After completely gutting the building, Levesque played a large hand in designing the space, from the layout to the light fixtures, cabinetry and curtains, helping the owners craft a vision for a bar that was both laid back and accessible while also remaining clean and sophisticated with an Old World feeling. As with any project of this magnitude, multiple challenges arose. “We had to retrofit a building that’s designated a historical landmark,” says Levesque. “It was a crumbling, poorly laid-out wine bar which we had to convert into a contemporary space with a completely different aesthetic that was also up to code and fully functional.” Among other things, he had to make the bar, entrances and bathrooms ADA compliant, and replace old electrical wiring and plumbing. “It was such an incredible mess that we had to gut and redo all of that before building out the rest of the space. We also had to relocate the HVAC system to update it to code.”
Transforming the dark, outdated space into a bright, clean and comfortable one was no easy task. The original bar structure — a large, S-shaped concrete form — was replaced by a mahogany bar with a quartz countertop that resembles a marble finish and adds contrast to the darker elements. The face of the bar is covered in copper panels that will patina over time and provide a subtle reflection, which tricks the eye into thinking it’s a bigger space.
The original floor tile was saved due to budget restrictions. “As we gutted parts of the space, some of that flooring had to be removed. Matching the floor tile with new tile was somewhat of a challenge, but we were able to find a seamless match that hid those transitional spaces between old and new flooring,” says Levesque. The ugly dropped ceiling that housed all the original plumbing for the tenants upstairs was covered with new ceiling tiles, and farmhouse/warehouse-style pendant lighting from Barnlight Electric was added.
The south facing wall was made of crumbling plaster, yet it was so big that Levesque knew he wanted to make it stand out. He sought to create a visual and textural contrast to the bar opposite and the rest of the sheet rocked walls, so he covered it with repurposed Chicago-style brick to give it a lived-in feel — as if it had been there all along.
The space was so small and narrow that layout options were limited, yet storage was one of biggest challenges to overcome. Levesque designed a mahogany bench that butts up against the south-facing brick wall and spans its full length to provide storage underneath the seat. This serves as an unobtrusive storage space for glasses, mugs, paper products and other items. He also laid a concrete slab for a detached walk-in cooler off the back of the property to store kegs and other items needing refrigeration.
Cabinetry, tables, shelving behind the bar and all other millworks were custom-made and handcrafted by Hill Country Doors & Woodworks, Levesque’s other company. “The emphasis on different colors and types of wood (mahogany, white oak and Douglas fir) gave the space a grounded, warm and Old World feel. And we were happy to be able to provide such a comprehensive woodworking service to the construction of the bar,” he says. The rich, heavy front and back doors are the work of Ivan Moses, Hill Country Doors & Woodworks’ head designer and sales manager. The solid white oak, pivot doors operate with ease but feature the old, well-worn look and feel found throughout the bar. To soften the front windows and add a touch of color, custom-made curtains in a classic linen fabric in slate blue were designed to contrast with the warmer elements in the space.
In this welcoming environment, the impressive selection of 20 Belgian beers on tap and over 40 by the bottle taste even fresher. Morte Subite may translate to “sudden death,” but as Austin’s only bar dedicated to Belgian beer and spirits, Belgian beer lovers will feel like they have died and gone to heaven.
BUILDER Dominique Levesque Construction
512-633-1419 | www.dominiquelevesque.com