Catch the best parties of the new Austin social season

Welcome back to the Austin social season. Some of you never went away.

But all of us can agree that catching up with old friends and making new ones — just as the summer fades a bit — is part of the Austin way of life.

These are eight late August parties I hope to attend.

Aug. 22: Burning Down the House for Millett Opera House Foundation. Austin Club. millettoperahouse.com.

Aug. 24: Chapel Restoration Celebration. Oakwood Cemetery, 1601 Navasota St. austintexas.gov/oakwoodchapel

Aug. 24: Texas 4000 for Cancer Tribute Gala. Hyatt Regency Hotel. bit.ly/tributegala.

Aug. 24:  Study Social for Literacy First. 800 Congress Ave. literacyfirst.org.

Aug. 25: Ice Ball for Big Brothers Big Sisters. Fairmont Hotel. austiniceball.org.

Aug. 25: Studio 54klift for Forklift Danceworks. forkliftdanceworks.org.

Aug. 29: The Man. The Legend. The Chick Magnet. Happy 90th Shelly Kantor, longtime regular customer and champion dancer. Donn’s Depot. donnsdebot.com

Aug. 31-Sept. 3: Splash Days for Octopus Club, Kind Clinic and OutYouth. Various locations. splashdays.com.

Throngs uplifted by Hope Awards and Taste of Mexico

Interfaith is very Austin. The city is open to ideas. And to faith. It is no wonder that Austin hosts multiple interfaith groups, which not only encourage dialogue among religionists but also action based on shared convictions.

Ali Kahn and Rizwana Bano
at the Hope Awards for iACT. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

One of those groups, iAct, helps refugees, fixes up homes and provides other opportunities for talking and doing good together. Most years, they work very closely with the American-Stateman’s Season for Caring program. More than one recipient from that annual campaign to help the neediest were present for the Hope Awards, iACT’s annual tribute to interfaith leaders at the Bullock Texas State History Museum.

SEASON: Blinded by bomb, Iraqi refugee seeks to counsel others.

After some unavoidable fluff, the ceremony picked speed and gravity when Executive Director Simone Talma Flowers used her not insubstantial oratorical skills to lay out the group’s mission. Then Rev. Stephen W. Kinney, iACT’s board president, introduced the first Hope recipient, Imam Mohamed-Umer Esmail, whose pastoral humility and dignity reach far beyond his Nueces Mosque.

SEASON: Family escaped war in Syria to start over.

The remainder of the program was given over to a conversation between another Hope honoree, Luci Baines Johnson, and Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith. There isn’t a better public interviewer in town and Smith pushed Johnson to reflect on sad state of civic life today. Yet Johnson focused instead on the inspiration of her parents and her own guarded but urgent optimism for her children and grandchildren. At any rate, she is an increasingly disciplined speaker who struck just the right chord for the evening.

SEASON: Caring for others keeps senior going.

TASTE OF MEXICO

Mexic-Arte Museum first staged Taste of Mexico on the street. Then the sample-and-sip fiesta moved indoors and slipped into a more traditional a gala format. The benefit, which attracts a wide range of ages and cultures, now seems to have hits its stride at Brazos Hall.

Chris Gonzales, Sara Palma and Paul Chavarria during an absolutely packed and festive Taste of Mexico benefit for Mexic-Arte Museum at Brazos Hall. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

A dizzying array of food and drink could be had on the first floor, while the open-sided deck upstairs was set up more like a crafts market. The sheer number of culinary options was overwhelming. And the copious crowd love it, swirling from one table to another just enough abandon, given the generous sips of tequila and other potent potables. At times, it felt like a pop-up nightclub, but with better food than any nightclub has ever assembled.

The program was miraculously short. And a good thing, because the speakers could not be heard beyond the front rows. I like this event. It think you would, too.

At age 10, the Long Center opens its doors wider

If you lived in Austin during the 1960s and ’70s, you called the oddly shaped domed structure on the shores of Town Lake the Municipal Auditorium.

Austin’s Municipal Auditorium under construction in 1958 and photographed by Rockdale Works. Contributed by Austin History Center PICA 26945

If you arrived in the 1980s, it was then known as Palmer Auditorium, renamed after late Austin Mayor Lester Palmer. Maybe you referred to it jokingly as the “Green Turtle,” or variations on that theme.

