Photo courtesy of Estelle's

In April, seafood restaurant Truluck's announced a major upgrade downtown along with a minor relocation, only a block away. This left the building with the briefest of vacancies, now already claimed by a social club that is sure to keep the upscale vibes going — or significantly amplify them.

Estelle's brings more than a hangout space to 400 Colorado Street, across from the LGBTQ+ block (Oilcan Harry's, Neon Grotto). With multiple bars, a restaurant, and "flower bodega," the club expands the area's nightlife options while carving out a slightly different niche than its neighbors. It provides two social rooms: one "intimate" bar and lounge, and another "lively" club room.

“The most rewarding design projects are those that offer a challenge, and our challenge with this project was to transform the expansive footprint of this building into smaller, more intimate gathering spaces," said Chelsea Kloss, director of interiors and curation at LV Collective, the real estate developer that headed the project. “My team worked closely with Variant Collaborative to develop a unique concept for the space leveraging mixed materiality, vintage furniture and rugs, rich jewel tones, and an abundance of plants to breathe new life into the space.”

The club room certainly looks the part. Tufted leather and velvet seating galore, it's arranged partially like a steakhouse and partially like a living room. All these conversation nooks face out for a second-floor downtown view. It would look like a place to smoke cigars were it not so committed to brightness, with light wood everywhere.

The full bar will serve high-quality wines and beers, and of course, "botanical" themed cocktails like a matcha martini and a Granny Smith Gimlet. At Estelle's, visitors an enjoy easy-to-share plates of seafood, canapes, and other hors d'oeuvres. The luxury continues with caviar ("with an everything seeded-English muffin and whipped red onion crème fraiche") and desserts by Cookie Rich.

Austin has its fair share of exclusivesocial clubs, but Estelle's doesn't mention any membership. Any illusion of exclusivity will come from the interior design, upscale menu, and private seating areas with bottle service — but both are available to anyone footing the bill. Other bars managed by the same group, NoCo Hospitality, display a similar commitment to the bit, even though the aesthetics are completely different: Superstition, Higher Ground, and Skinny’s Off Track Bar.

“Our goal will always be to guide our city’s nightlife for Austinites[,] with immersive hospitality concepts," said the group's director of operations, Nick Sanchez. "The upscale, swanky environment is open to the public, but it feels like an exclusive experience."

The flower shop is the purview of Native Bloom Floral, an Austin business. Although it seems like Austin is littered with succulent shops (affectionately), this florist offers traditional arrangements befitting semi-old fashioned environment.

The space is now open for various hours every day except Monday, usually ending at midnight or 2 am. The kitchen has its own hours. A happy hour at Estelle's runs from 5-6 pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, with "complimentary passed canapes and light bites."

Visit estellesatx.com for more information, and follow @EstellesATX on Instagram and TikTok for updates.

Estelle's Austin interior

Photo courtesy of Estelle's

Estelle's brings a new nightlife option to the block known for high-energy dance clubs.

With no more events at Austin's Frank Erwin Center, it may be time to bring down the house

Sledgehammer, Wrecking Ball, etc.

The Frank C. Erwin Jr. Center's time on the side of Interstate 35 appears to be coming to an end.

Later this week, the University of Texas System's Board of Regents will meet to discuss demolishing the 500,000-square-foot arena, as well as the 44,000-square-foot Denton A. Cooley Pavilion next door.

According to an item on the board's agenda, the demolition of the two facilities would make room for expansion of the Dell Medical Center. The full demolition is estimated to cost $25 million, and the university hopes to finish the demolition project by October 2024.

Built in 1977, the Frank Erwin Center served as the arena for Texas Men's and Women's basketball games, as well as a concert venue and the location for UT's individual college graduations. The Denton A. Cooley Pavilion, built in 2003, has served as a basketball training facility.

Way back in December 2018, the board of regents voted to approve a new events arena to replace the Frank Erwin Center. In November 2019, the new arena got its name: Moody Center.


Read the full story and watch the video at KVUE.com.

Photo courtesy of KVUE

Highly anticipated Austin skyscraper only half as tall as planned

not-so-tall order

What would have been the tallest skyscraper in the State of Texas has been cut in half to only 45 stories tall.

