Much like people, certain cities have an indescribable indie cool-factor. Austin, Texas is one of those cities, with serious street cred for the live music scene, its fervent support for local artists, friendliness, and laidback vibe. Mention Austin to anyone and inevitably the response will be, ‘OMG, I LOVE that city!!’ or ‘Is that where Friday Nights Lights is filmed?’ The answer is yes, and clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. I took the opportunity to form my own opinion for New Year’s, trading NYC and its overpriced, crowded, cold bars for breezy Spring temps in the midst of January, let’s-just-have fun demeanor, and uniqueness. I wish I had gone for South by Southwest, but there’s always Austin City Limits! Below, some of my favorites from checking out the town:
ONE. Halycon Coffee Bar – Start out your day with java from this modern, open-air coffee bar which transforms from freelance workspot during the day to local lounge at night. They serve hot paninis and massive salads during the day, with cocktails and desserts as later offerings. The house favorite dessert are the S’mores, which you can roast yourself over a table-provided puku platter. Although I didn’t get a chance to try it, I hear their hot chocolate is also to die-for, with flavors like peanut butter and french (a blending of 5 different types of chocolate which one Yelp review described as “reminiscent of unicorns and angels.”) Local artwork graces the walls (warning: some with nudity, so you may look up from your mug of Chai Tea with Maker’s Mark and suddenly find yourself looking straight into some painterly bosoms.) This being Austin, the casual indoor and outdoor seating arrangements invite conversation and friendliness, so you can easily talk to the next table about their plans for the night while even sharing a cigar from Halcyon’s own cigar humidor and tobacco shop out front.
TWO. Walton’s – Sandra Bullock loves Austin too! Right across the street from her own restaurant, Bess’s Bistro (supposedly where U.S. Weekly saw her partying the NYE night away with Ryan Reynolds), is Walton’s Fancy and Staple, a combination bakery and deli that serves up Texan treats like the Lonestar whoopie pie (sweet potato whoopee with cream cheese frosting) and honeybee cake. Decorated like an old-time Southern bakery, Walton’s offers the classics (traditional French baguettes and muffins) to the refined (French macaroons in every flavor imaginable) to the nostalgic (Elmo cupcakes for the kids) to the just special (Aunt Trudy’s Trailer Park Mix.) I didn’t get a chance to try everything on the menu, but definitely worth a sugar rush visit in between boozing at SXSW.
THREE. Trudy’s – My Univerity of Texas alum friends took me on a tour of campus and then brought me to this college-town joint for stick-to-your ribs classic Tex-Mex food, and their famous Mexican martinis, which just got written up by the NYT. I have friends that come here specifically for the martinis and the Poquito Flaquitos, a Southwestern-esque eggroll, and the house specialty: the stuffed avocado, afried, breaded avocado stuffed with spiced chicken and cheese. Topped with suiza sauce and more cheese. Yum. The atmosphere is down-home and relaxed, and full of college town kids. It’s also open 24 hours, making it the perfect spot to wind down after a late night. Who doesn’t want some queso at 5 am in the morning?
FOUR. Lustre Pearl – A random Austinite suggested I visit here with my friends and it piqued my interest because he described it as an “old house remade into an upscale bar.” It was a completely on-point description for a cozy house with candlelight, woodworn tables and stools, and common fireplaces. An expansive yard in the back has spacious picnic tables and the vibe is like hanging out at your awesome friend’s house, with ample room for ping pong and hula hooping. The fluorescent French motto above the large fireplace perfectly conveys the vibe: Ici tout est bon (Here, everything is good).
FIVE. Uncommon Objects – Austin is a secret hotspot for vintage treasures and this store is my favorite, located right in the heart of South Congress. Its well cultivated collection of housewares, vintage jewelry, and select clothing is spread out pell-mell throughout the store. The fun of Uncommon Objects is the discovery and being able to look at a collection of vintage hatpins in one section and then unearthing a rare map print for your history-loving dad. I unearthed a rare brass-framed vintage music print, that is a sweet reminder of my early musical roots. The collection of vintage jewelry is vast and although under glass cases, the friendly salespeople are patient and have no problem with continuous browsing.