If you were around during the 1990s and early 21st century, you’ll recall the seemingly Sisyphean efforts to turn that outdated 1959 building into the Long Center for the Performing Arts. Many things were tried; some failed, some succeeded.

And if you were in town March 28-30, 2008, you might have attended one many glorious events staged for the Long Center’s grand opening. One could praise right away  the handsome and lively Dell Hall, the largest performance space, but also the terrace lined with columns — the result of an engineering challenge — that offered one of the finest views of the city skyline.

The center, home to the city’s top symphony, opera, ballet and choral companies, as well as to mid-sized arts groups and touring acts, is back in the spotlight this year. A larger 10th anniversary party is planned for fall 2018, but before that on March 3, the center will blaze with the talents of the Avett Brothers and Asleep at the Wheel for a celebratory concert and after party.

Never one to rest on its laurels, the Long Center staff and trustees have spent the past year reexamining the center’s role in the community. It was known in some circles a decade ago primarily as a place of refuge for the larger arts groups who were nudged out of Bass Concert Hall by the University of Texas. Yet even from days when charismatic leaders such as Cliff Redd explained the unbuilt center’s future role, it was always intended to be a place of convergence for all of the arts.

It became more than that — and, then again, sometimes less. Despite the absence of a hoped-for café or shop, the center swarmed with unexpected activity year-round, much of that outside. The place itself became the main event, not what was booked on its two indoor stages. And even those performance offerings became increasingly varied, less traditional.

Well, after spending a year with consulting creatives from the ad agency Archer Malmo, the Long Center leaders have in hand a plan to fill the spaces, including the much-loved H-E-B Terrace, with an even wider variety of entertainment.

“The landscape of Austin is changing and so are we,” says Cory Baker, president and CEO of the Long Center. “The most immediate changes you’ll see are in our programming, wherein we’re diversifying in order to set the stage for the next generation of artists.”

How that will play itself out remains to be seen. Everyone is aware of the city’s need for affordable artistic venues. What it means, however, for the current resident companies of Dell Hall and Rollins Studio Theatre, who often rehearse as well as perform there, remains unclear.

For now, branding upgrades will suffice while the staff tries to free up more dates to mix in fresh forms of shared activity.

UPDATE 1:30 Feb. 28.: We asked Baker to amplify her comments on the changes at the Long Center.

American-Statesman: What exactly do you mean by more diverse entertainment bookings in the future? The examples you use — movies, talks, etc. — are already a part of your line-up and have been for a while.

 When we say diversifying programming, we are thinking beyond just adding new genres to the mix. We are focused on diversifying the experience options within the performing arts spectrum and being more intentional about our choices in order to expand our reach and engage new audiences.

We strive to be progressive, relevant and genuinely more reflective of our ever-evolving population. This means working with artists to create unique experiences for Austin – the Avett Brothers playing with Asleep at the Wheel, Bill Murray’s critically acclaimed new project – and blurring the lines to surprise our audiences by partnering with b to showcase boundary-breaking opera singer, Joseph Keckler.

We are also expanding the offerings within each genre, for instance, we are proud to present José González and the Boston Pops (coming 2019). Our speaker series goes from world-renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to iconic photographer Annie Leibovitz.

Family programming is another area where our offerings are as different as the many families that we serve, from seeing the Paw Patrol juggernaut in Dell Hall to enjoying free bubble fun on the lawn for Bubblepalooza and our All Summer Long series of community events. This is part of our current programming, and it shows the intentional choices we will be making for the next 10 years and beyond.

What exactly does this mean for the seven resident companies? Less performance time? Less rehearsal time?

The Long Center is proud to continue to be the home of our resident companies. Our strategy has been to look at the calendar and performance spaces as creatively as possible in close coordination with our partners. An example of this is that the Austin Opera graciously works with us so that we can present on their dark nights. This year, we have already presented many incredible artists … through our willingness to share the space in creative ways.

When it comes to Rollins, the venue was always intended to be a shared community asset — an accessible, affordable and practical performance space for a wide array of local artists to create and present work. With the space crisis in Austin growing and demand on the room increasing, we have challenged ourselves to think proactively about how we can serve an extended range of arts groups in the city and work creatively with our existing partners to find practical solutions that will best serve the arts ecosystem here in Austin

 

Flipside Austin parties before, during and after SXSW

SXSW muscles its way onto Austin’s social calendar in a couple of weeks, but you can wrestle down plenty of other options for parties before, during and after the main event.