The Wilson Tower, which was first proposed in November 2022, was originally proposed to house 450 apartments, reach 1,035 feet in height, and break ground in the summer. Now five months later, the plans have been altered and the tower will only reach 45 stories.

The shortened plan comes three months after the tower failed to receive approval from the City of Austin's Design Commission to begin construction.

The denial from the commission, which was a nearly unanimous vote, required Wilson Capital, architect HKS Inc. and landscape architect Nudge Design to revise the project. The only board member who did not vote was Commissioner David Carroll. The rest of the board members stated that the skyscraper did not meet Austin's urban design standards.

Those standards included how the skyscraper would interact with the public and the floor-to-area ratio. The standard floor-to-area ratio is 8:1, and the developer requested 23:1.


Read the full story and watch the video at KVUE.com.

Photo courtesy of Graduate Hotels

New hotel finds a home in the heart of downtown Austin


Travelers wanting to immerse themselves in the center of the bustling city are getting some new accommodations.

An 18-story Graduate Austin hotel at the corner of Guadalupe Street and West 18th Street is currently in the works, with an expected opening date in 2025.

Graduate Hotels was founded in 2014 by Ben Weprin and currently has 33 properties in the United States and United Kingdom. The hotels are often located near universities, hence their characteristic name. Graduate currently has another location in progress in Dallas.

The Austin Graduate will incorporate the city’s “weirdness” with signature eclectic patterns and design techniques that bring University of Texas culture inside the walls of a guest’s hotel room. The building will have glazed terracotta finishes, checkered cement tile, and the interior will feature grasscloth wallpaper with warm-toned color palettes.

Visitors will also have the opportunity to enjoy the hotel’s event space, fitness center, and meeting room for any exercise or workplace needs. The ground floor will have a café and bar, and the rooftop will also have its own bar, restaurant, and pool.

Graduate Hotels CIO Tim Ryan said in a press release that a hotel in the Lone Star Capital City has “long been a dream location” for the company.

“The city’s distinct personality, creative energy and adventurous spirit align perfectly,” Ryan said. “We’re huge fans of this community and all things UT, and we look forward to delivering a space that reflects and celebrates those sentiments through design that’s rooted in storytelling, gracious hospitality, best-in-class food and beverage offerings and more.”

More information about Graduate Austin can be found on graduatehotels.com.

Photo courtesy of JewBoy Sliders

Local burger favorite slides into downtown Austin food hall, plus new salad concept

New Two

Fareground, the convenient and delicious sunken food hall at Congress and Cesar Chavez, is always changing things up. This time, that means two new restaurants — and they couldn’t be more different. If deciding between burgers and salads is an issue for the lunch company you keep, Fareground offers peace in JewBoy Sliders and Freshii, two new additions.

Whether you like your burgers medium or well-done, JewBoy Burgers is on fire. A 2023 nominee for CultureMap’s Tastemaker Awards, this burger baron impressed guests at our Tailgate event, represented Austin Jews to Israelis in a food-focused TV series, and maintains one of the best Google Maps ratings in the city.

JewBoy Sliders sandwich with fries

Photo courtesy of JewBoy Sliders

The local JewBoy empire expands a little further with the addition of JewBoy Sliders at Fareground.

Starting April 24, it will be slinging sliders, paring down as a common twist for Fareground tenants who need to adapt to a quicker service atmosphere. This venture joins JewBoy Burgers and JewBoy Sub Shop in offering unctuous American sandwiches with Jewish twists, like latkes as toppings.

A preview promises slider-scale renditions of the burger joint’s classics, plus “reuben, french dip and falafel sliders.” Cold sliders will also make an appearance, with more deli-style meats like chicken salad and tuna, plus fried sides, and even a salad.

“We are thrilled to bring JewBoy Sliders to Fareground,” said owner and executive chef Mo Pittle. “Fareground gives tastemakers like myself a brick & mortar to grow and share our creations with customers in the heart of downtown Austin, who may not otherwise have had the chance to meet us or taste what we have to offer.”

Freshii also brings an international perspective that blends in after centuries of assimilation, but on a much less local basis. The Canadian fast-casual franchise operates hundreds of restaurants in Canada alone, plus a few more each in several U.S. states.
The Dallas-Fort Worth area houses the densest pocket of stores outside of a border state, and the Austin area has been enjoying one location in Cedar Park since 2018. The new Fareground location is open now.

