Still writing the post… not finished yet.
Day 1 – Wed
I’ve been waiting to see Austin for a long time and finally put the trip together. The first attempt was a couple of years ago and would have been in the middle of the Republic of Texas motorcycle rally (not exactly my crowd). This time I went right after Austin City Limits, so I missed the crowds which was fine with me. Prior to going to Austin I had always heard what an awesome town it was, so what are my thoughts after visiting? One thing’s for sure, the city of Austin sure spent a lot of money and effort to recruit me to live there. I swear I heard someone whisper “Ssshh, he’s here, places people! Places!” when I stepped off the airplane. So I guess that means I had a good time.
As usual I rarely spend too much time researching my destination besides buying a guidebook and flipping through it while I’m en route to the destination. Usually I find myself pretty comfortable after a couple of days of walking around, and from that point onwards I rely on the locals to suggest what I should be seeing. One thing that I did read about was the bbq joints in Austin, the Salt Lick had been mentioned several times and I happened to see a Salt Lick food stand at the airport (which ended up being my first taste of barbeque). I have to say, for a airport restaurant the chopped brisket sandwich was awesome, in fact I’d have to argue that it was the best bbq I had on my entire trip (maybe I went to the wrong places, but seriously this sandwich made me happy).
After eating I took a shuttle downtown to stay at the Hilton Garden in (between 5th st and I-35). I got a great deal on Hotwire for $100/night and the location of the hotel was awesome, good decision to stay here on my part and it made getting around the city pretty convenient (yep, I spent my trip in Austin on my feet, with a few scattered bus trips – so it IS possible). After getting settled I walked down 6th st to see the bar area, keep in mind this was a Wednesday afternoon so the area was pretty much dead. As I headed West I saw the Driskill and decided to pop in and take a couple of quick pictures. The Driskill is a luxury hotel that is an institution in Austin, it was built by a cattle baron and has been known for its opulence.
After checking the lobby out I turned the corner at Congress St and headed south across the bridge. I was actually trying to find the Austin Motel and Hotel San Jose – the two places I was supposed to stay at when I originally booked my trip. It was a bit more of hike to get out there than I expected, but it gave me a better idea of exactly how far locations were on the map. On my way to the Hotel San Jose I passed the Austin Motel and had a Turbo at Jo’s café. Hotel San Jose itself had a pretty cool bar and I stopped by to have a couple of micheladas. The bar/pool area was pretty swank and I’d make a point to come back a few more times before I was going to leave (however, I think the Hilton Garden Inn was the better location to get around the city). I continued down South Congress passing Guero’s and stopped by Allens Boots, because when else was I going to check out South Western footwear? If you were going to spend $300 for a pair of boots, you need to go all out and get a pair of snakeskin’s… But that’s just not my style so after taking a quick look around I headed back out and into the city.
That night I decided to head out along 6th st to see how the night life was. I passed by most of the college bars East of Congress and went past Guadalupe to check out Woodwards. The place looked like it could be good if more people were out, but again Wednesday night didn’t turn out the crowds. Down the street I could here some music and a sizeable crowd so I went over to Key Bar, which ended up being a pretty good time. There was a sizeable patio area and large fireplace. I ended up meeting a couple of locals and found out pretty quickly how friendly Austenites are. Unlike my native Boston, you don’t have to know people before you can speak to them in a public setting over in Austin. In fact, Austin had friendlier people than most other cities, surprisingly I also ended up feeling that Austenites are even more liberal than people from Massachusetts (despite the misconception that we are all liberal, I think the locals are surprisingly conservative – remember the Boston riots?).
Day 2 – Thu
I went South the first day, so my second day in Austin I decided to travel North to see the UT campus and the Capitol building. I started walking towards the capitol, which was currently under construction. Unfortunately you can’t go inside the building but there is a visitor center next to it, however the exhibits really aren’t that interesting and it isn’t worth the trip. During my visit there was a gathering outside the capitol, it was an anti-drug rally targeted at some area middle school kids who were in attendance. Being subjected to D.A.R.E. during middle school I have my own opinions on how effective the anti drug message is, but I’ll leave that out of this post.
After moving on from the Capitol I continued North until I got to the UT campus. Right around the corner from the capitol, one can see Memorial Stadium which is probably the biggest UT landmark. When I finally reached the stadium I was able to find one corner next to the entrance where I was able to get a few pictures of the field. That weekend Texas was going to be playing at Nebraska, so I wouldn’t be able to get a ticket to watch the game.