Feb. 22: Junior League of Austin presents Austin Entertains. Fair Market.

Feb. 23: Wonders and Worries Unmasked. JW Marriott.

Feb. 28: Austin Music Awards. ACL Live.

March 1: Back on My Feet Austin Gala. JW Marriott.

March 2: Flashback for Explore Austin. The Parish.

March 3: 10th Anniversary Celebration with the Avett Brothers plus Asleep at the Wheel. Long Center.

March 7: League of Women Voters Austin State of the City Dinner. Doubletree by Hilton.

March 8: Texas Film Awards for Austin Film Society. AFS Cinema.

March 9-18: South by Southwest Festival. Various venues.

March 18: Nine Core Values Awards Luncheon for First Tee of Greater Austin. Hyatt Regency.

March 20: Nature Conservancy of Texas Austin Luncheon. JW Marriott.

March 24: Austin’s Fab Five Event for Seedling Foundation. Westin Domain.

When Austin meant a golden future for movie star Dennis Quaid

Recently, we reported that movie star Dennis Quaid had put his Marina Club house up for sale. The Houston-raised actor is spending less and less time here in Austin. That compelled us to reach back into the archives to a brighter 2005, when Quaid and his then-new bride Kimberly Buffington sat down with this reporter at Hoover’s Cooking to talk about their golden lives here. It saddens an unreconstructed romantic to look back on sunnier times for the former couple, but it’s important to remember who they were to our city.
Contributed
So here we go …

Dennis Quaid blazes into a room — and it’s not just because the sun follows him inside Hoover’s Cooking on Manor Road, basting his outdoorsman’s features and fueling his barely contained energy.Quaid also flushes royally with affection for his still-new wife, Kimberly Buffington, and for his still-new home, Austin.

“I’ve always loved Austin, ” Quaid says. “It has a sense of community you can’t get anywhere else.”

One minute, he’s signing a DVD for a young, delighted diner; next minute he’s doodling on the table’s paper covering. From time to time, he bursts with memories about his Texas childhood, but, like a compass returning to true north, his gaze returns to Buffington, the picture of blissful repose at his side.

If Quaid pitches his stories like a fastball, Buffington pauses before she speaks, averting her eyes before stating the facts plainly, but also playfully. He might be the actor, but she knows how to control time and attention, and is especially at ease on her lifelong turf — Austin.

If Quaid burns like the sun, Buffington shines like the moon — cool, pale, reflective.

Beyond ecstatic — and perhaps questionable — metaphors from reporters, the couple have announced their Austin presence in a big way. It can be heard from the house and land they’ve purchased on Lake Austin. It echoes in the events, such as the Texas Film Hall of Fame, that they are careful to attend, despite Quaid‘s heavy shooting schedule (he starred in four films last year).

And, of course, it makes the loudest sound at the Dennis Quaid Charity Weekend, which, during the next few days, combines celebrity and amateur golf tournaments, a fashion show, a gala dinner and an appearance at La Zona Rosa by Quaid‘s band, the Sharks.

So why Austin for this couple who could live anywhere?

Quaid, 51, asserts no longtime ties to the University of Texas, unlike fellow movie star Matthew McConaughey (Quaid attended the University of Houston for three years). Yet he can claim a deeper Austin connection than Sandra Bullock. Growing up the son of an electrician in Houston, he often visited Austin, skipping school to go camping or to attend parties.

“It had hills, ” he says. “Houston is so flat.”

Quaid‘s Austin ardor also connects back with Buffington, 33, who was born at Seton Hospital, grew up in Northwest Hills and West Lake Hills, and attended Hyde Park Baptist School. Her father was a builder involved in real estate, her mother a homemaker.

“It’s a great place to be from, ” Buffington says. “There’s always something going on. I was into all kinds of sports, but also made good grades. My brother (now a real estate attorney) made slightly better grades. I was always social and knew a ton of people in town.”

The story of their meeting has been told before, sweetly by Quaid on “The Daily Show, ” and by both of them elsewhere.

They tell the tale again on this afternoon at Hoover’s.

It was a Tuesday night — May 13, 2003. Quaid was in town filming “The Alamo” and met John Moore, the director of “The Flight of the Phoenix, ” at Truluck’s in the Warehouse district. Buffington had attended a party for the Junior League. They both ended up at Sullivan’s, where they were introduced by Brett Cullen, an actor and former University of Houston student.

