How To Enjoy Austin, TX During Netroots Nation
Ack, I meant to get this up yesterday. There’s a lot of joys in moving (new place, new paint, chance to clean behind the couch), but one of the big drawbacks is packing takes over your life and you can’t blog anymore. I promise, once Netroots Nation is over and we’re all moved, blogging will be completely normal again.
Speaking of Netroots Nation, if you’re going, then you already know it’s Austin this year. Where I happen to live. So I’ve cobbled together an idiosyncratic guide to the city.
Feel free to shoot me questions about my beloved city (13 years of living here in August!) in the comments. I may not have time to post these days, but I do have time to read and follow up on questions once in awhile.
By the way, Waterloo Bikes is offering 10% off bicycle rentals if you’re attending Netroots Nation. Most anything you’d want to go to is within biking distance of the Convention Center, so this is a good way to get around without breaking the bank.
Places to have drinks while bullshitting, i.e. aren’t that loud and have tables:
*The Cedar Door, the politico and lawyer bar downtown.
*Casino el Camino for the hipsters.
*Longbranch Inn. Still hipster, but a little more laid-back. Also, the Scoot Inn is a hipster version of the biergarten, and owned by the same people.
*The Gingerman. A bit yuppie, but in the laid-back Austin way. You’ll find the theme of the entire city is “laid back”.
*Club de Ville. If you got there really late, it gets clogged up with scensters, but at any other hour it’s a really nice play to lounge around with a cocktail. The secret, hidden bar has shorter lines. Have fun finding it!
*The Dog and Duck, where Drinking Liberally meets.
*Opal Divine’s, which is a place that has “law student” written all over it, but does, if I recall correctly, have Ween in the jukebox.
Shit to just do if you have the time:
*Go shopping in the 6th and Lamar area. There is the ginormous Whole Foods that will scare you with its ginormousness, our less ginormous but still super amazing awesome bookstore Book People, and Waterloo Records, which invented the in-store listen before they even put magnet strips in CD cases.
*Wander around South Congress. Used to be completely funky, and now is getting gentrified. That means a nice mix of places one level above flea market and upscale stores. Don’t eat at Guero’s, for the love of god, if you’re down there. Eat at Magnolia Cafe.
*Go to our pink capitol building and find the 10 commandments monument that caused the Supreme Court case.
*Go swimming in Barton Springs, which has a nifty documentary made about it with Robert Redford and everything. The water is 68 degrees year-round, which is fucking cold, except in the middle of summer, when it’s exactly what you need. The place still has a 1920s vibe to it, I swear on the endangered salamanders that are protected there.
*Go to the LBJ Library and see the animatronic LBJ. Actually, it’s a really neat presidential library. They could have soft-pedaled the 60s, and they chose not to. I like it a lot better than the Bob Bullock History of Texas museum, which is a whole lot more expensive, but not nearly as historically interesting.
*I like our art museum. It’s not the best in the country or anything, but it holds its own. Both it and the LBJ library are on UT campus, so you can go to one, and then walk to the other under the shadow of one of the biggest football stadiums you’ll ever have the pleasure of seeing.
Restaurants. Split between downtown and not downtown. All restaurants listed here are somewhat reasonable. I’m not putting you in any $75-$100 a plate places. All restaurants in town, including the $100 a plate places, will probably let you wear jeans.
*Casino el Camino, for the best burgers in town and a crazy punk rock atmosphere. Their veggie sandwiches are good, too.
*Moonshine Grill, good food right next to the Convention Center.
*Alamo Drafthouse at The Ritz, which is really more for the movies, often cult movies, more than the food, though the food is good. I recommend buying all tickets ahead of time here. Show up to movies 45 minutes early to wait in line for good seats. You can have a beer in the lobby.
*Las Manitas, I didn’t tell you about this place or I’d have to kill you.
*Stubb’s BBQ, far from the best in town, but good enough and within walking distance.
Around town, stuff you can get a cab for (or take the bus) but isn’t that far.
*El Chili, excellent Tex-Mex, great margaritas.
*Trudy’s, not as great Tex-Mex, easier to get a seat and more party-like. Just don’t go to Chuy’s, whatever you do.
*The Blue Dahlia, wonderful lunch bistro with light dinners that go with wine at night.
