Yeah – I know what you are thinking. Houston?? Blah. Unless you grew up there – or maybe even if you did – it might not be the first place you think about for getting away. Indulge me for a minute. Houston isn’t actually one place – it’s lots of little places. Give it a fair shot and I promise you’ll find a few you like. Among the urban sprawl and endless miles of highway – you’ll also find a world of museums, restaurants, & entertainment.
Houston is almost literally a blank canvas that you can paint the way you like. More often than not, you’ll find me calling The Magnolia Hotel my home away from home. There are lots of interesting places to wet your whistle, but a new discovery for me was the Nouveau Antique Art Bar in downtown, where the ceiling full of reproduction Tiffany lamps provides a unique backdrop. And given enough time, I’ll almost always try to sneak in at least one lunch at Goode Company Taqueria.
So, while it might not be Paris or Rome – or even your favorite place in Texas – Houston can be a great place to go exploring. Stay off the freeway and go find a neighborhood that appeals to your sensibilities (or lack thereof). And if you find yourself in the mood for some Vietnamese Crawfish...yeah they have that too.
When I drove by this afternoon, there was a line out the door at Players. At some point later tonight, they will serve their last burger, blend the last shake, and turn out the lights on 30 years as a fixture of the UT community. For me, I had one last bacon cheeseburger combo a few days ago. Change and Austin are synonymous these days, but sometimes a place goes and you feel it more personally. Players
is was one of those places for me; as was the recent demolished original Ginger Man building on 4th St.
The very first meal I ate after arriving at UT was at Conan’s (on the site of the current Kerby Lane) and I’ll remember that forever. My first visit to Players is not similarly etched in memory, but it was a touchstone for me through out my time as a UT student. The burgers are fine, but it was never really about the food. It was….comfortable. A feeling not to be underrated when you are trying to find your place among 50,000 fellow students.
By and large, I’ve enjoyed watching Austin grow into what it is today. Old makes way for new. Throngs of people who were never patrons of a place suddenly become long lost friends when word comes of the next closure. The common refrain goes something like: “Well, I never really ATE at _________ (Las Manitas, Paggi House, etc), but it was a tradition!” While I appreciate nostalgia, the rich mixture of culture and diversity continuing to flourish in Austin requires a certain amount of perpetual motion.
As Austin continues to evolve, we’ll find new things to love. The restaurant scene today is unrecognizable (in the best of ways) compared to a few years ago. Paul Qui could have hung a shingle anywhere and he decided to stay in Austin. We are better for having him. But as we turn into a full fledged Big City – here’s hoping we can hang on to a few of those comfortable places.
When I was a kid – we would occasional pile into the car on a Sunday afternoon and go for a drive. While the experience may not have been unique to my family, it was one of my first exposures to the concept of exploration and travel. Recently, I’ve resumed the practice of taking a Sunday drive as time permits. San Antonio is great spot for a mini-break from Austin without having to travel far.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way right off the bat. The River Walk is a tourist trap. It’s full of mediocre Tex-Mex restaurants willing to be the backdrop in the play. On the bright side, you can walk without destination in mind and be content just being in the moment. And because it’s a essentially a tourist/convention district – weekends provides ample supply of hotels for any taste at a reasonable price tag.
There are very few places I can earnestly recommend, but I’ve found a few spots that are comfortable and find their way on my regular rotation. The service at Ostra is always prompt and friendly. The bar is quiet enough that it’s easy to strike up a conversation with whatever (typically eccentric) character ends up on the bar stool next to yours. For reasons I can’t fully explain – Mi Tierra has become my touchstone in San Antonio and no trip is complete without a visit.
Hotels are obviously a matter of personal taste. Everyone should get a river view room at La Mansion Del Rio at least once. It might not be the nicest, but it’s quintessential River Walk lodging. My personal favorite is the Hotel Valencia. It’s a quirky boutique hotel and perhaps not for every taste, but it’s a nice place that’s right on the river while being off the beaten path enough to avoid the bulk of the crowds (and noise).
Oh….and Remember The Alamo. It is why you came after all – right?
On behalf of the entire city of Austin, I apologize. It appears we have overrun your quaint and quirky little town. We figured if “weird” works well in Austin, then you’d love us in Marfa. Who doesn’t love a good food trailer and a cold can of PBR – right?
Yes, it’s true. It appears Austin has made Marfa our own little satellite outpost in the middle of West Texas. We wanted to get out of town for the weekend and you looked just “far out” enough to suite our tastes and travel budget. And when we heard Liz Lambert was opening a trailer park hotel, well – you had us at hello.
I had a feeling our cover was blown when the first 3 guys I met at the hotel bar were in a band from Austin and in town for a gig. A car in the parking lot with the Waterloo Records bumper sticker didn’t help. Nonetheless, your hospitality was most appreciated.
We’ll see you again soon. Now, if there was just a way for us to get there on a Vespa.
P.S. Thanks for sharing the story of your town mascot. We’ve got lots of folks in Austin looking for #tictacmarfa. I hope he makes his way home soon!
Austin took our first crack at hosting the XGames a weekend ago and by all accounts seemed to be a successful event. Things mostly went off without a hitch, but my guess is both the crowd and event coordinators learned a few things that will help make next year even better. For myself, it was entertaining and I’m glad I experienced it. A few observations:
The human powered events – at least for me – were more entertaining that the machine powered ones. Getting a bird’s eye view of someone launching themselves off an impossibly tall ramp on a bicycle or skateboard is impressive. It’s one of those events that you can’t tell whether the athletes are brilliant or crazy – most likely a bit of both.