“It was love at first sight, ” Quaid says. “Was it for you, too?” he asks a smiling Buffington.

“It’s love at first sight for everyone with Dennis, ” she says (a phrase she has used, effectively, in other interviews). “And we hit it off right away.”

After a few dates, they retired to Quaid‘s Montana ranch, just north of Yellowstone National Park. (“Yellowstone is my backyard, ” Quaid says.)

“I figured if I got her to Montana, I had her, ” Quaid says. “Not much place to run.”

The interview is interrupted by a discreet Hoover’s waiter. Quaid searches for his glasses to examine the menu.

“One of Kimberly’s duties is to read for me, ” he says with a touch of Jack Nicholson self-mockery that periodically creeps into his performances.

The pause — and Quaid‘s gentle treatment of the autograph-seeking boy — allows time for closer visual observation.

Their faces contrast strikingly. Buffington is all smoothness, her perfectly arranged blonde tresses framing a narrow face and gemlike eyes. Quaid, famously, has acquired creases that complement his still-roundish, still-boyish features. His smile, which eats up his face, has not lost any of its firepower.

On her finger sizzles the 3 1/2-carat canary diamond that Quaid selected from the Kimberly Mines while on location for “The Flight of the Phoenix” in Africa. It was later arranged by Austin’s Anthony Nak.

With orders of comfort food made, it’s back to the story.

“Well, she came up to Montana, but for three or four months, it was a long-distance thing, ” Quaid says. “That wasn’t good.”

What cemented their relationship was the monthslong “Phoenix” shoot in Africa.

“I asked Kimberly to come along and protect me from all the wild animals, ” Quaid jokes.

So the couple spent a few months together on a Namibia beach. They went on safari. They bonded over spectacular scenery and splendid isolation.

“Everything was perfect. If it hadn’t been for Africa, it would have been so much more difficult, ” Buffington says. “It showed us we were able to make the next move.”

That meant sharing a home in Los Angeles, where Buffington continues to work in the real estate industry (she had worked for a title company in Austin).

“There are some neat properties, ” she says. “And I find out about them first!”

After a surprise proposal in front of their L.A. home, the duo wed in June 2004 on top a hill at the Montana ranch, surrounded by just a few friends and family. And then settled into married life.

“We play house, ” Buffington says. “We don’t go to the Hollywood parties.”

Luckily, she also clicks with Jack, Quaid‘s 13-year-old son with ex-wife Meg Ryan.

“He’s an angel, ” she says.

But L.A. is not enough. For the future, Buffington found land they both can love on Lake Austin.

“You drive down through woods, then it opens up, ” Quaid says. “It’s a fantastic lot, and very close to town at the same time.”

They plan some big changes on the Lake Austin property. But when will they install themselves permanently on a lakeside porch?

“When Jack graduates from high school, ” Quaid says. “I’m trying to talk him into going to UT.”

They return to Austin every few months for holidays (last Thanksgiving), summer tubing, charity events, etc.

Sounds like paradise. Meanwhile, they devote their time to raising money for children’s causes through the Charity Weekend. Quaid launched the Weekend in 2002 after filming ‘The Rookie’ here.

What about that inevitable question for all newlyweds?

“Yeah, I want more kids, ” Quaid says.

“The sooner the better, ” Buffington says. “Before we get too old. Once we have kids, we are never going to be this wild and free again.”

 

Best Austin coffee shops near Lavaca Street

For whatever reason, the western side of downtown is fertile ground for good coffee shops.

Jo’s Downtown. Laura Skelding/American-Statesman

Jo’s on Second. 242 W. Second St. 512-469-9003. josecoffee.com. 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon-Fri., 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Decaf, teas, chai. Garage parking nearby, almost no street parking. Despite the crowds, quiet corners.

How to improve on one of the city’s most innovative and persistently popular coffee shops — Jo’s on South Congress Avenue? Add very good comfort food and indoor seating at a second location downtown. For those who complain that the upscale Second Street District feels a little alien to Austin, Jo’s is the perfect antidote: Friendly, local and just funky enough. And a pioneer of downtown’s Great Streets program with its expanded sidewalks. At times the double line to the cashiers can get long, especially when a flock of tourists arrives wearing dazed but happy looks, but they’ve made a wise decision to try the salads, burgers, sandwiches and other offerings at this Jo’s, also a favorite of the City Hall crowd. The espresso-based drinks, with beans roasted by Stumptown, are well above average, but there are other options, including wine and beer.

