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Posted: 2:19 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014

Concordia Gala, Highland, Shawn Cirkiel and more 



By Michael Barnes

SCHOOL: Three standing ovations were not nearly enough. Retiring Concordia University President Tom Cedel was greeted with tears and cheers during the Excellence in Leadership gala this week at the Four Seasons Hotel. A former military leader and scientist, the exceedingly amiable Cedel is one of the most beloved members of our community. He doubled the size of Concordia's student body, while moving from a small urban campus to a large, gorgeous suburban one embraced by a nature preserve. His wife, Penny Cedel, is right there with him. Tom has kept his recent battle with cancer relatively quiet. It's tremendous to report that he is looking and feeling great. I'm proud of everything that Tom and Penny have done for this city. I'm even prouder to call them friends and role models.

NIGHTLIFE: The Highland to open after a long wait. This week, the Statesman plans a story on four major LGBTQ festivals coming up. This is a planned sidebar: "During the late 1980s, one of Austin’s hottest gay bars was Halls, a multi-level club at 404 Colorado Street with niches arranged around a tall, wide dance floor. The club’s chilly look, including metal tubing and glass brick, was called, back then, “high tech.” A basement lounge and copious patio completed the attraction. Later, the 10,000 sqaure-foot space ran through many names, owners and concepts. Two years ago, it closed down completely when owner Mike Yassine first faced criminal charges. To much anticipation, the space reopens Sept. 16 as Highland. During a $2 million renovation, new owner Robert Grunnah stripped the structure down its struts, opened its interiors to large windows on Colorado Street and installed five jutting, streamlined bars. He moved the once-elevated DJ booth down closer to the action. “Highland matters to me because, after work, I want to join friends in a beautiful space, be greeted by name by a classy wait-staff, and enjoy world-class cocktails and food,” Grunnah says. “I want to be able to do this in a place that is non-judgmental; where other gay and lesbian people can relax, connect and make new friends. I also want to go out on the weekends and dance my ass off to cutting-edge dance music.”

FOOD: Chef Shawn Cirkiel puts it all together. From my story in the Statesman: "In December 2009, Parkside general manager Eddie Del Valle died after a heart attack. Hard-charging restaurant owner and chef Shawn Cirkiel was desolate. “It changed me,” says Cirkiel, who now also owns Backspace and Olive & June and is chef partner at Chavez. “I stopped working so hard, quit smoking.” Cirkiel, who plans to add a tapas bar to his Austin eatery collection soon, still works very hard by anybody’s standards. “But I used to think that everything that happened at that moment was the single most important thing in the world,” he says. “I prioritize now. I’ve learned that from having kids.” After Del Valle’s death, Cirkiel cut back his hours in the kitchen and brought on more staff. “We made a decision to do the opposite of the usual when the economy went bust,” says Cirkiel, who draws on deep Austin roots. “When other companies were cutting back, we expanded. And we still did all the fundraisers in town. It’s our community. It’s something we are responsible for.” http://shar.es/1nPYOE

BOOKS: Austin's Brian Hart weaves brilliant, wild tale. From Charles Ealy's story in the Statesman: "For those who dream of writing a debut novel that receives widespread critical acclaim, you might want to consider the case of Austin writer Brian Hart. He went back to hanging drywall after 2009’s “Then Came the Evening.” That’s the same thing he was doing in 2005 when he got the news that he was getting a fellowship at the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas, where he completed “Evening,” a gritty tale of a dysfunctional Idaho family. (So much for basking in the literary afterglow of a starred review from Publishers Weekly and more praise from the New York Times and the New Yorker.) “After I published my first book, I couldn’t really say, ‘Now I’m a writer.’ I still had to do construction to support myself. I didn’t have enough money to live,” Hart says recently over lunch at an East Austin cafe."

HISTORY: Another excerpt from the more than 100 stories about Austin history. From my page on MyStatesman.com: "It is Austin in the mid-1960s. The hottest band in town is the 13th Floor Elevators. Yet because of a drug bust and their link to psychedelia, you rarely heard them on the city’s most powerful rock and pop station, KNOW-AM.  Instead, their cosmic “You’re Gonna Miss Me” was championed by KAZZ-FM, once Austin’s low-frequency jazz station. In fact, the radio outlet energized by Bill “Rim Kelley” Josey Jr. — a high school friend of the Elevators’ Roky Erickson — and Bill Josey Sr., who worked the management side, played all sorts of folk, rock, pop, show tunes, an unusually varied list for the time." mystatesman.com/s/life/austin-history

Michael Barnes

About Michael Barnes

Michael Barnes writes about Austin's people, places, culture and history. He also writes the Out and About social column and blog.

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