UT’s campus is basically a city within a city, it has every possible resource for students and I’d argue that getting a public education at a school like UT is just as good as most private liberal arts schools (if not better). I used to have an argument with one of my friends about what is more important in choice of school, my argument basically is that name recognition and alumni networking are the most important factors and it just so happens that schools with well recognized D1 programs tend to have both. Sure most people know about Harvard or MIT, but most people in the country may not know that much about Amherst College, Holy Cross or Boston College. At least not compared to a UT, LSU or Florida. In those cases getting the public education might help more than going to the tougher (and in many cases more expensive) school. Honestly, I kinda wish I made a bold move like getting states residency and getting into a school like Texas, I don’t think I would have learned any less and it would definitely have been cheaper.
That night I met up with Margaret, a friend who moved from Boston just a couple of years ago back to Austin, she’s been encouraging me to visit and she had some good suggestions on places to visit. We met up at La Casada which was a swanky Tex-Mex restaurant on 2nd st with a pretty cool interior. I got there a bit early and had some food.
After La Casada she took me out to Mean Eyed Cat, which was a Johnny Cash themed bar. There was band that was playing and I remarked that for a local coverband they sounded pretty polished. Actually even the band the night before sounded really good. Austin is the live music capital of the country and the bands that roll through here (especially the local ones) are well practiced – to the point of sounding polished. At this point in the night I was practically falling asleep while standing up so I went back to the hotel.
Day 3 – Fri
I started off by going to Stubbs, a legendary BBQ joint and concert venue. Unfortunately, because Austin City Limits was the week before, the music scene in Austin was relatively quiet the week I was in town. I went to Stubbs for the BBQ, not the music – but it would have been good to catch a show. I took a picture of some of the concert posters and then sat down to eat my BBQ plate. The food was OK, but I still remember that brisket sandwich at the airport. Nothing I had topped that at Stubbs unfortunately. While I was eating I was looking around at the poster, I hadn’t really noticed all the acts that had played here before but they were a list of some of the best bands out these days. Modest Mouse, Raconteurs, Justice, Wolfmother, the list went on – it really would have been an amazing experience to see any of these bands perform at the venue.
I needed to burn some calories at this point so I took Margaret’s advice and did the Hike and Bike trail that runs along the town lake area, under the Congress St Bridge. Initially I planned on renting a bike, but instead I settled on just walking the trail instead, definitely good exercise and by the end I was completely tired.
Later in the afternoon I made another pilgrimage down to Jo’s and then to Hotel San Jose. I actually love the South Congress area of Austin, it definitely had it’s own lively scene and seemed like a pretty cool place to live. At the Hotel I had some shandys (lemon/lime drink mixed with beer) they went down pretty smooth. I met a person who recommended checking out the East Side Show Room while I was still in town. Afterwards I went back to the hotel for another siesta.
Day 4 – Sat
Today was the big UT-Nebraska game (oh yeah, BC played FSU as well..), I went to down S. Congress again to meet up with Margaret and some of her UT friends. Also my our other friend, Rich, was going to come down to catch up as well. Margaret had a spot picked out at Doc’s Motorworks in SOCO. There ended up being a decent amount of UT fans at the bar, though initially everyone was skeptical that they could pull off the win.
I ended up meeting a few of the guys over at Bazaarvoice, where Margaret works. Also Margaret’s husband, Eric was there. I was still in breakfast/hangover mode so the Bloody Mary’s were calling to me, at $5 a pop it was a deal. The crowd started getting more lively as UT started scoring and keeping the Nebraska offense in check, pretty soon it turned into a party. Rich dropped by after half time. Margaret, Rich and I all used to work for the same agency before the two of them decided to make the move down to Austin. Margaret has been trying to get me to move down or at least visit ever since, I guess the legends were true… I was having a pretty good time thus far.
I went back to the hotel and completely overslept, I didn’t get up until 11 and was late for meeting Rich and Beth at the East Side Show Room. I made the walk across I-35 in the middle of the night to the bar, strange thing about Austin is the East side of the highway is like Thunderdome. There were masses of bums and trashcan fires and zero nightlife save a couple of bars that were open. East Side Show Room was one of these bars and it had a pretty cool interior. Unfortunately it had turned out that I missed the show, an alternative marching band (wish I had those pictures, my loss). After spending time at East Side we walked into town and headed to Halcyon’s which was a coffeshop/bar – rich and I ended up having a couple of Irish coffees to cap the night.