Austin Java at City Hall. Alberto Martinez/American-Statesman

Austin Java. 301 W. Second St. 512-481-9400. austinjava.com. 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon-Thurs. 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri., 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat., 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun. Garage parking nearby, almost no street parking. Decaf, teas, chai. Despite the whirling foot traffic, one can get work done here.

Jo’s or Java? That’s the luxurious choice at West Second and Lavaca streets: Two proven Austin coffee dispensers that double as cafés. This one juts out from the irregularly shaped Austin City Hall and counts a couple of dozen tables outside and inside. The counter is located just to the right of the main entrance — you can’t miss it. This iteration of the comforting local eatery group is a little less about the food, however, more about the beverages and the chance to sit down and cool your feet in the growing downtown hubbub. Outdoor seats, surrounded by regional geology and botany, are at a premium. As always, fairly good coffee, too.

Halcyon from West Forth Street. Contributed by Michael Knox

Halcyon. 218 W. Fourth St. 512-472-9637. hacyoncoffeebar.com. 7 a.m.-2 a.m. Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-2 a.m. Sat.-Sun. Garage parking nearby, almost no street parking. Decaf, teas, chai. Quieter during the day, although even then the music can interfere with thinking or talking.

Many Austin coffee shops nowadays offer adult beverages, but few actually operate as bars and thrive as part of a busy nightclub district. Halcycon, which took the place of Ruta Maya at Lavaca and West Fourth streets, is there for you morning, noon or night. We sometimes run into trouble gaining the attention of the baristas/bartenders, but no wonder with the constant stream of guests seeking places at tables, on sofas or out on the seating raised above the street level. And luckily, almost anything one orders here is worth consuming. Compared to some of the newcomers to this district, Halcyon hangs onto its original funkiness, handed down in part by its predecessor Ruta Maya.

Contributed by Juan Pelota’s Cafe

Juan Pelota Café. 400 Nueces St. 512-473-0222. juanpelotacafe.com. 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m. -6 p.m. Sat., 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun. Garage parking nearby, some street parking on good days. Decaf, teas, chai. Not really a workspace, more about food, drink and community.

Bear with me as we go back in history to when Lance Armstrong was the city’s second most famous celebrity after Willie Nelson and a busy downtown bike shop that included a small, but very popular coffee spot with a jokey name (look it up). The passage of time has altered Armstrong’s constellation in Austin’s social skies, but Mellow Johnny’s and Juan Pelota Café still anchor a robust cycling community. The café has expanded its footprint to include not only outdoor seating, but also a greater share of the interior space. Coffee was the original lure, but it’s now a place to bulk up on an expanded menu of healthy cuisine as well. The clientele is forbiddingly fit. Even folks clearly my age sport the tight figures, burnished skin and clear eyes of ridiculously good health. More power to ’em.

As always, if we missed your favorite spot in this district, let us know.

 

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near South Congress Avenue.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near South First Street.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near Upper South Lamar Boulevard.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near Lower South Lamar Boulevard.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near Burnet Road.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near North Lamar Boulevard.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near Congress Avenue.

BACKGROUND: Original 2007 Austin coffee shop series.

COMING IN 2018: Near North Austin, Central East Austin, Guadalupe Street, Manchaca Road, Northwest Austin, Far North Austin, Far East Austin, Far West Austin, Far South Austin, Hays County, Williamson County.

Best Austin parties for an incredibly artful time

Design, photography and visual art count big in Austin’s social swirl this week.

Nov. 8: Austin Design Week Studio Tour. 4704A E. Cesar Chavez St.

Nov. 9: Pop Austin VIP Opening Night Party. Fair Market.

Nov. 9: Struggle for Justice: Four Decades of Civil Rights Photography reception. Briscoe Center for American History.

Nov. 9: A Night in Africa from African Leadership Bridge. Springdale Station.

Nov. 9: First Light: Preview Party for Creek Show. 708 E. Fifth St.

Nov. 9: Beat the Odds Benefit Concert with Pat Green. Stubbs.

Nov. 9 Due East Native Wildflower Dinner. Big Medium.

Nov. 9-12: Austin International Drag Festival. Various venues.

Nov. 10: ArtBash from Austin Alliance Austin. Native Hostel.