Austin can be hot in June….and windy. The heat took a toll on both fans and participants. Race cars hovering under shady bridges waiting for their start and fans finding creative ways to stay cool. The wind was a welcome reprieve, but played spoiler to a couple of aerial events that had to be modified, and in one case cancelled entirely.
There’s a lot to do beyond the events. A true family affair with something for everyone. From kids riding mini skate parks to fans getting to meet their heroes – there were lots of ways to feel engaged with the events and feel like you are peeking behind the scenes. XGames also did a great job of sprinkling in Austin feel with local musicians and food trucks.
I believe the initial contract is for 3 years. There were a few small missteps along the way, but given the crowd and athlete response – this may be the first year of another long-standing Austin tradition. Welcome to town!
I visited Bastrop State Park this weekend for the first time since the fires in 2011. I’ve driven past on the highway, but there is something different about walking on the trails through fallen trees and the others that are charred, but still standing. Too stubborn to heed the call of gravity.
If the view toward the sky is a window to the past, then the floor underfoot is a peak into tomorrow. Life literally springing from the ashes. A new crop of flowers casting a hopeful reach through the open canopy.
There is certainly no such thing as good news stemming from an event like the one that ripped through the heart of Bastrop taking life and property along in its rampage. The rebirth is simply a sign of the enduring spirit of both man and nature.
May the circle be unbroken.
Unplugged at the Grove. It’s quintessential Austin and kicks off each spring and runs through the fall on Thursday evenings. A legendary combination of social scene and live music.
The crowd represents eclectic Austin at its best. Families inhabit the grass, the professional crowd settle into the chairs by the stage, and the Unplugged regulars hold court at the bar. The bands are a Who’s Who of Austin music and would normally garner a line and a cover charge. The 2014 season kicked off with What Made Milwaukee Famous.
Austin is an outdoor city and a music city – so it’s no surprise that we try to combine the two as often as possible. KGSR and Shady Grove pull it all together in a way that reflects so many things that make Austin a special place. So if it’s Thursday and you are looking for your friends, chances are you’ll meet them at the Grove.
When I first moved to Austin I was young and it was a different town. As the city and I have grown – we don’t always see each other as often as I’d like. Sure, I make it pretty regularly to Town….I mean “Lady Bird”…..Lake. And I still make the live music rounds when time permits, but Austin is the poster child for the FOMO syndrome. So many places, so little time.
When I’m feeling a little out of touch – there are a couple stand-by itineraries that I pull out of the bag to reconnect myself. One of those touchstone places would most certainly be an afternoon on South Congress. It’s sums up so much of Austin – both old and new – within a couple miles of road.
Old standby restaurants like Guero’s hold court next to the hotspots like Hopdoddy and both compete with the new trailer sensations. Austin music venues have come and gone, but Continental Club connects Austin past and present. So, whether you’ve lived in Austin since Willie had red hair, just moved here, or are merely passing through – give “SoCo” a bit of your time and you’re bound to walk away smiling.
Post Script – I realized as I was publishing this that I just wrote about a couple places in SoCo earlier this year. I really do go to other parts of town, I promise. Next time, I’ll talk about Rainey, East Sixth, North Loop, or one of the many other great places around town.
The first time I saw Flogging Molly was at ACL Festival several years ago. It was a rainy day (back when it used to rain in Austin) and I was watching Citizen Cope on one of the main stages. The rain made everything feel dreary and Citizen Cope – although I like him – wasn’t exactly adding energy. Looking for a change of pace, we headed off and sloshed into Flogging Molly. The energy and watching the muddy mosh pit were exactly the cure and it turned out to be a great day.
Fast forward to last night and Flogging Molly did again what they do best. I suppose I’ve seen them a handful of times now and never walked away not feeling more positive about the world. They played a bit of old and a bit of new and the crowd surged along happily. Although not a mosh-pitter myself, I don’t mind getting close enough to feel the occasional jostle or have a few sips of beer spilled on my sleeves.
After 10ish days of SXSW and the brief surge of St. Paddy’s Day, a night at Stubb’s was a perfect way to wind down a couple weeks of being on the go. Now as spring begins, I’ll meld back into a more natural pattern of the occasional show bookending mostly routine days. But when I’m sitting at home doing laundry, don’t be surprised if you here me humming “Requiem for a Dying Song”.
It doesn’t get more “Austin” than spending a Tuesday night on South Congress enjoying two local favorites. Tuesdays at the Continental Club are synonymous with Toni Price and her “Hippie Hour” fans. The time between sets is just long enough to make a quick dash to Home Slice down the street for some of the best pizza around.
Outside of a brief move to California a couple years ago, Toni Price has been a Tuesday landmark of the Austin live music scene. Her music stands on its own, but it doesn’t hurt that Warren Hood and Rich Brotherton have both done stints at her side. And since it’s an early show, you’ll be home in plenty of time to face the Wednesday workday with gusto.
Just because it’s early in the week, doesn’t mean it needs to be boring. Head on over to SoCo to feed both your soul and your belly. You won’t be disappointed.