Day 5 – Sun
I heard that Maria’s Taco Xpress was the place to go for their Gospel Brunch, which Maria’s billed as “Hippie Church”. I took the long walk down to the bus station to get to their South Lamar location. Gospel Church is basically a late brunch on Sundays usually after church where Gospel music may be played. In Maria’s case it had also become famous for attracting a local hippie population who turned the place into a grateful dead-type tailgate. The ambiance was over the top, as it probably needed to be. I heard the taco’s here were amazing, but honestly I’d say they were ok at best. The margarita’s were a good deal though. I ended up taking a bunch of pictures here, definitely a highlight of Austin – a true showcase of what “Keeping Austin Weird” really means.
On the way back into town I stopped by the Alamo Drafthouse in South Lamar. I had been told that it was a must do if I had any fret me. Basically this is the best cinema experience I have ever had. The Alamo is a independently owned chain based in the Austin area, they ser beer and a full menu during the movies. They are serious about movies here and have a strict no talking policy, there isn’t much in life that makes me want to throat-punch someone than when they talk during a movie. It was nice to find a place that was serious about putting the smack down on anyone willing to ruin the experience for everyone else. I ended up watching “The Town” (ironic, no?), it was an ok flick but I’m kind of tired of the Boston-Irish Gangster genre that has started creeping up. There should be a Alamo in every town.
That night I went back to the East Side Show Room, to make up for my late entrace the night before. I ended up having a couple of their cocktails which were pretty amazing actually. There was a three piece jazz band playing and the food was excellent. The interior of the bar reminded me of a set piece from a Juenot film it had this quirky circus/freakshow quality about it. Definitely one of the more interesting spots in Austin.
After spending some time at the bar I headed west on Sixth to go check out the Kung Fu Salon which I had seen earlier in the day. After checking Yelp! I found out that they had “free play Sundays” so that was definitely a place to check out. The Kung Fu Saloon is basically an arcade/bar that has all the classic video games of my childhood (80’s/90’s) like Street Fighter II, NBA Jam, Mortal Combat, etc. I hadn’t played some of these games since I was 13, to be honest with you I kind of got into it. They also had skeeball and in the back were large picnic tables with oversized Jenga. It’s a pretty cool idea for a bar that would work great in a place like JP (I guess the Milky Way was sort of like this) or maybe Davis Sq. Had I gone there with a group of friends I think that it would have been fun to play some shuffleboard or chill out on the Jenga tables.
On the way back to the hotel I saw that the Red Fez was playing music so I stopped in, this time the place was packed and it was a couple of DJ’s playing hip hop on the turntables. I decided to stay up until closing, I was definitely a fish out of water but it was good people watching.
Day 6 – Mon
By this point I was pretty much partied out, I spent the day just lounging in the hotel (to be completely honest… I really needed it). I dragged myself out of the hotel to check out the Whole Foods market, which is actually the corporate headquarters for the company. The place was huge and literally had everything that you could possibly want. I ended up buying my only souvenir, a microplane for parmesan (not very “Texas” but I needed one for the kitchen back home).
Later that evening I met up with Rich and Beth again to check out Max’s Wine Dive – which was one of the few remaining restaurant that I felt I had to go check out. Basically the restaurant is a wine bar that serves contemporary Southern cuisine. It was right next to my hotel and it had a reputation for fried chicken and its truffled mac n’ cheese. The food was great, the last time I had fried chicken that good was in Savannah, GA and the truffled mac n’ cheese was good but it doesn’t beat the recipe I use at home (nice try though). After parting our ways I went back to the hotel to finish packing and watching the Tennessee defense hold out against Jacksonville, thus winning my fantasy football matchup (sorry Dan).
Day 7 – Tue
Checked out of the hotel early and went to the airport. I had a great time in Austin but it was time to head home. I felt bloated from all the beer and food but there was one last pit stop I had to make before I went home… I had to grab another Brisket Sandwich from the airport Salt Lick before I got back on the plane. I had caught myself daydreaming about it ever since I first had it when I arrived in Austin. The second time was just as good as the first – honestly it was the best BBQ I had while in Austin.