Photo courtesy of Ember Kitchen and Subterra Agave Bar

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.

Openings and closings

Ember Kitchen and Subterra Agave Bar are now open at the historic Seaholm Power Plant. The stylish multi-floor concept is headed by Chef Nayely Castillo, who gleans inspiration from a childhood in El Paso, her grandmother's cooking, and her own experience with live fire cooking. The latter style is the main idea at Ember, which modernizes the classic steakhouse concept and adds Latin flavor wherever possible. Even though the space is huge (8,000 square feet) and seats 80, reservations are filling up fast for both the restaurant and bar. Thankfully, they also accept walk-ins. Reserve at emberatx.com.

Bento Picnic and its attached wine shop, Saba San’s, announced that they will close for a “sabbatical,” with a last day of business on February 18. Although this implies a return, it is not clear in what capacity owner Leanne Valenti plans to continue on with the restaurant, and she has put noticeable effort into getting her staff hired elsewhere until that is decided. Until then, Saba San’s is hosting a sale until closing day with discounts on all wine and sake, in-person and online. Those deals include 10 percent off a $35 spend, 15 percent off a $150 spend, and 20 percent off a $300 spend. Merch, housewares, and medicinal mushroom extracts are also on sale. More information on Bento Picnic’s faithfully updated Instagram.

There are already three Pokeworks locations in Austin, but we’ll always take more opportunities to build our own refreshing, protein-filled bowls. The Pokeworks chain, which allows visitors to build bowls step-by-step at the service counter, has a total of 16 new locations planned nationwide “over the next few years,” 10 of which will open in 2023. One will become Austin’s fourth location, although an address has not been announced yet. The existing Pokeworks in Austin are in Riverside, North-Central Austin off I-35, and Northwest Austin on Anderson Lane. More information about the chain is available at pokeworks.com.

Other news and notes

If you had to work on Valentine's Day or otherwise need a redo, Chef Bar, the profit-sharing concept by Bar Peached, is hosting "A Service Industry Valentine’s Day" pop-up on February 20 at 6 pm. There will be R&B tunes by DJ Eli Arbor, Japanese-fusion bites, and an extensive drink menu including creative cocktails like the Frozen Ube-Bae (Cruzans rum, pineapple, ube-coconut cream, and lime) and more straightforward offerings like "the best wine on the menu," the Romeo + Juliet Prosecco Rosé. The event is free and open to everyone, in the service industry or not. The event benefits the DAWA Fund.

We can't all be as helpful as girl scouts, but those of us with less time on our hands can give blood instead. We Are Blood is in special need after the winter storm, so donations are even more helpful than usual. There are calories in blood (surprise!) so it's important to replace those right away; We Are Blood is giving one box of Girl Scout Cookies to all donors throughout the month of February. A list of donation locations is available on the scheduling page at weareblood.org.

The Wine & Food Foundation is looking forward to its biggest gala, the Rare & Fine Wine Auction, with new announcements about the schedule. The event will be held on October 12, and welcomes Laurent Drouhin of Maison Joseph Drouhin (Burgundy) and Domaine Drouhin (Oregon) as its keynote speaker and featured winemaker, respectively. The latter's winemaking history reaches back to 1880, making this a great example of rare finds. More information at winefoodfoundation.org.

The Texas Craft Brewers Guild held its second annual Texas Craft Brewers Cup, rating beers from across the state in 27 medal categories, for more than 150 styles. Austin, of course, swept the competition, with 25 wins out of the 81 total medals. Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co., Zilker Brewing Company, Central District Brewing, Lazarus Brewing Company, Meanwhile Brewing Company, and Blue Owl Brewing all took home gold medals. See the full results at texascraftbrewersguild.org.

Photo by Luana Azevedo on Unsplash

Favorite Austin burger chain joins local music nonprofit for $50,000 grant campaign

Musical Tastes

In Austin, the bell of the ball is the rockstar. Black Fret, a nonprofit that creates gigs and organizes funding for local musicians, makes sure these rock stars get their spotlight at the annual Black Fret Ball, now in its ninth year, and this time with some unexpected help from a burger bar.

Staff at Hopdoddy Burger Bar (a local favorite for lovers of toppings) got to nominate their favorite artists from across the country for a total of $50,000 in grants, an initiative called “Tuned In.” The restaurant asked guests to vote on favorites and landed on a group of nine final artists, including one from Austin.

Bonnie Whitmore, an Austinite, a singer, and a bassist, makes nostalgic country and Americana with bold, feminist themes. Although her candid tone matches that of the pop stars taking over the industry from their bedrooms, she’s been an active member of the music industry for more than 20 years.

Other Texas musicians made the final nine: Gold Fighter, from Dallas, leans back into the good old days of pop punk; Piñata Protest, from San Antonio, also plays pop punk while moving the needle more into Tejano traditions; and Will Van Horn, from Houston, makes the pedal steel languidly cool and a little psychedelic. (Listeners may recognize Van Horn’s work in records by the unique and popular Houston trio Khruangbin.)