Nov. 10: Veteran’s Show from Austin Visual Arts Association. Austin ArtSpace.

Nov. 10: University of Texas Distinguished Alumnus Awards. UT Alumni Center.

Nov. 11-12: East Austin Studio Tour. Various venues.

Nov. 11: Patriots Ball. Georgetown Sheraton Hotel.

Nov. 12: Umlauf Presents Bernstein 100 Austin. Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum.

Nov. 12: Seton Development Board Gala salutes Luci Baines Johnson. Fairmont Austin.

 

Pairing the Ballet Austin Fête with the Thinkery’s Imaginarium

Well, it finally happened.

The JW Marriott Hotel, which combines acres of social space with pretty high-quality hospitality, hosted two big, beloved galas on separate floors on the same night. It really was a treat for a social columnist to move effortlessly between these events by way of a long, gliding escalator.

Ilios and Mandarin work their magic at the Ballet Austin Fete. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The Ballet Austin gala is really two events: Fête and Fêt-ish. The first is a more traditional benefit featuring a cocktail hour, leisurely dinner, standard program and a lively auction. The second, intended for a younger social set, is more of a dance party enclosed by vibrant animated projections, a VIP nook and the kinds of things you’d find at a high-end nightclub.

Ann Marie and Paul Michael Bloodgood at Ballet Austin Fete. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

In one of the most anticipated social reveals of the season, the walls part and the two parties join for compounded merrymaking. If you stayed for the whole shebang, it would have been a six-hour hullabaloo.

Ana and Carlos Poullet at Ballet Austin’s Fet-ish. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Two creative teams — Ilios Lighting Design and Mandarin Design Lab — lend these ballet events a singular, enveloping look, this year themed to the company’s first show of the season, “Romeo and Juliet.”

At my table, I enjoyed excellent company, including some sharp Texas lobbyists, early in the evening. Yet I was drawn downstairs to sample the Imaginarium that benefits the Thinkery. The entryway for this youth-skewed gala was just right — one felt pulled into a world of infinite science.

Entering the Imaginarium. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Given that the Imaginarium first took flight at an open-side airplane hangar near its eventual home at the Mueller Development, finding the event in a well-decorated but otherwise ordinary banquet hall was a little disconcerting. I listened to several speakers and met some cool folks before heading back upstairs.

Patricia Brown and Rich Segal at the Imaginarium for the Thinkery. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

How’s this for making it work? Heath Hale Auctions called both events! The always polite and charming gang of whooping men in cowboy hats raised record sums of money for these two incredibly valuable Austin nonprofits.

Best Austin parties for late August

Despite the unbearable heat, Austin throws some pretty fine parties in late August.

2016 Texas 4000 Gala

Aug. 16: Brian Jones Classic Etiquette Dinner for Boys & Girls Clubs of the Austin Area. Four Seasons Hotel Austin.

Aug. 18: Opening of “Chicago.” City Theatre.

Aug. 19: Austin Originals Benefit Concert for Austin Child Guidance. ACL Live.

Aug. 19: An Evening with NASA Pioneers from Texas State Historical Association. Driskill Hotel.

Aug. 20: Pure Prairie League. One World Theatre.

Cynthia Lee Fontaine rides on the Oil Can Harry’s float as it makes its way through downtown in the Pride Parade on Sept. 7, 2013. Christina Burke / American-Statesman

Aug. 20: Cochon 555 US Tour. Four Seasons Hotel Austin.

Aug. 23: “An Evening with the Piano Guys.” Long Center.

Aug. 25: Texas 4000 Tribute Gala for Cancer. JW Marriott.

Aug. 26: Austin Pride Festival and Parade. Downtown Austin.

RELATED STORY: 25 years of Pride.

Aug. 26: Ice Ball for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. JW Marriott.

Aug. 26: Studio 54lift for Forklife Danceworks. 5540 N. Lamar Blvd.

Aug. 27: “Gregeriart” from Rude Mechs. Carousel Lounge.

Aug. 29: Opening of “Austin at Midcentury: Photographs of Dewey Mears.” Austin History Center

Aug. 30: Opening of Robert Schenkkan’s “Building the Wall.” UT campus.

Aug. 30: “An Evening with Carrie Rodriguez.” Long Center.

 

Aamil Sarfani aims for the Austin coffee ideal

Aamil Sarfani soaks up the burnished light at Radio Coffee & Beer, a popular hangout on Manchaca Road.

