Visiting Austin Guide
Our alternative guide to Huffington Post's 'Keep Austin Weird' travel story
The New York Times did it. The BBC did it. And now The Huffington Post is getting in on the action with a trite, predictable Austin travel piece. From the first sentence, it's pretty clear that Louise Roe (host of Fashion Star) hasn't spent much time in our fair city.
In addition to breaking the news that South by Southwest is the "coolest music festival ever, ever, ever," Roe proclaims that locals consider the Four Seasons bar "Austin's Living Room" and a declares, "a visit to Austin isn't complete without a night out on 6th Street."
Well, Ms. Roe, we respectfully disagree. The title of the article may be "Keep Austin Weird," but there is nothing weird about any of your choices. So whether you're planning a trip to Austin or have already found yourself here with only this sad article as your guide, we present our alternative choices.
What Roe says: "I checked into the Four Seasons, which has a luxurious, old-world charm to it, like a home away from home."
What you should do instead: You can stay at the Four Seasons in pretty much every other city. You want to sit in the lap of conventional luxury? Go to Dallas or Houston.
Want luxurious, old-world charm? Stay at the Driskill. Want to escape to a private bungalow with your own vinyl collection and a 50-foot pool? Go to the Hotel Saint Cecilia. Need to be in the heart of everything hip? Heywood Hotel is the pretty much the coolest. Want quintessential Austin charm (and a chance to snap a photo in front of the most phallic sign in town)? Book a room at the Austin Motel.
What Roe says: "Cocktail hour is taken very seriously in this city, and the hotel's Lobby Lounge is a great place to kick off your evening. [It's] nicknamed 'Austin's Living Room' by locals."
What you should do instead: It is?! An informal poll confirms our suspicions: Lobby Lounge isn't referred to as Austin's Living Room by locals.
In addition to offering the opportunity to observe Austinites in their native habitat, many coffee places feature pretty awesome deals come happy hour. Cenote has $1 off beer and wine 3 pm - 7 pm every Monday through Friday. Want cheap drinks and a big patio? Head to Rio Rita or Spiderhouse. Want to see some famous people acting casual and sipping lattes? Go to Jo's on South Congress. (Although, full disclosure while Ryan Gosling and Jake Gyllenhaal have both been spotted here, the last famous person we saw at Jo's was Karl Rove.)
Bonus tip? If you strike up a conversation with a local while you're getting your buzz on, there's a chance you could end up in an actual Austin living room. We're pretty friendly.
What Roe says: "Austin is famous for its lack of chain restaurants and its incredible, independent hole-in-the-walls. There are five fantastic spots I'd like to recommend... Uchiko, Sway, Hula Hut, Clark's and Perlas."
What you should do instead: Oh wow, a suggestion to eat at Uchiko? Novel!
Now we're not knocking any of these picks. In fact, we love all these joints. But they are certainly not hole-in-the-walls. Our suggestion is to splurge on one of these while mixing it up with some of off-the-beaten-track alternatives. Want your Japanese fix? Head up north to Ramen Tatsu-ya. Loved the neighborhood where Sway sits? Spend the next night at Lenoir or head down the street for Mexican fare at Polvo's or some veggie grub at Bouldin Creek Cafe. Loved the patio at Perlas? Head across the street to Botticelli's. Want to spend more time in Clarksville? Clark's is wonderful, but so is Winflo Osteria and Zocalo Cafe.
What Roe says: "The perfect way to start a day's sightseeing in Austin, is with breakfast at Annie's."
What Roe says: Nope. You want to start your day off right? Bypass Annie's and get the hell out of downtown. Explore East Austin while grabbing a breakfast taco at Tamale House East. Want to sit and stay awhile? Head next door to Yellow Jacket Social Club for pork belly or the frittata (it changes daily). It also happens to feature one of the best Sunday soundtracks in Austin. Get ready for Sam Cooke, the Supremes and Stevie Wonder to provide the perfect backdrop to your brunch.
What Roe says: "Head over to Congress Avenue Bridge where every evening millions of bats swarm in unison out of the bridge's crevices and over the river as they search for food."
What you should do instead: While the bats are certainly a wonderfully weird attribute to our city's culture, they aren't a year-round attraction. As pretty much any Austinite can attest, people come to visit and expect to see the bats, only to be disappointed to learn that the season has passed. Luckily, we have plenty of other attractions to ease the giant, bat-shaped hole in our hearts.
If you still want to see some critters, head to the Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary — just don't expect a traditional zoo. This nonprofit organization rescues all kinds of creatures, from domestic farm animals to exotic big cats, birds and monkeys.
Want more of a formal education? Head to the University of Texas campus. While there, take in the latest installation at the Blanton Museum of Art or take a peek at one of the original Gutenberg Bibles at the Harry Ransom Center.
Ditch the car and walk your way across campus, making sure to end at the underrated LBJ Library. Once you've taken a tour, it's just a quick 15-minute walk to Manor Road, which has experienced immense growth in recent years. Grab some soul food at Hoover's Home Cooking, take in a game at the recently opened Haymaker, grab a coffee at Thunderbird or a beer at School House Pub. You'll deserve it after all of that education.
What Roe says: "A visit to Austin isn't complete without a night out on 6th Street."
What you should do instead: We certainly beg to differ. But if you must, go early for happy hour and move on. After about 9 pm, East Sixth Street can turn into a vomit-covered pumpkin.
Looking for live music? Yeah, this isn't the place. Many of the bands in these bars are going to be spouting off Journey or Bon Jovi covers. If you're looking for really good show, walk down Sixth Street and make a left on Red River. Venues like Elysium, Red 7, Holy Mountain, Red Eyed Fly and Mohawk will be serving up everything from local singer-songwriters to national acts, so you're bound to find something you dig.
Want to pretend you're living in 1920s Paris? Go to Swan Dive. Want to make out with a stranger? Stop into Barbarella. Want to drink in a cool bar near the Dirty Sixth? That would be The Side Bar. Want a to hear some jazz? Head to The Elephant Room on Congress Avenue. Want to hear some local bands? Head to The White Horse, Hole in the Wall or Hotel Vegas.
Those are just a few of the tips we have if you're visiting Austin. While we can't guarantee these are the very best, they're certainly better than Roe's.
But perhaps the best tip we can give you is to explore and have fun. And, if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask someone local. The one thing Roe was right about? We are all a warm, welcoming barrel of laughs.