The Black Fret Ball is returning for its first in-person year since 2019, on Saturday, December 3 at ACL Live at the Moody Theater. The fundraiser will distribute grants totaling $250,000 to 20 local artists, with performances from all but two. The 2022 class of musicians includes Whitmore, rap duo Blackillac, blues guitarist Buffalo Nichols, R&B singer Mélat, and one of Austin’s most frequently booked and buzzed about bands, Quentin and the Past Lives.

Black Fret members ($750 annually) are invited to join the ball at 6 pm. See the local lineup at hopdoddy.com.

Courtesy of Harry Ransom Center

Austin's Harry Ransom Center debuts fall exhibit with dazzling director's reception

Portrait of the Artist

Members, donors, and friends of The Harry Ransom Center gathered on August 27 for a first look at the museum's fall exhibition, The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilson. Featuring more than 150 immersive photographic portraits of some of the leading literary figures of our time, the exhibition is drawn from Wilson’s latest book, The Writers: Portraits (Yale University Press, 2022).

Wilson has published six books of photographs and text, including Avedon at Work, Grit and Glory, That Day: Picture in the American West, and From Rodin to Plensa. Her photographs have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker,Vanity Fair, and London's Sunday Times Magazine, among others.

Celebrating the exhibition opening on August 27, visitors browsed the artist's stunning photographic portraits of renowned authors such as Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy, Zadie Smith, Tom Stoppard, Texas' own Larry McMurtry, Gabriel García Márquez, and many more. The power of each portrait is in its intimacy, capturing each writer in their personal setting — Smith in her kitchen, for example, or McMurtry sipping from a glass on his patio, a tall cactus in the background. The papers of many of the writers portrayed are collected at the Ransom Center.

At the director's reception, guests enjoyed light bites and custom cocktails before Harry Ransom Center Director Stephen Enniss gave opening remarks. Enniss also introduced Laura Wilson, who then signed copies of her book, which contains hundreds of additional portraits.

The exhibit will be on display through January 1, 2023, and copies of The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilsonare available for purchase at the Ransom Center gift shop. Additionally, Austinites will get a chance to celebrate the exhibit with actors Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, and Andrew Wilson on Saturday, September 24. In honor of their mom, the brothers will host a ticketed afterparty following the Celebration of Film Gala on the same evening.

Tickets to the Afterparty are $100, or are included with the purchase of a ticket to the gala, where Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep will help celebrate the Center's 65th anniversary. The star-studded evening marks a major milestone for the center and will help further its mission to deepen the understanding and appreciation of literature, photography, film, art, and the performing arts.

The exhibition, The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilson will be on view at the Ransom Center through January 1, 2023.

Laura Wilson HRC
Courtesy of Harry Ransom Center
The exhibition, The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilson will be on view at the Ransom Center through January 1, 2023.
Courtesy of Wine & Food Foundation

World-renowned winemaker joins lineup of rare Austin event

Going Once

There’s no faster way to infuse luxury into a dinner or at-home hang than uncorking a bottle of rare wine. Even being able to name one is a major power move. Austinites who wish to pursue either of these goals might make time for the Wine & Food Foundation’s biggest and best-known fundraiser of the year, The Rare & Fine Wine Auction and Gala, this November 5.

Guests are invited to the JW Marriott Austin for a three-course meal, wine pairings, and a keynote speech by winemaker Paul Hobbs, of the eponymous winery. Hobbs combined his experience growing up on a family farm in upstate New York with degrees in chemistry and vermiculture (farming with worms) to refine winemaking down to science and intuition, his bio says.

Hobbs launched his career with Robert Mondavi Winery, and after just one year was invited to join the first team launching the now world-famous Opus One Winery. After working in Argentina and helping to popularize Malbec, he has maintained an international career as owner and winemaker with several wineries, most recently Hillick & Hobbs.

“I am honored to be the Featured Winemaker for this legendary Austin event,” said Hobbs in a press release. “It’s a privilege to be included among the elite winemakers of the world who have been in this position in years past, and I look forward to meeting many of Wine & Food Foundation’s long-time supporters and wine-lovers.”

With a wide range of ticketing tiers, this gala is a three-day affair including a barbecue on November 3 and a luncheon with Hobbs on November 4. All tiers (tables from $3,500 and individual tickets for $375) support the foundation’s goal to foster general interest in wine, while providing industry “grants, scholarships, education and industry support.”

Tickets will be released on a rolling basis, starting with “epicurean” members June 15, and opening to the public at a reduced rate June 29. More information and registry at winefoodfoundation.org.