The health food store offers all of the usual suspects — salads, wraps, bowls, soups, cold drinks, and more — in an affordable, made-to-order format. Considering the health of the community as well as its food, Freshii will donate $1 from every Fareground location order to the Central Texas Food Bank.

The two new restaurants join Austin Rôtisserie, Little Wu, and Taco Pegaso to provide a wide range of small and customizable foods at the self-identified restaurant “incubator.” Ellis by Fareground and Drink (stylized DRINK) both focus more on cocktails, and Austin Snack Co. provides a self-service option.

Visit Fareground and its vendors for indoor and outdoor dining at 111 Congress Avenue. More information is available at faregroundaustin.com.

Photo courtesy of Wu Chow

7 things to know in Austin food right now: Soup dumpling spot splashes into North Lamar

News You Can Eat

Editor’s note: We get it. It can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of Austin’s restaurant and bar scene. We have you covered with our regular roundup of essential food news.


Wu Chow, a downtown Chinese restaurant known for its soup dumplings, is expanding from its high-traffic location on West 5th Street to something more accessible to the northern masses: the former site of Rosedale Kitchen and Bar (3800 N Lamar Boulevard). This is the first full expansion from the original location, although Little Wu serves up dumplings to-go at Fareground. The new location will have a private dining room for 30 guests and serve a dim sum brunch on Sundays (11 am to 3 pm). Wu Chow North will open in late summer from Monday to Friday between 11am and 2pm, and dinner from 5-10pm, plus Fridays and Saturdays until 11pm.

Mighty Fine Burgers is opening its first Dripping Springs location in the Belterra area at 165 Hargraves Drive. The first 50 opening day visitors on April 1 will receive gift cards between $5 and $500. The grand opening celebration also includes a first responder happy hour from noon to 2 pm with free burgers for those in uniform, an onsite fire truck demonstration by the North Hays County Fire Rescue team, and live music on the patio in the evening. Mighty Fine is known for its straightforward burger shack menu and shakes. Hours on Google Maps show that the location opens daily at 11 am and closes at 9:30 pm Sunday through Thursday, and at 10 pm on Friday and Saturday.

Other news and notes

LCRA Parks, the state-created operator of Pedernales River Nature Park, is offering another onsite installment of its farm-to-table series "Savor the Outdoors" on April 1. This dinner will feature a menu by the Roaming Fire (maker of an outdoor cooking rig) featuring a creative spring crostini with ingredients grown in Spicewood, a brown sugar rubbed pork tenderloin sourced from Center Point, Texas, sips by Texas Beer Co., and more. Tickets ($150) available at eventcreate.com.

Fierce Whiskers Distillery and social clubSmoke + Mash collaborated to release a special edition carbon-neutral rye, with a launch party on April 1. Guests may buy wristbands ($38) to taste barbecue from some of the top-rated chefs and restaurants in the state: Burnt Bean Co, Truth BBQ, and Bryan Furman BBQ. Details are sparse on the Smoke + Mash Volume 1 Special Release, but anyone can stop by for free to learn about the distillery's sustainable practices and buy a bottle. More info and tickets on Tock.

Jazz in the sculpture garden sounds like a maximally fancy event, but anyone with $12 can stop by. The Texas Moaners will serenade crowds at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden at nightfall on April 4, while Texas artist Marla Ripperda creates sculptures of armadillos. (Of course, what else?) Guests can snack on Crave Hot Dogs and BBQ, beer from Independence Brewery, wine from BOXT, and cocktails from Tito's Handmade Vodka. Register online. Members enter free.

Otopia Rooftop Lounge celebrates Global Astronomy Month for all of April, with themed cocktails that generate funds for the University of Texas at Austin Astronomy Department: the Azimuth with mezcal and islandy flavors, Equinox with Still Austin Straight Bourbon and citrus notes, and Luminosity with Titos Vodka and Crème de Violette. In addition to donating 15 percent of those sales, the lounge is partnering with the department for a free educational stargazing event on April 27. RSVP on Eventbrite.

