Sellers: From Drug Den to Austin’s Most Stylish New Bar

A new Austin lounge embraces its building’s shady history.

If they could talk, the walls at Sellers would tell a noir tale of drug trafficking, money laundering, and ties to Hezbollah, while the floors would speak of live sharks lurking silently beneath two-stepping patrons. That was more than five years ago, and the pages have been slowly turning. The former narcotics-peddling tenants were jailed, the sharks removed from their dance-floor tank, and, with Michael Hsu Office of Architecture at the helm, the story arc of Sellers is bending toward redemption.

When Austin native Michael Icenhauer decided to expand from his eponymous bar on historic Rainey Street, he was determined to find the right space. What he found in late 2014—a 5,800-square-foot Warehouse District club—seemed ideal, but came with the baggage left by three Lebanese-immigrant brothers who operated the bar—then called Qua—while running weapons, evading taxes, and angering animal rights groups. To pen the next chapter in the building’s winding history, Icenhauer enlisted fellow local Hsu, whom he’d found sometime earlier, during a revamp of his first bar, by searching for “Cool Architects in Austin” on Google. They’ve since forged a strong relationship. “They know what looks good and we trust them,” Icenhauer says. “It was an easy choice to work with them again because we know that they’re going to do a good job, are proud of what they do, and won’t leave any stone unturned.”


The lobby at Sellers.

Hsu and his team, led by project architect Ken Johnson, whipped up their vision for Sellers as a slick, ’70s-inspired lounge, replete with honey-colored wood, cane, and velvet. The bar’s main focal point—a warmly lit, wall-to-wall bottle display—also lights Sellers’s other features, including yards of mustard-yellow curtains framing a bottle-service banquette and flashes of brass and steel. The result, Johnson says, is an elegant space, coyly layered to invite people in to explore and experience, but always with an eye toward merriment. (The cocktail program will have a martini focus.)

“Michael [Icenhauer] wanted the bar to be fun and refined, and we felt the atmosphere held the feeling that a dance party could break out at any time,” he says. “The design touches on nostalgia and classic detailing. It’s a bar that could have been in the building a long time.” The colorful disco-style lighting on the dance floor may not predate Sellers, but it’s a subtle reminder that, notwithstanding its sordid past, this throwback lounge is more Saturday Night Fever than Scarface.

(All Photos: Courtesy Sellers.)

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