Take a Trip to Austin, Texas
Money's rolling in, traffic's lining up, and life in this laid-back town has come a long way from sipping Shiner Bock at a back-yard barbecue. With high-tech whiz kids and Hollywood heavyweights moving in, the Live Music Capital of the World is turning into a hipster haven — and still holding on to its distinctly Texan identity. Between twirls on the dance floor and hefty servings of chicken-fried steak, you can bike around Town Lake, watch the colony of bats do their evening dance, or even shop for classic modern furniture. Whatever you do, be sure to see Austin before its popularity catches up with its success.
WHERE TO STAY
Barton Creek Resort 8212 Barton Club Dr.; 800/336-6158 or 512/329-4000, fax 512/329-4597; doubles from $250. For golfers, there's no other place to stay in Austin. This immaculate 4,000-acre resort could serve as a postcard for the game—white golf carts line up like soldiers, waterfalls cleave undulating seas of green. Four courses accommodate high and low handicaps; the new pool, spa, restaurants, and tennis courts take care of just about everything else.
The Driskill 604 Brazos St.; 800/252-9367 or 512/474-5911, fax 512/474-2214; doubles from $205. Saved from the wrecking ball and fresh from a restoration, the haunted (so rumors say) hotel caters to power brokers, presidents, and CEO's. Stay in the historic side, built in 1886, rather than the 1929 addition, and sleep in rooms with 17-foot ceilings, crown moldings, and dimensions that no modern hotelier would allow.
Austin Motel 1220 S. Congress Ave.; 512/441-1157; doubles from $60. Pick an era and check into the Austin Motel to live it. Conga around the fifties kidney-shaped pool, drink a rum-and-Tab beside a photomural of the Great Wall of China (room 253), or settle into one of the snug 1930's-style rooms and tell your friends It Happened One Night.
Hotel San José 1316 S. Congress Ave.; 800/574-8897 or 512/444-7322, fax 512/444-7362; doubles from $125. Austin's trendiest hotel practices a monastic style of edginess. The floors are concrete, the appointments spare; sitting on the suites' ultrafirm couches feels like penance. Naturally, every hipster books a return trip before checking out. Try to reserve a spot at one of the Tuesday Steak Night dinners in the courtyard, and mingle with your stylish social betters.
1888 Miller Crockett House 112 Academy Dr.; 888/441-1641 or 512/441-1600; doubles or cottages $109–$169. The original 1888 tin ceiling, breezy veranda, and sheltering live oaks at this B&B give one impression. The quirky 1956 Magnavox TV-aquarium gives another. It's obvious why musical guests like Blues Traveler and Russell Crowe's band have enjoyed this five-room ueen Anne residence.
Getting There and Around
Austin recently debuted a hassle-free airport minutes from the city center. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is off Highway 71 near Highway 183, which leads to I-35 and into downtown. Congress Avenue and Guadalupe Street (which is known as the Drag north of the capitol) cut through downtown Austin. I-35 runs parallel to Congress to the east; the Missouri-Pacific Expressway (the MoPac) is to the west. You can easily do most of the town on foot, calling taxis in order to forgo lengthier walks.
WHERE TO EAT
Threadgill's 6416 N. Lamar Blvd.; 512/451-5440; dinner for two $30. What started as a Gulf gas station in 1933 went on to become a real roadhouse in 1942. Threadgill's musical history is as legendary as its high-cholesterol cooking—Janis Joplin launched her act here in 1962 (there's now another outpost at 301 West Riverside Drive). Stuff yourself silly with chicken-fried steak in gravy, manly meat loaf, or a vegetarian plate that has nothing to do with a healthy diet.
Hudson's on the Bend 3509 Hwy. 620 N.; 512/266-1369; dinner for two $150. Chef Jeff Blanks's mission is fearless cooking, and his passion is game (venison and rabbit are often on the menu). Meaty but deft dishes are the big draw here: try the beef tenderloin in a Chianti onion demiglace, or maple-cured lamb T-bones smothered with Tuaca-habanero sauce.
Jeffrey's 1204 W. Lynn St.; 512/477-5584; dinner for two $100. Jeffrey's is the first number punched into the cell phone of any Austinite who wants to dine in style—eating here is like attending a fabulous dinner party with an indulgent host. Your waiter attentively discusses wines, steers you toward the sublime crisp oysters, and compliments your snakeskin purse and matching boots as you leave. Wouldn't you come back, too?
Stubb's Bar-B-Q 801 Red River St.; 512/480-8341; dinner for two $25. If the barbecue dinner isn't transcendent enough for you, catch the Sunday gospel brunch ($30 for two) to really be converted. Every Sunday (at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.), homegrown Texas talent belts to the rafters while hungry diners sop up tangy sauces created from the original recipes of C. B. Stubblefield (a.k.a. Stubb), and with a whole lotta love.