“They nailed the feel,” says the owner of Apanas Coffee & Beer, which opened at two locations in Austin during 2016. “It’s not too quiet. They offer both beer and coffee, similar to what we do. At 5 p.m., they turn the Wi-Fi off. The work day is over; time to hang out. We are too scared to do that.”

img_4449
Aamil Sarfani, owner of two Apanas coffee and beer shops in Austin, seated at Radio, one of his favorite established spots. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

He points to the lightly scuffed floors.

“No, I just love this place,” Sarfani says. “This is one of the reasons we did wood floors, too.”

RELATED: Nifty coffee shop Apanas opens at key spot on South Congress.

San Antonio-born-and-bred Sarfani, 24, grew up in an entrepreneurial Indian-American family before attending business school at Emory University in Atlanta.

In 2014, he signed up for a class that looked interesting: Social Enterprise in Nicaragua.

“We learned how businesses can do more than just profit from their revenue stream,” Sarfani says. “And the school already had partners down there.”

RELATED: Looking for Austin coffee shops near Burnet Road.

For the class, he stayed over at El Peten coffee farm on Lake Apanas, the namesake for his two Austin outlets.

“Every morning, I went down to the lake and took pictures,” he says. “I came back with really fond memories. And the owner of that farm made connections for me with other sources in Nicaragua.”

RELATED: Trying out Austin coffee shops near Upper South Lamar.

Sarfani learned that by sidestepping third parties through the direct trade model, he, as a retailer, not only could increase the farmer’s share of the revenue, he also could improve transparency and traceability of coffee bean origin and movement, something that not all “fair trade” coffee shops can do.

 

“I came back from the trip the year before senior year and expected to eventually start a business, but I didn’t expect to do so right out of college,” he says. “I had all the resources in hand. Talked to professors, created business plan. I was ready to do something that means more than making a quick buck.”

RELATED: Test these Austin coffee shops near Lower South Lamar.

Sarfani now imports two single-origin beans.

“One is natural processed, Los Piños, picked off the tree andleft in the cherry to increase its sweetness,” he says. “It’s a hard process to master, what with errors, low yield. If you do it right, the coffee comes out fantastic. The other is washed El Peten. We also have a drip coffee that’s a blend of bean from farms in the Los Robos community, and the money goes back to the town’s clinic.”

That echoes the efforts of Austin’s Farahani family, which funds Nicaraguan health care through its nonprofit Fara Coffees.

RELATED: Savor Austin coffee shops near South First Street.

Sarfani grew up “behind the register” from age 12 at his father’s gas stations and fast food restaurants. So it made sense to pitch his dad as an investor.

apanas
Scott Jones at Apanas Coffee and Beer on South Congress Avenue. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

He opened his first coffee shop in January on Rock Rose in the Domain Northside. It’s a mid-sized spot at 1,800 square feet. There’s not a lot of competition in this giant retail district for this wide open and comfortable spot that is not surprisingly already attracting regulars.

In the fall, he opened the second Apanas in a 2,500 square-foot former sports medicine space on South Congress, where there is indeed heavy-hitting competition from Jo’s Coffee, Toms Roasting Co. and Mañana Coffee & Juice.

“We have felt that,” Sarfani admits. “I consult with my Dad. He stays out of my way, tells me what I could be doing, but lets me makes mistakes.”

RELATED: Sip from Austin coffee shops near South Congress Avenue.

Apanas also offers 20 types of draft beer, selected with the same Sarfani philosophy: “High quality in everything”

“We are lucky enough to sell handmade products,” Sarfani says. “Our beer buyer is home brewer too, so very knowledgeable.”

Food is not a focus at Apanas, but one can pick up Quack’s bakery items, Tyson’s Tacos, and Fricanos Deli sandwiches.

Sarfani did hang some modest-sized TV screens in Apanas, unusual for a coffee shop, but he insists they will never become a focal point, except perhaps during parties on game nights.

RELATED: The original 10,000 coffee shops story from 2007.

Besides Radio, Sarfani reveals some of his other preferred Austin coffee shop:

Dominican Joe: “I like what they are doing on the back end, supporting a Dominican Republic community.”

Seventh Flag: “Great community, good vibe, trying to create sense of welcome, home.”

Houndstooth: “A reputation for serving the best coffee in town, but sometimes you get the wrong barista. We are focusing on consistency.”