Photo courtesy of Dell Children's Ball

Virtual Dell Children's Ball highlights homegrown heroes with huge fundraising tally

For the Kids

Gatherings may still be "out," but giving is still very much "in," as was proven by the nearly 2,000 people who streamed the 2021 AT&T Dell Children's Ball on February 6, tuning in from 42 states and 96 Texas cities.

Thanks to title sponsor AT&T, anyone who was interested could register for free and watch the virtual festivities, which celebrated homegrown heroes ranging from healthcare workers to Dell Children's patients and their families.

As viewers donned their best evening wear (or prettiest pajamas) for a night on the couch, the evening began with sponsors receiving a delicious meal courtesy of Fairmont Austin and vino from Total Wine & More as part of their "Ball in a Box" swag bag, which also included a floral arrangement from David Kurio Designs, all delivered right to their door.

Then emcee Bob Cole of KOKE FM introduced Jessica Overgoner, a Dell Children's nurse who ultimately ended up adopting a very special patient whose life was saved by Dell Children's team of frontline caregivers.

A general fund-the-need in honor of River Smith was also launched, after his parents Amber and Granger Smith graciously shared their inspiring story. Some viewers became a Hero for a Hero by donating $365, or $1 a day for one year, for their chance to win a stunning piece from Kendra Scott's spring collection.

Leadership matching gifts were made by Brian and Adria Sheth and the Sheth Sangreal Foundation in the amount of $250,000, and Stonepeak in the amount of $150,000.

Top Mission Moment bidders included presenting sponsor Nyle Maxwell Family of Dealerships, which funded the Holiday Cheer Package and Leadership Council members Katherine and Patton Jones, who funded the Ring The Bell Ceremony.

The Holiday Cheer For Children helps bring a little Christmas magic to patients, families, and associates at Dell Children's by providing a Christmas meal to every person in the hospital on December 25.

Completing treatment in the Children's Blood and Cancer Center is cause for big celebration, and that's where the Ring the Bell Ceremony comes in. As each patient rings the final treatment bell, clinic staff showers them with love and special recognition of this important day.

This year's Leadership Council includes Noel and Will Bridges, Sabrina and Jay Brown, Ellen and Tommy Burt, Jamie and Blake Chandlee, Daisy and Justin Cho, Jamie and Steven Dell, Rachel and Michael Dorrell, Stacie and Craig Falls, Katie and Jordan Jaffe, Katherine and Patton Jones, Amber and Al Koehler, Kim and Daniel Kozmetsky, Dusty and Travis Machen, Melody and Shain McCaig, Christine and Louis Messina, Kay and Eric Moreland, Lauren and Reagan Reaud, Kirstin and Joe Ross, Michelle and Robert Strauss, Kumara Wilcoxon and Doug Jaffe, and Sarah and Jeff Zeigler.

The inspiring evening concluded with a beautiful acoustic performance by Texas musician and Grammy winner Lukas Nelson.

All told, the live-streamed event raised more than $1,500,000, an incredible amount that will lift up the future of pediatric healthcare for children in Central Texas.

Nearly 2,000 people tuned in across 42 states.

2021 Dell Children's Ball from home
Photo courtesy of Dell Children's Ball
Nearly 2,000 people tuned in across 42 states.
Courtesy photo

Dell Children's Ball brings the celebration and celebs directly to you

Apart But Together

Even though we can't gather for an in-person blowout celebration this year, the AT&T Dell Children's Ball is still planning an exciting evening of delicious food, top-notch entertainment, and invigorating stories of triumph and inspiration from Austin's frontline workers and the hospital's brave patients and their families.

You'll want to register now for the virtual event, which is taking place on Saturday, February 6, at 7 pm. Thanks to title sponsor AT&T, community access is free and you can register at no cost.

Presented by the Nyle Maxwell Family of Dealerships, the ball will be emceed by Bob Cole of KOKE FM, along with some very special Dell Children's patient families.

Hear directly from Dell Children's president Chris Born on the exciting growth taking place in our hometown children's hospital, and why they need your help to make sure no family has to leave Austin for care. Families like Granger and Amber Smith, who even in times of great loss share why it is so important for our community to provide any support it can.

The evening will conclude with a special performance from homegrown celeb Lukas Nelson, son of Willie Nelson and winner of a 2020 Grammy Award for his contributions to the A Star Is Born soundtrack.

Sponsors and underwriters will have an exclusive opportunity to have the ball come to them, with meals from Fairmont Austin delivered or available curbside, along with a curated wine list and signature at-home cocktail kits. Some sponsorship levels even include a floral arrangement by David Kurio Designs.

Kendra Scott has teamed up to provide some special incentives to those who donate at a certain level throughout the evening, and special Mission Moments will be up for bidding.

All proceeds from the Dell Children's Ball will go toward the area of greatest need, determined annually by leadership, which allows Dell Children's the ability to impact its youngest patients and their families in the most meaningful way.

So prepare your best black tie (or fanciest pajamas) and get ready to party for a great cause.

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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.