Craft cocktails, crafty projects to mix at new downtown Austin venue

Upstairs Circus, a quirky venue that blends cocktails with do-it-yourself art projects, plans to move into retail space at 234 W. Second St. by spring 2018.

The Denver-based company has gained a strong following with two locations in its hometown and another in Minneapolis.

“We always knew we wanted to grow — especially outside of [Colorado],” said Kelly Johannsen, who founded the brand with her husband, Matt.

The space in Austin in the popular 2nd Street District is owned and managed by AMLI. CBRE Group Inc. handled the real estate deal.

Upstairs Circus will occupy the 2,000-square-feet storefront previously filled by Estilo boutique, which moved to Tarrytown. The lease also includes a 500-square-foot patio. Johannsen handles most of the interior design, which has a Parisian circus vibe. K2 Architecture in Denver also helped with the design.

“It’s a very easy design theme and incorporates a lot of gem-tone colors,” she said.

Locally owned Trimbuilt Construction Inc. will handle the build-out.

She explains Upstairs Circus’ overarching goal: “Our mission is to empower and inspire creative experimentation.”

A love of tinkering — and a good cocktail

The first three stores were a natural choice. Johannsen was born in Colorado but grew up in Minneapolis. After graduating with a strategic communications degree from the University of Wisconsin, Johannsen became an internet marketing expert with a variety of companies and eventually landed back in Colorado as a manager of corporate marketing technology for Hunter Douglas, the blind and shade manufacturing company.

But she could see a much more compelling window of opportunity.

“I just love to fix stuff and enjoy a good cocktail,” Johannsen said.With that, Upstairs Circus fomented in her mind. At the time — in 2013 — the couple lived in downtown Denver.“We really lucked out. We lived down the street and saw this little space for lease,” Johannsen said.The location was outstanding, near the completely refurbished Union Station mixed-use venue and a plethora of Lower Downtown Denver shops and restaurants. They grabbed the 1,500-square-foot space and quickly gained a following.A second location opened in the Denver Tech Center south of downtown, and then a third in the Twin Cities.Austin surfaced as a great location because of its creative reputation and demographics.“I’ve been to Austin quite a bit and I just love it so much,” Johannsen said.

Something a little different

Perhaps what sets Upstairs Circus apart from franchise operations that offer painting parties is the emphasis on top-notch craft cocktails and a wide array of creative projects to choose from. Happy hours usually start around 3 p.m. Though alcohol is served — and folks who just want to watch while sipping a libation are welcome — Upstairs Circus does not serve food. It can be brought in or ordered from vendors that deliver.The weekends include some bonus possibilities — think bottomless mimosa hours. Johannsen said individuals can join the fun, but reservations are recommended. Corporate events, of course, are quite popular. Private parties also weave into the overall plan.

The cost of the projects — which include materials, directions and a helpful hand from a creative assistant — generally range from $28 to $41, depending on the time and scope.

Cocktails cost extra but are usually less than $10. Bottles of wine also are for sale — all priced under $50 at the first three locations.

The Circus Donkey cocktail should be popular here — Deep Eddy Grapefruit Vodka with ginger beer and lime. Same for the Pink Elephant cocktail with another Austin-born brand — Tito’s Vodka in a classic cosmo rendition.

“We’re just trying to do something a little different here,” Johannsen said. “People like to do more than just drink and eat.”

Source: Austin Business Journal
Jan, Buchholz, Senior Staff Writer

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