Editor’s Note: Departure Lounge closed its downtown location in July 2017. Owner Keith Waldon plans to open a new location in the airport.
Austin loves to mix things up. We want great food and drinks while watching the latest releases at the Drafthouse, or a quick round of embarrassing karaoke after rolling a few frames at The Goodnight. Austin entrepreneurs are taking mixed-use concepts to a whole new level. The latest to hit the downtown scene is a travel agency with a wine bar built in. Or maybe it’s the other way around?
Take Off or Dine In?
Departure Lounge, located at the corner of 5th and Guadalupe across from Republic Square Park, combines a “luxury” travel agency with a wine and coffee bar. But don’t be scared away by the travel agency concept. You won’t find your typical travel agents here. The 2100 sq. ft. space is outfitted with large TVs in each seating area that play a continuous loop of amazing images from the farthest reaches of Earth. They’re all places you can book through Virtuoso, the travel network that Departure Lounge is associated with.
That’s about the extent of the travel agency you’re exposed to. To me, the travel agency aspect felt more like a unique backdrop to a trendy wine/coffee bar. Departure Lounge has a rather extensive coffeehouse setup and serves up organic free-trade coffee from regions all over the world.
“Try before you buy” isn’t exactly Departure Lounge’s main theme, but it fits. Instead of a stiff cardboard menu littered with wines you can barely pronounce, you are presented with an iPad to choose your wine. The intuitive menu breaks down your choices by the region of the world, white/red wines, and glasses/bottles.
Each wine listing includes an extensive background on where and how it was made, along with tasting notes, making selecting the perfect glass just a few taps away. The Moroccan red wine was my first choice. Most wine glasses averaged between $8-12 dollars for a healthy-sized pour, with bottles available for purchase as well.
The food options paired perfectly with the extensive wine and coffee menu. Even the pastries, made by Sugaplump Pastries, evoke whispers of specific travel destinations. While I didn’t get to try any during my visit, I’ve heard the truffles are out of this world. I have to admit, I caught myself daydreaming a bit sipping on a glass of wine and looking at exotic photos from the same exotic place. I suppose that’s the idea.
This isn’t exactly my brand of travel though. For the price of a one-week excursion to Bali purchased through Departure Lounge, I could probably squeeze in a two-month backpacking trip through SE Asia. That’s okay. Departure Lounge doesn’t pretend to be other than it is. These are vacation packages suitable for the 1-percenters.
Don’t Dallas My Austin
I’ve heard this remark while discussing whether Departure Lounge fits in a place like Austin. An upscale, contemporary wine bar that offers luxury travel packages and serves organic, free-trade coffee doesn’t necessarily sound like it would fit in a more laid back Austin. But to me, it works. Maybe it’s the wanderlust in me, but I love the concept. Anytime I can be exposed to new travel ideas, I’m all for it.
Departure Lounge is a welcome addition to the West Downtown area. It may not become your go-to place for wine or coffee in Austin, but it’s unique enough to warrant a visit whenever the travel bug bites you.
What is your favorite wine spot in downtown Austin?