Las Manitas 211 Congress Ave.; 512/472-9357; lunch for two $15. It may look like one of those greasy spoons where you'd stop on a road trip, but the Mexican food whipped up here is a few cuts above. Try the migas con hongos for breakfast or Michoacán enchiladas for lunch.
Vespaio 1610 S. Congress Ave.; 512/441-6100; dinner for two $75. Tales circulate of two-hour waits (reservations are not accepted for seatings on weekends) for the chance to sample such dishes as scallops in Pernod-Gruyère sauce and duckling with port-soaked figs at this two-year-old Italian stunner. Most agree it's worth the time.
Curra's Grill 614 E. Oltorf St.; 512/444-0012; brunch for two $15. Locals flock to Curra's Grill in South Austin for spicy Mexican that'll melt your hat. At brunch time, cooks spice up eggs with beef and pasilla and ancho chilies.
Salt Lick 18300 Farm Rd. 1826, Driftwood; 512/858-4959; dinner for two $28. Head a few miles south of the city to taste the open-pit barbecue Austinites love. Bring your own beer and a fistful of cash—the Lick doesn't accept credit cards.
WHAT TO DO
Red Eyed Fly 715 Red River St.; 512/473-2844. It's been open more than a year, but the Fly keeps buzzing. Trendsetters, university Greeks, sophisticates, and the denim-and-diamond crowd show up—sometimes on the same night—to get an earful of alternative rock, punk, rockabilly, or country.
Continental Club 1315 S. Congress Ave.; 512/441-2444. If you go to Austin and don't stop in at the Continental Club, have you really visited the city at all?Bands that book the club for their Austin shows get instant street cred. Check the Austin Chronicle, the free weekly paper, for listings.
Broken Spoke 3201 S. Lamar Blvd.; 512/ 442-6189. Cowboy hats, big belt buckles, and waitresses with big hair who call you honey endure at this South Austin honky-tonk. For almost 40 years it has been the best place to boot-scoot with a cutie in tight-fittin' jeans, yet it avoids a preserved-in-amber atmosphere.
Antone's 213 W. Fifth St.; 512/474-5315. Clifford Antone, recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Blues Foundation, built a world-renowned blues destination, where Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker used to jam. It's moved to a new location, but the music's just as good.
Dry Creek Saloon 4812 Mt. Bonnell Rd.; 512/453-9244. The surrounding mansions have yet to force out this beer joint with splintered chairs, rusted tabletops, and a latrine that's . . . well, you'll probably want to wait until you get back to your hotel. Play a George Jones tune on the jukebox, and carry your beer bottles back to the bar to avoid the owner's glare.
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum 2313 Red River St.; 512/916-5136. Besides the presidential papers, a replica of the Oval Office, and a time line of LBJ's life juxtaposed with historical events, there's an animatronic LBJ telling jokes, plus tapes of phone conversations that show the Johnson treatment in action.
Texas State Capitol 1100 Congress Ave.; 512/463-0063. Austinites are quick to inform visitors that the dome of this building, finished in 1888, is 12 feet taller than the national capitol. Take a tour or just wander through, making sure you stop in the middle of the five-pointed star of Texas and look up to the matching star at the top of the dome.
Club De Ville 900 Red River St.; 512/457-0900. Pinup-girl styles from the fifties get a modern update at this retro lounge. Women in Clark Kent glasses sip cosmopolitans on the patio, and suited men design their new art galleries over martinis.
Hiking and Biking Town Lake There's no better way to enjoy this section of the Colorado River that runs through downtown Austin. The trail takes hikers and bikers by a statue of Austin musician Stevie Ray Vaughan, past Zilker Park, and over the MoPac foot-and-bike bridge. A half hour before sunset, thousands of bats from the country's largest urban colony start flying out from beneath the overpass (from May through November). For an hour or more, you can view the spectacle from the bridge's southeast corner (call 512/416-5700, ext. 3636 for bat info.)
What to Buy
Aqua 1415 S. Congress Ave.; 512/916-8800. Mid-century Modernists pick up their Saarinen cocktail tables, Eames chairs, Nelson marshmallow sofas, and Josef Hofman settees at this well-stocked store. The only Herman Miller for the Home dealer in town, Aqua offers 25 percent off retail and frequently ships.
Yard Dog Folk Art 1510 S. Congress Ave.; 512/912-1613. Portraits made with mud, pieces of garden hose sprouting from an aluminum can—the works here by outsider artists can range from simple to challenging, but you won't find a better assortment anywhere. Anyone can become a collector here—some pieces sell for less than $200.
Allen's Boots 1522 S. Congress Ave.; 512/447-1413. There's nothing that says “I've been to Texas” more than a pair of boots. Whether it's pointy-toe cockroach killers or bright red ropers you yearn for, Allen's will shoe your tender foot. If it's just a belt buckle or a hat you're after, they've got that, too.