Austinites who wish to return to the good ole days will get a chance at the Stephen F. Austin Royal Sonesta for a monthlong 20s-themed pop-up restaurant, The Austin, that goes back to the hotel's founding. It's bringing back items from the original 1924 menu, plus indulging in Domincan cigars from Bolivar Cigar Shop & Private Smoking Lounge. Stop by Stephen F’s Bar and Terrace on Thursdays in April from 4-7 pm to experience the time travel, no reservations required.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Charming Austin suburb is the fastest-growing city in the country, plus more top stories

hot headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. From Georgetown to Brenham, and of course inside Austin proper, here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. Charming Austin suburb is the fastest-growing city in the country, with neighbors close behind. Georgetown had a 14.4-percent population increase from 2021 to 2022, bringing the city's total population to more than 86,500 residents.

2. Austin dethroned from top spot in new ranking of top summer travel destinations for 2023. Some Austinites are happy to hear the summer will be less crowded, but tourist revenue may suffer.

3. Lengendary Texas ranch resort makes waves on the market with $15 million price tag. It's a stretch to call it rustic, but this resort for sale includes horse stables, wildflowers, and an organic farm.

4. This is how big Austin apartments get for $1,500 a month. Unsurprisingly, it's not as much square footage as you can get elsewhere in Texas, but it's still not even close to Manhattan.

5. Here are the top 7 things to do in Austin this holiday weekend. The Memorial Day weekend brings chances to try great barbecue, take a walk with faeries, and hear lots of live music.

Dip your toes into these 7 Austin pools with passes, snacks, and summer events

Wet Hot Austin Summer

Memorial Day is here, which means so are the days of sitting in a lounge chair and sweating while looking unreasonably fabulous. Whether it's to beat the summer heat or to show off a new swimsuit, Austinites may have more options than they think to take a swim at the many pools around town. Even if you haven't committed to an overnight stay, most hotels offer day passes, and some even offer other deals or poolside programming.

One great way to find passes not just to pools around town, but also to spas and other hotel amenities, is to browse ResortPass. (Not sponsored, just cool.) There are 26 Austin options on the site right now.

But we wanted to let you know what's going on beyond the pass — who will set you up for a great meal, who lets you drink out of a coconut, and whose views (or lack thereof) provide the best ambiance for your day off. Some of our choices aren't even on the platform.

Go grab your sandals, and save us a towel.

Greater Austin YMCA
Let's start with the less glamorous before we break out the poolside fashion. The YMCA is a family staple for a reason, and if your goal is just to get in the water regularly throughout the summer, especially with kids, it's a great place to start. There are "interactive hours" at the outdoor pools (more fun than swimming laps) at the East Communities, Hays Communities, Northwest Family, Southwest Family, and Springs Family YMCAs, as well as the YMCA at Camp Moody. The Y is semi-affordable; It would probably be cheaper to visit a hotel pool once or twice, but a Y membership includes a month of access, guest passes, and much more, and may replace your gym membership for the summer. $69 per month, with age and household discounts. austinymca.org

Hotel Van Zandt
If your pool visit doesn't include spritz and giggles, why are you even there? Hotel Van Zandt is opening up its stylish rooftop pool for the "Spritz & Giggles Poolside Happy Hour & Sunset Swim" event series. Every Monday through Thursday, visitors can enjoy $8 frozen Aperol spritzes, $8 specialty cocktails, and a special pool menu with items like a refreshing green salad, pork belly al pastor tacos, and a spicy fried chicken sandwich. Geraldine's, the main restaurant, is right inside for even better drinks, expanded bites, and sometimes live music. Starting at $48 per day for adults, $15 for kids. hotelvanzandt.com

Carpenter Hotel
If one day at the Carpenter Hotel pool is just not enough, the hotel has now added monthly passes. In addition to unlimited access to the secluded pool in the Zilker neighborhood, a pass gets a $30 discount for the new monthly BBQ Pool Parties (bringing attendance down to $25). That will include a great spread of less commonly seen barbecue items like grilled bay scallops, mushroom skewers, elotes, deviled potato salad, and more. Monthly pass holders also get to bring one child under 8 for free. $40 daily, $200 monthly. Both Monday through Thursday. carpenterhotel.com

South Congress Hotel
The South Congress Hotel is right in the middle of where many Austinites want to be on a summer day, if it weren't so dang hot. This rooftop pool solves that problem in style, with daily pool passes every day of the week, as well as cabana rentals. Café No Sé supplies poolside drinks and snacks, and downstairs, Austin's Best New Restaurant Maie Day offers a hearty meal after a day of napping in the sun. Cabanas can be rented for four people and include self-parking, bottled water, and a bottle of champagne or bucket of High Noon. Days for $40 and cabanas for $300 on weekdays; days for $75 and cabanas for $400 on weekends. southcongresshotel.com

