Austin to the limits, in 3 days
AUSTIN, Texas - Brinnnnnnng! Brinnnnng!
“Hello? Hey, Neil, it’s great to hear your voice! What’s up? . . .
“You’re finally coming to Austin? The Live Music Capital of the World! The weird blue dot in a vast sea of red! When? . . .
“I can’t believe this. You’ve been threatening to visit for years and now you’re coming on the one weekend we’re going to be out of town! . . .
“Look, how long are you here for? Flying in Friday and then driving to San Antonio for a conference on Monday? No problem. I’ll tell you exactly what to do while you’re here. It’ll be almost like I’m there with you. Only better, ’cause you won’t have to put up with me!’’
FRIDAY There are plenty of fine hotels in Austin, including the new W hotel, and the San Jose, but for my money, the place to stay is Hotel Saint Cecilia.
I recommend Suite 1 in the main house. Incredible Hastens king-size bed, awesome Geneva turntable (with plenty of vinyl to check out from the office), and a private outdoor shower that’s not to be missed. Drinks in the courtyard, laps in the pool, a very laid-back but rock ’n’ roll vibe. A perfect base to explore the city.
First stop: Rainey Street. It’s a funky little neighborhood that’s home to a cool collection of bars. Have a Shiner and go play Ping-Pong outside on the full-metal table behind Lustre Pearl. Bar 96 across the street will have sports on various screens. Don’t miss Icenhauer’s down the way. It has kind of a Hill Country industrial design and its specialty drinks, like the Katie, with ginger, lime, and Tito’s Vodka, are outstanding. Another bar, called Clive, has mescal to die for. The other night we had a glass of anejo on the rocks for $17. Smoky, like Scotch!
You have to be hungry by now. Right across the street is G’Raj Mahal Café, an outdoor Indian place that packs some heat. Try the Rechard Masala with shrimp. It’s BYOB, but you can get a bottle of wine to go at Clive and plenty of water, which will come in handy.
After dinner, go straight back to the hotel. Got a big day ahead of you.
SATURDAY Be up by 9 and stroll down to South Congress for a cup of coffee at Jo’s, which is really the crossroads of this funky shopping and entertainment district. Dawdle, but not long. It’s early, but it’s almost time for a meat coma.
This is Texas, after all, and everyone here has an opinion on where to find the best brisket. I think you’ll find it at Franklin Barbecue. But don’t take my word for it; Bon Appetit, The New York Times, Texas Monthly, and many others have sung its praises. Or you could ask the people standing in line with you waiting for the place to open at 11 a.m. They serve until they sell out. And they do.
The brisket is incredibly tender and flavorful with the perfect chewy char on the outside. They also have ribs, sausage, pork butt, cole slaw, potato salad, and pinto beans. But it’s the brisket that’s worth the wait. On a Saturday, I would be there before 10.
So now you have to work off that massive meal. Head over to Austin High and park by the shore of Lady Bird Lake. I love the hike and bike path that runs around the lake. Check out the Texas Rowing Center, where you can rent canoes and kayaks.
But wait, here’s a better idea. Cross the pedestrian bridge over the lake to the Rowing Dock and rent a stand-up paddle board. It’s a ton of fun, a good workout, and a great way to take a look at the city from a different perspective. You barely need a sense of balance. Even I can do it.
Come dinner time, drive over to the Jessie Street Eats food trailer park. Near the top, you will find Latasca Tapas. Small plates with huge flavors like the garlic mushrooms, chili shrimp, and chilled cucumber soup. I should have mentioned it’s BYOB.
I’m leaving the next step up to you. It’s Saturday night in Austin and there is music almost everywhere. Check the Austin Chronicle for what’s happening that night at Antone’s (famous blues bar), Threadgill’s (an Austin institution), Stubb’s, or even Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater. If you’re up for a drive, check out the very intimate One World Theatre.
SUNDAY Today’s the day for some Tex-Mex. There are countless places to sample the local flavors, but I like a place called Cisco’s Restaurant Bakery in East Austin.
Cisco’s, which opened in 1950, is a blast from the past with very few updates, particularly in the back rooms, where you should sit. They have great huevos rancheros for $6.50, a memorable migas (eggs, sausage, onions and the kitchen sink all mixed together) for $7, and tons of breakfast tacos. You can’t go wrong.
East Austin has a lot of art galleries, but most are closed on Sunday. One thing that is open and really cool is the nearby Texas State Cemetery. It’s quiet, green, and beautiful and you won’t believe the people who are buried there.
Stephen F. Austin, the city’s founder, for one. John Connally, the Texas governor who was shot with President Kennedy. Tom Landry, the Dallas Cowboys coach. And where else can you find a black, female US representative (Barbara Jordan) buried next to a Confederate Civil War general (Ben McCulloch)?
Then I would head back to the hotel, park the car, and walk down to South Congress and spend the afternoon shopping and people watching. There’s plenty of both. Stop at Allens Boots if you have a hankerin’ for some real Texas footwear. Be sure to check out the Big Top candy store and Monkey See Monkey Do. Big Top has candy from back in the day (Zero bars!) and Monkey See has the coolest collection of weird stuff in town.
By 6:30, make sure you’re outside the doors of the Continental Club, one of the real classics on the Austin music scene. Pretty much every Sunday, Junior Brown, the king of the “guit-steel,’’ (a combination electric and steel guitar he invented) plays with his combo - including his wife, the lovely Tanya Rae Brown - starting around 7:45.
Junior finishes around 9 and I recommend that you go across the street to Perla’s Seafood and Oyster Bar. Go for the oysters or the lobster roll with a local Live Oak Liberation IPA draft and you will be toasting me in absentia.
That’s about it. I know you think you have seen a lot, but Austin is big, and there will be plenty more to do the next time you come to town. And I’ll be here, I swear!
Doug Warren, a freelance writer in Austin, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.