At most Austin restaurants and bars, good food and great atmosphere are a given. Some places, though, offer something extra — a bit of Austin weird. From murals to sculptures, battle the winter doldrums by checking out these 10 iconic Austin restaurants and their, well, interesting art pieces.
Hyde Park Bar & Grill
Corpus Christi native and University of Texas alum Bick Brown opened this establishment in 1982 in an old home on Duval Street that once housed an Armenian restaurant. A red-and-white Coca-Cola sign out front was transformed into a giant fork, and artist Dale Whistler began creating various art accouterments for the utensil. These have included giant vegetables, a roasted turkey, and an enormous heart. Do your part to keep Austin weird: The restaurant takes suggestions for what should be hoisted onto the fork next.
Shoal Creek Saloon
This restaurant serves Louisiana cuisine and calls itself the Austin home of New Orleans Saints fans — hence the giant Saints football helmet perched on its roof. Austin artist Bob "Daddy O" Wade created the helmet from a Volkswagen Bug. Wade's creations also include 40-foot-tall cowboy boots at a San Antonio mall, a giant iguana atop the hospital building at the Fort Worth Zoo, and dancing frogs that adorn a Dallas bar.
Stuff covers every inch of the walls in this little white building on West Sixth Street at Shoal Creek. Eclectic decor tends toward sports and music, including dozens of pro and college football and baseball pennants, old photos, autographs of famous diners, old advertisements and magazine covers, 1950s pinup calendars, and real buffalo and longhorn heads.
County Line on the Lake
This barbecue joint occupies a former fishing lodge on the shore of Bull Creek just above Lake Austin. A varied, mostly random collection of things covering the walls and ceiling include a 1930s jukebox that still lights up, a 7-foot-tall totem pole hand carved by a County Line manager, a collection of handmade fly fishing lures, and old fishing boats and minnow buckets. Items such as these maintain an old lake house feel for the place.
Chuy's Barton Springs
Plenty of weird goes on here at the original location of what is now a Tex-Mex chain. Take, for example, a huge school of hand-carved, hand-painted wooden fish swimming above the bar. The restaurant founders came across these in a market in Mexico, tracked down their creator, and ordered 1,000 of them. The fish became something of a trademark for Chuy's, hanging in every restaurant and still made by the same family in Mexico. Colorful glass globes purchased in Guadalajara originally hung on the ceiling of another location, but when imperfections in the hand-blown glass caused some of them to fall, the globes were mortared into the wall of the Barton Springs entrance. You'll also find hubcaps covering the ceiling in the back room, as well as an Elvis shrine.
The Broken Spoke
Billed as the last of the true Texas dance halls, this low-slung building on South Lamar Boulevard features live country music in back and a restaurant in front. A cowboy named Rowdy occupies a large round table in the restaurant. Spoke owner James M. White bought the mannequin about 15 years ago to sit in the driver's seat of an old bus out front, but says once Rowdy came inside to the bar, he didn't want to leave. Rowdy gets dressed up for holidays and many customers take their picture with him. When the Spoke was robbed awhile back and a police officer crawled in the window the thieves had broken, he told White later that he almost shot Rowdy because he wouldn't put his hands up.
Kerbey Lane Cafe
A giant coffee cup sculpture hangs from the sign leading people to the original Kerbey Lane Cafe on, of course, Kerbey Lane. At the restaurant's Guadalupe Street location, a glowing coffee cup (see a theme here?) tops the neon sign outside, while a colorful, trippy, pancake-inspired mural brightens up the exterior walls.
More giant fake food; this time a really big sub sandwich perched atop posts outside the ThunderCloud location on Ranch Road 620. Ideally situated for taking photos in which you appear to be holding it up, another adorns the roof of the West 12th Street location. With decades of experience keeping things weird, ThunderCloud at Burnet Road and Anderson Lane has a giant yellow submarine cutout on one wall inside and a huge Where the Wild Things Are mural on another.
Fonda San Miguel
The building housing this restaurant on North Loop Boulevard looks like a work of art itself, with brightly painted walls, colorful tile, and a dramatic old Mexican-style entrance. Inside, more than 30 paintings by Mexican artists grace the walls, brilliantly colored images portraying food, animals, people, culture, and legends. Tile murals, stained glass over the bar, and an atrium of lush tropical plants add to the interior atmosphere.
Vince Young Steakhouse
This downtown restaurant features copper tones throughout — a subtle nod to the burnt orange its namesake wore as a UT football star. That theme carries through in a life-sized longhorn covered in 2,284 uncirculated pennies. Underneath the shiny coins is a familiar body from CowParade, which came to Austin in 2011, with longer horns added by a local artist. The steakhouse wasn't a part of that event, but CowParade asked if the longhorn could be auctioned off with the other cow sculptures for charity. The one now in the restaurant is named Penny Longhorn II.