Thank you, Academia, for inviting me out to try your new menu and drinks! While I did receive some complimentary treats, all opinions are my own. It’s been a while since I was this excited to write a blog post. Academia is an extremely impressive bar. Yes, I got carried away with the writing, but I couldn’t help it! If you’re tired of the usual Austin bar scene, try Academia. Trust me and you’re welcome.
Academia is located at 208 W. 4th St. in the heart of the Warehouse District. From the front, they’re pretty unassuming. They have a cool logo, a kind of seal, and that’s pretty much all you see from the street. The logo has the Latin phrase “esto perpetua, propino” which means “Live perpetually, drink!” They also had an Anthony Bourdain quote outside when I visited, which was a really nice way to be greeted.
Once you step inside, however, is when you start to see how genuinely unique Academia is. The academic vibe strong, but authentic. It’s not cheesy at all. I could have come in wearing a tweed jacket with elbow pads and a typewriter and I would have looked right at home. There are four banners hanging down the length of the bar, each designed in an Ivy League style. They pay homage to four writers: Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Hunter S. Thompson. Jankedesign.com did an excellent write-up on their process for branding Academia if you’re interested in learning more about the design of the bar.
A couple of things I noticed right off the bat were their file folder menus (because they change their menu every 28 days, the file folders make the switching of papers easy), some of their food comes served on tissue paper that has pages from books printed on it, and your receipt comes inside a book. Also, they group their cocktails into three categories, “Undergraduate” which are classic “refined” drinks, “Graduate” which are “new and obscure” drinks, and “Electives” which are the “faculty signatures” (bartender specials). There’s also a “multiple choice” option, but more on that later.
We tried a few drinks during our visit. First, we tried the super unique Raw Dill, one of their “Elective” drinks. It has Linie aquavit, Dolin Blanc vermouth, St. Germain, dill, salmon eoe (!), and saline. The bartender described it as an “everything bagel with lox.” I’m not totally sure how I feel about the salmon roe (salmon fish eggs). I did like the salty-ness they brought to the drink when mixed in, but not the fishy-ness they added when I ate them along with the drink. The drink is savory and complex – there’s a lot going on with the Raw Dill!
Next was the Trinidad Sour, my favorite drink of the night. A “Graduate” level drink, their Trinidad Sour is uniquely made. They use Angostura amaro, Rittenhouse rye, Giffard orgeat, lemon, and Angostura bitters. What makes it different, though, is their ratio of amareto to bitters. They don’t overuse the bitters, which makes it spicy, but in a very dessert-spice way. It’s very easy to drink. This is definitely a sweeter option to the Raw Dill.
The final drink we tried was the “Undergraduate” Mellowed 50/50 Sazerac. This was by far the best Sazerac I’ve ever had. They mix half rye whiskey and half cognac and let the mixture sit. The bartender explained to me there’s a different, more complex flavor when you let the mixture sit together ahead of time, as compared to just mixing the two right before you serve the drink. Also, they use liquid nitrogen to chill their glasses! Again, pretty unique.
The creative input bartenders have at Academia is one of my favorite things about the bar. Each month, bartenders submit drinks to be featured on their menu, both individual creations and variations on classics. This is where the “Multiple Choice” option comes in! If you’re in Academia and aren’t sure what you feel like drinking, trust the bartender to make you something delicious! It will give them a chance to practice their new drinks, and it will give you a chance to give feedback. You could be involved in the creation of a new cocktail! I’m definitely going “Multiple Choice” next time I visit. A lot of thought has gone into the speed at which bartenders can make drinks as well. They have hospital sinks (with foot pedals to operate), everything on the bar is arranged for easy, quick access, and their drinks have no more than five ingredients. So even if it’s a packed Saturday night, you can get a uniquely crafted cocktail in no time.
Academia offers traditional bar food, but they try to elevate it. For example, yes, they have fries, but they’re topped with their own custom seasoning. Their menu goes WAY beyond fries though. If you thought the drinks were unique, lets get into the bar food.
We first sampled the Striped Bass Crudo (which means it’s raw). Not what you’d expect on a bar menu, but WOW. We were basically licking the plate by the end.
Next was the crab cakes. They don’t use any filler inside their crab cakes – just crab meat. Again, we were scrapping up each and every flake of meat. Academia makes excellent use of dill, a very underrated herb in my opinion. I love dill! I really like that Academia not only tops some of their drinks with it, but also tops their food with the wonderful herb.
Best for last – The Hemingway. It’s been said Hemingway’s favorite meal was Wonder Bread, peanut butter, and raw onions. Academia does it their own way – house-made peanut butter and smoked onion jam on a toasted brioche bun topped with fried scallions. I have to be honest – when I took my first bite, I literally laughed to myself it was SO GOOD. I couldn’t believe it. We were three for three on licking our plates clean.
I don’t know how else to wrap this post up other than GO TO ACADEMIA. Steve, our bartender, provided us with excellent service all night. He was super knowledgeable, charismatic, and you could tell he really loved his job. I couldn’t ask more from the service. They have such a friendly vibe that I got the feeling they’d be the type to say, “Hi Kelly! The usual?” I love it.
While we sampled some of the more unique menu items, you could easily just order a $6 cocktail and fries, if that’s what you’re feeling that night. With such a diverse menu, you can make it into whatever happy hour you want. From $6 to $16 dollar cocktails, from fries to striped bass crudo, there’s something for everyone.
Thanks again to bartender Steve and the rest of the Academia team. We couldn’t have had a better experience!