What I Love About Austin

The mural on Guadalupe.

This weekend, The Wall Street Journal’s running a feature on Austin, a treatment we get every once in a while, and especially around March (when everyone who’s anyone descends upon the SXSW Film/Interactive/Music fest). “It’s said that to really get Austin you have to live there,” the WSJ piece opens. And now, after not-quite five years of living here, I’m preparing to leave. So here’s a stream-of-consciousness guide to what I’ve loved about the 5-1-2.

Sitting and eating outside even in early January. So many great nights had on patios. My favorite outdoor drinking spaces are Botticelli’s back biergarten (and their fantastic happy hour mussels), Clive Bar (in the Rainey Street district) and the picnic tables behind Liberty bar, where the Asian fusion truck “Eastside King” makes pork belly buns and roasted brussel spouts and tempura fried beets to die for. The Hotel San Jose bar would make this list if it wasn’t beer and wine only.

The BLT with three vodka tonics after work at the Stephen F. Austin hotel bar.

Making the great walk up to the Capitol everyday during the legislative session. In January I’m typically out of breath, but by May I’ve made the trek enough times to be conditioned.

Karaoke at Emo’s. That night we saw an accountant-looking dude don a long black wig and lose his mind to some Pantera and unleash a frightening string of epithets at the crowd was among the more absurd yet amusing times during my half decade here.

Swimming in the summertime at Barton Springs, where the water’s always around 68 degrees. This water is also therapeutic when I’m training for a marathon and need an ice bath after a long run. Get there during training seasons on Saturdays around 9am and you’ll find a bunch of half dressed runners in their sports bras, soaking in the springs.

Following up a swim with a trip to Sandy’s down the street for a dipped cone and a cheeseburger. Or following up the swim with a Sno Beach snow cone, also just a stone’s throw from the springs.

Thursday night is Ladies Night at Cool River Cafe, a cheesy chain restaurant/lounge that we have dubbed “Cougar River” for all the Liza Minnelli lookalikes that go straight from dinner across the lobby into the bar, where a cover band usually named something like “MAXX” or “Suede” is playing tunes from the nineties (or that really annoying Kings of Leon song). We have made it a tradition to go about twice a year (because that’s all we can take), do half a dozen shots each upon entering the bar, then tearing up the dance floor all night until one of us inevitably gets sick.

Two words: heavy pour.

Impromptu gourmet homemade meals at my friends Jimmy and Skyler’s house. Getting a call from Skyler saying Jimmy’s made paella, or chili with venison, or ice cream, or some delicious pasta dish, or any number of tapas (he spent a bunch of time eating and cooking in Spain)… is near the top of my list of Austin delights.

Dim sum on Sunday mornings, always the “same time, same place,” with the same people. Three couples and two babies and an endless flurry of eats at Shanghai Restaurant up by Highland Mall. Three-year-old Ellie loves barbecue pork buns and red bean flavored anything, and we share a love of sesame balls.

All the birthdays and baby births we’ve celebrated over the years. There was one week in July 2010 when three of our pals had babies in one week. And from quiet birthday dinners for my girls, or my friend Justin’s crazy birthday night out at that bar with the swinging chairs, to April, myself and Moritz’s annual “Three-Way Birthdays” that we’ve celebrated with big parties at changing locations since the year I turned 25 … When I think Austin I think birthdays and babies and booze and bliss. (But no booze for the babies.)

Getting to know the residential streets in North, Central,  East and South Austin by training for a marathon here.  I hate running but I love talking, and some of my strongest bonds with friends have been forged as we’ve climbed the hills and pounded the asphalt of ATX.

The #796, (or is it the #766?) Pork with Dry Bean Curd at Asia Cafe in North Austin.

Barbecue trips to the barbecue town of Lockhart. Topping off the beef and sausage with a DQ Blizzard at the Lockhart Dairy Queen, where there is clearly marked “Medicaid Corner” for old dudes who sit around and chat at the DQ all day.

The music. The ubiquitous live shows around town. The Austin band I see the most — The Belleville Outfit — coincidentally came here the same year as me (2006), from the same place I was living (Spartanburg, SC). So many great venues but I love the coziness and cheap drinks at Momo’s, and just outside of Austin my favorite is Gruene Hall, which has been around since before the Civil War. Speaking of which…

Discovering new bands and new filmmakers and new ideas at South by Southwest every year is a fave, despite our town getting taken over by entertainment tourists. There’s nothing quite like it – impromptu parties and free drinks on random corners, seeing celebs without entourages, the pleasure of meeting new people, the frenzy of it all.

The Alamo Drafthouse. This isn’t just a movie theater where you get served a full menu of food and beer in your seat, this is an experience. We always get there about 45 minutes early (because you basically have to, to get a seat), and watch the pre-show entertainment, which always features clips related to the stars in the film or the film’s subject matter. But my favorite preshow event is the no-talking PSA. I love the one with the singing hot dog and drink… “Can’t beat my meat (from the hot dog)… Sucking on me… is such a treat” (from the drink).” That’s followed up with the “Coming up Next Month at the Alamo” trailer, which features a sharply edited montage of the movie events coming up in the next month – Monster Ballads singalong, Master Pancake Theatre lampoons Forrest Gump, Mad Men watch parties with sixties themed food, air sex competition – like I said, it’s not just a movie theater.

Tito’s Vodka. I will soon have to correct myself every time I order a “tito’s and tonic,” as my beloved Tito’s won’t be ubiquitous anymore.

Breakfast tacos and queso at Torchy’s. That queso has a magical lump of avocado in the middle and every time, it’s like discovering a dollar in an old pair of jeans. (Only far more delicious.)

Lazy times on the lake with my friends with boats and houses on lakes. That doesn’t really need more description.

Orlando and Mike, my baristas at the Starbucks at the Capitol (1oth and Congress). I’ve seen them every work day, it seems, since 2006. And over the years we’ve developed a kind of shorthand where I rarely have to order (or pay for) my beverages. In late December, when I told Orlando and Mike I was moving in early February, Orlando goes, “Well, at least we have a month to say goodbye.”

What’s your Austin? Leave me a note.

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