Population = 912,791 (metro area 1,943,299) latitude 30º15’, longitude 97º45’, elevation 531 feet, average January low temperature = 39.7, Average July high temperature = 95, average sunny days = 228, annual snowfall = 1”, annual rainfall = 33.4”
Rolling into Austin, we once again thank God and Technology for a GPS that can find our new home. I used to think that the DOT highway designers in Minnesota lived in a strange world where ordinary human concepts of getting from Point A to Point B no longer existed; where the only clear view of the plan was made visible by inserting head up butt. The highway designers in Texas also live there, but THEY must be smoking something especially odious. We see ramps twisting and turning and stacked like the rich kid’s slot track set. Streets and highways change names and numbers for no apparent reason. Streets become one way service roads that become freeways that become streets.
From all reports, Austin sounds like a very fun city, so our stay is going to be two weeks. The unofficial city motto is “Keep Austin Weird” so we know we will fit right in. On our first foray into Downtown, we strolled along 6th Street, which revels in the weirdness. This is a street of bars, restaurants, odd little shops and museums, and great people watching. I see people with so many piercings, they look like they did a face plant in a tackle box. Tattoos cover everything else that shows and more, I assume. Later on, after sunset, the bands crank up and the sounds wash over the street and it’s people. The more “normal” people appear, looking for some fun and food and music. Pants get longer and skirts get shorter and tighter.
We found some fun places and good food on 6th Street. The Easy Tiger is a bakery/bar with a great patio overlooking Waller Creek. The Waller Creek Pub House has an extensive selection of craft beer and a delicious lamb burger with feta cheese. The Museum Of The Weird has some very strange things to behold, including a frozen “caveman” (maybe?) and a huge King Kong. The second floor balcony of the Old School Bar & Grill is a nice place to sit and sip a cold craft beer and watch the crazy people down on the street. Lots of fun, funky little bars with clever names, eclectic bands, and dueling happy hours.
Our favorite place on 6th though, was Esther’s Follies. This is a little theater that has a comedy/song and dance/satire/magic show. Behind the stage is a big window right on 6th Street. Passersby stop to watch the show. The theater troupe will sometimes run outside with props to back up what is happening onstage. The weird panhandler outside, spinning long stem chrysanthemums on his tongue, opens his coat during the show to reveal a bra with conical cups with tassels he spins. Part of the show or not? Who knows? Weird!
Another fun part of the city is the South Congress area, just south of the river. SoCo is wider and busier, but it is also lined with fun little shops and places to eat. Uncommon Objects houses a collection of strange, unusual, and antique objects that is worth the trip in itself. If you want to go full-on flamboyant, Halloween or otherwise, take a look at the costumes in Lucy in Disguise With Diamonds. There are many other curio and curious shops nearby for the hearty to explore. And of course, when you hit overload, there are lots of places to wet your whistles. We found good beer and good company at Gueros Taco Bar but regretted that we were too full from lunch to sample those Tacos.
Being somewhat history buffs, we toured the state capitol. This edifice is a huge monument to all things Texas. It is built out of “sunset red” marble (don’t call it pink), limestone and, in some places the walls are 9 feet thick. The main rotunda floor has the flags of all 5 of the nations that Texas has been, set into the marble. The walls are lined with portraits of the hundreds of Texan politicians who have trod these marble floors. It is a fine old building and worth a look.
Also on a kind of historical note, we went to The Broken Spoke on Saturday night for dinner and dancing. The nearby condos are rising hungrily around its little patch of land, watching and waiting, so its days are numbered. This place has been here since Davy Crockett was in diapers, and looks it. It is shabby and crowded and serves Bud and Coors, and Shiner and what it calls the best chicken fried steak. It isn’t. But on Saturday night, the back room dancehall opens and hundreds of youngish Texans (and a few suave older gentlemen in cowboy hats) come to do some two-stepping. We left after the first set and they were still pouring in.
One last word here about food. We loved the food in Louisiana, rich and saucy and over the top. We came to Texas expecting robust, spicy Tex-Mex cuisine. Maybe it was just the places we ate, but to me, Tex-Mex is just weak Mexican. If all you have on the menu is meat and stuff wrapped in a tortilla, it is not that big a deal. On the other hand, the Texan BBQ is probably the best we have seen so far. Our first experience with this was at Uncle Billy’s Brewery and BBQ. They serve the whole rib, including tips, that are sweet and smoky and amazing, dry rubbed with sauce on the side. Serve them up with house made beer on the outdoor patio and you got a little slice of heaven.
Next up: week two in Austin