addition to some beers on hand, that means four new cocktails, including the unique "Deathwish," a rum punch with spiced orange, pomegranate, and passionfruit boba.

NADC Burger is open now. Hours are noon to midnight Monday through Thursday and Sundays; noon to 3 am Fridays and Saturdays. Find updates on Instagram.