Whether you like visual art, craft cocktail art, or just good conversation with friends, you’ll find what you’re looking for at Kao Lounge, the SoDA District’s newest cocktail bar. The lounge is full of spots for photo ops, with local art on the walls, a huge mural on the back wall, and elegant, colorful furniture throughout the space. The drinks are also artistic, like the New Year’s Eve cocktails with glitter.
“We pride ourselves in craft cocktails,” said Colby Marcee, co-owner of Kao Lounge. “We also wanted a place that was comfortable. We have free wifi, we do brunch on Sundays. We’re just kind of trying to bring a different element to Abilene.”
Colby and his wife, Jamie, combined talents with Tim Smith to create the business. Tim, owner of several properties in the SoDA District, had just finished creating an event venue next door called Oak Street Arbor when Colby came to him with the bar idea. Colby had experience as general manager and head bartender of Amendment 21, a whiskey cocktail bar a few blocks away on Chestnut Street.
“I like to drink at bars but I never thought of myself as having any ownership in one,” Tim said. “But Colby was very persistent. I already knew he was good at what he did.”
“He had all the construction knowledge and I had all the bar knowledge,” Colby said.
Meanwhile, Colby’s wife, Jamie, came up with the interior design plan and the name “Kao” which is “Oak” spelled backwards but also means “Expression” or “Face” in Japanese.
The owners also found another meaning for the name in light of the COVID-19 events of 2020: Keep Abilene Open. Although they had some struggles opening in October of 2020, they still got plenty of customers and were able to follow health guidelines as they opened. Their space has the added bonus of a garage-style wall that can be opened to allow air flow.
Guests can rent a private party area in the lounge called “The Nest.” Decorated with bird cages, the room can be rented for $50 an hour and bottle service is available. The lounge also offers a mobile bar for events such as weddings or corporate events. The first large-scale event Kao Lounge did was the Christmas Celebration at the Abilene Zoo.
Visitors to Kao Lounge can treat themselves to unique craft cocktails made with fresh ingredients, house-made simple syrup, fresh-squeezed lime juice and more. On the porch, a small herb garden provides fresh mint, basil, rosemary and cardamom for the spring seasonal drinks. The lounge also features a selection of sausage for dinner and on Sundays serves brunch.
Instagram: @kaolounge | Website: https://www.kaolounge.com
By Haley Laurence