Austin, Tejas: Congress North to South
No sooner did we land in Austin when the tropical swells began. Dark, bulbous, low-hanging thunderheads descended upon the Texas capital and humid gusts of thick, sweaty wind that you could just about cut with a steak knife sweltered down. The rain began. It's been coming in droves ever since. It definitely feels like vacation here. It feels like tropical Mexico, actually. Not really all that surprising though because Texas was once a part of Mexico—a fact I dwelled upon at the Bullock Texas History museum this morning while I sipped my coffee. In fact, there was a period during the early 19th century when the Mexican government issued a warning about illegal white American immigrants settling without license within their borders, crossing into Tejas without permission and taking land that wasn’t rightfully theirs. The incredible irony was killing me as I read the historical placards alongside other local dwellers. “Maybe Mexico should have built a wall?” I pondered to my wife with a smirk.
In all honesty, we only went to the history museum because we didn’t know where else to go in the rain, but it was a fantastically curated exhibit and I would recommend it to anyone. The most amazing part was an excavated French ship from the 1600s that sunk in the Gulf of Mexico, was discovered in the mid-90s, and reconstructed by archeologists after more than a decade of painstaking efforts. We had no idea what we were walking into; we were simply there to beat the elements. Located on Congress Ave just north of the capitol building, it’s an easy jaunt from downtown. After you’re done, however, head back down to South Congress across the Colorado River and check out Allen’s Boots. It’s one of the most quintessentially Texan places I’ve ever visited in my life. There are thousands of boots! And hats! And shirts! I definitely got my rockabilly on there and bought a few things. This is just one of a dozen identical looking aisles!
There's a lot of action in downtown Austin, but—to me—Sixth Street feels like Haight Street in San Francisco; there are still residual elements of former glory, but what I saw of it seems contrived and forced at this point with a seedier element that overshadows the overall scene and infiltrates the mood. Outside of downtown, however, it's like a gastronomic wonderland and the vibe could not be more cool—and welcoming! I've only been here for forty-eight hours and I've already made friends! Plus, there are so many hip boutiques and fun local shops with local Texan flare. Uncommon Objects, as an example, is more like a museum exhibit than an antique store.
At the recommendation of my friend Matt Freerks, we did Juliet on Barton Springs Road for brunch yesterday. It was everything we hoped it would be and more—classic American fare done well, with a chíc interior that was tasteful art deco and a bar that over-exceeded in every way. Their pastries were out of this world—cornetti and pecan toffee buns that were fluffy and delightful. Our server Gina was also a wealth of local advice who couldn't wait to recommend future destinations for our Austin vacation. We stuffed our faces. By the time I got to my mushroom frittata I was almost too full. Not far from Juliet on South Congress is Home Slice Pizza where my wife and I got a drink with a few slices earlier today for lunch. Talk about old school atmosphere with modern luxury. I think a pizza parlor should always be low-lit, but that may stem from childhood memories of the original dark Round Table dens. The pizza at Home Slice was on point and the beer was cold, but the best part was the music and the crowd. You had teenagers, hipsters, families, and businessmen of all colors in the place, along with a setlist that was carefully tailored to the deluge outside. New Edition's "Can You Stand the Rain," the Carpenters' "Rainy Days and Mondays," Rhianna's "Umbrella," and even Toto's "Africa." I bless the rains and the pie!
One of the restaurants Gina from Juliet had mentioned to us was called Hopdaddy and was supposedly famous for its frozen margarita; not some sweet, sugary bullshit like you get at the pool bar in Cabo, but a serious drink that happens to be served in slushy form. She wasn't kidding—the drink was totally legit. Not only was Gina not kidding, she was sitting at the bar drinking one herself when we popped in earlier this afternoon. We ended up joining Gina, her husband, and her co-worker Hannah for drinks and conversation. What a blast that was—not only chatting about life in Texas, but also scoping the scene at the end of the counter. There were rockers, SoCal-looking surfers, cowboys, and just about every other type of dude you can think of grabbing a seat along the bar. I wasn't sure what was more refreshing: the ice cold tequila pumping through the straw in my mouth at a breakneck pace, or the diverse and eclectic atmosphere completely free of pretense and posturing right there in front of me.
Stevie Ray Vaughan was shredding on the restaurant sound system. Texas Flood played as the rain poured down outside.