Hotel Viata
Hotel Viata is a bit of a sleeper hotel among Austin boutiques, as it's located a little beyond West Lake Hills. Still, if you want a taste of Italy, the drive to this retreat will be worth it. Not to mention, with the extra room these downtown hotels can't offer, a pool pass includes access to a hot tub, fire pits, and great views of the hills around the city. Pool passes are available, but if you want to see it for free before you spend, wait for June 10; The hotel invites guests 21 and up to check out the pool for free at the "Summer Festa in Piscina" party, with a "Taste of Italy" add-on ($55) for Aperol Spritz, limoncello lemon drops, and negronis all day. $45 per day for adults, $25 for children. resortpass.com

Wax Myrtle's
This rooftop bar and pool is known for its never-ending events calendar, and of course that energy extends to poolside entertainment. There will be live music on the weekends, plus live DJ sets on Saturday nights, alongside whatever other programming happens to be going on inside. Even if it's a do-nothing day, these large, over-the-top drinks will give you a delicious challenge. The "Boot Scootin Fruity" mixes rum, an aperitivo, hibiscus, and lime in a cowboy hat punch bowl ($90); the luxe "Mojito 75" combines Moët & Chandon with rum and mojito must-haves in a disco ball ($230); and an unnamed cocktail is worth trying just to enjoy it from a real coconut. Starting at $15 for adults, $10 for children, and more for daybeds and cabanas. waxmyrtles.com

Austin Motel
Perhaps one of the best known pools in Austin for its retro vibes, fun events, and accessibility to on-foot wanderers is the Austin Motel. This is a great, less expensive choice that's probably more fun for casual pool revelers who would feel a little put out by having to dress up and behave in a more luxe hotel setting. There are also frequent poolside events at this motel, like the free "Bounce Motel" series with live DJs, or the body-positive "Chunky Dunk." The pool is offers daily passes every day, even when there's nothing on the calendar. $25 on weekdays, $45 on weekends, or $600 in three-and-a-half-month "waves." austinmotel.com

Carpenter Hotel pool

Photo by Andrea Calo

Austinites don't need to stay at a hotel to be invited to the pool. (Pictured: The Carpenter Hotel)

6 Austin museums are offering free admission for military families all summer long

spread the museum love

Half a dozen Austin museums are honoring active-duty military personnel and their families with free admission through the Blue Star Museums initiative, May 20 through September 4, 2023.

Established by the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, and the U.S. Department of Defense, the Blue Star Museums program annually provides military families free access to 2,000 museums nationwide throughout the summer. The program begins yearly on Armed Forces Day in May and ends on Labor Day.

Free admission is extended to personnel currently serving in the U.S Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard (including those in the Reserve), and all National Guardsman. Members of the U.S. Public Health Commissioned Corps and NOAA Commissioned Corps are also included in the program.

Those who qualify can use their military ID to bring up to five family members – including relatives of those currently deployed. More information about qualifications can be found here.

There is no limit on the number of participating museums that qualifying families may visit. Admission for non-active military veterans, however, is not included.

According to the National Endowment for the Arts website, the initiative was created to help "improve the quality of life for active duty military families" with a specific focus on children. The site states two million have had a parent deployed since 2001.

"Blue Star Museums was created to show support for military families who have faced multiple deployments and the challenges of reintegration," the website says. "This program offers these families a chance to visit museums this summer when many will have limited resources and limited time to be together."

Among Austin's participating museums, the Blanton Museum of Art recently held its grand opening celebration to debut their new grounds, complete with a new large mural by Cuban-American artist Carmen Herrera.

“As a museum that has long been at the forefront of collecting work by artists of Latin American descent, as well as the place where Ellsworth Kelly realized his last great work of art, entering the collection at this moment marks a high point in my long career," Herrera said.

Here's a look at all the museums in Austin that participate in the Blue Star Museums initiative.

For those looking to take a drive around Central Texas, the Temple Railroad and Heritage Museum and Taylor's Moody Museum are also participants in the Blue Star Museums initiative.

More information about Blue Star Museums and a full list of participants can be found on arts.gov.