*Star Seeds is my favorite diner.
*Mandola’s, best Italian in town, at least in the sense of being affordable.
*Mother’s Cafe and Garden, great vegetarian restaurant.
*Madame Mam’s—Austin is known for great Tex-Mex, but should also be known for great Thai and Vietnamese food. This is a wonderful Thai restaurant close to campus. Unfortunately, my favorite Vietnamese place is way too far from downtown.
*Galaxy Cafe in the Triangle is a great place to go in the evening if you want to avoid a dinner crowd. It’s got pretty good food, but for some reason, it’s never crowded, unlike most restaurants of its caliber.
*Z’ Tejas, which is a fusion-y Tex-Mex place.
*Hoover’s, on Manor. (The name is semi-generic, thus the address. You can look the rest up with your fancy laptops.) New Orleans-based soul food recipes, with a Tex-Mex influence. They have a vegetarian muffletta, for which I will always be grateful.
*Pok-E-Joe’s BBQ. Pretty regular smoky BBQ, but done quite well.
*Home Slice Pizza on South Congress is the best pizza, but you have to drink a Fireman’s #4 with it.
*Ruby’s BBQ. That’s Ruby’s, not Rudy’s, which is a much different BBQ joint. Ruby’s specializes in what my favorite (when I age meat) BBQ joints in town do best—brisket. So, get that.
*East Side Cafe. A little upscale, but not like insanely expensive. That same kind of delicious yuppie/hippie food you get in places with names like this. They grow a lot of their own vegetables.
Music. Here’s some recommendations for Thursday night. When better listings come out next week, I’ll do an update for the rest of the weekend.
Thursday, July 17th
*Sons of Hercules at the Continental Club. Old school garage punk band, in the sense that they’ve been around since the 80s.
*Tilly & The Wall at Emo’s. Roadshow, but I just really love this band, and seeing Emo’s is a must for anyone who likes indie rock. It’s a mainstay club.
*Two Hoots & A Holler at Trophy’s. Rockabilly band, the sort that’s common in Austin and scarce pretty much everywhere else.
*Maneja Beto at Mohawk. Spanish language indie rock.
What to pack:
*The magic words are “100% cotton”. Austin is hot. You’ll want to go with the airiest clothes you own, especially if you’re going outside. Shorts or skirts during the day. If you’re from one of those states that has a real winter, you might want to consider shorts even after sundown, which is 8:30 at night. For those that can take the heat, jeans at night isn’t that bad.
*Sunscreen. If you go out during the day at all past 15 minutes or so, I recommend a light 15 SPF moisturizer. If you’re going outside to actually do things, like go to the park or walk around extensively, go with 30 SPF or higher.
*I’m in the anti-antiperspirant school, but a plain, safe old deodorant is pretty smart in such a hot city. Still, showering once in the morning and once before you go out to dinner or have drinks in the evening is polite, if you’ve been outside at all.
*A water bottle to be refilled and sipped from throughout the day. If you’re detecting a theme, good. Really, it’s not a big deal if you’re not going outside, but Austin is a really beautiful city that you’ll want to be outside in, because it’s so pleasant, despite the heat. Just be mindful of it.
*Your bathing suit, if you have a chance to see Barton Springs, which Jim Hightower described as the soul of Austin.
*Do not bring: Cowboy boots or a cowboy hat, unless you are from Texas. We just do it better.
How to fit in, or at least not to piss off the locals. We get a lot of people from out of town, especially during the hipster tsunami known as South By Southwest, and while we absolutely love visitors, we still have a wishlist of stuff that makes it easier to fit in/not piss off the locals:
*Don’t rush waitstaff or run them by ordering something new every time they walk by. People in Austin eat out a lot, which is something you probably could have guessed from the long list of restaurants, which are just a sampling of all the great ones. As such, the culture of waiting tables and bartending is pretty set in stone here. They are professionals, people, not teenagers working for college spending money. They don’t generally introduce themselves or pretend to be your friend, and that’s how we like it, because customers who eat out a lot are there for the food and atmosphere, not to get phony friendship from waiters. Also, they are efficient and do a good job, as a rule. I’ve only had to complain about the service maybe twice out of the thousands of times I’ve eaten out in the 13 years I’ve lived here. If the service is slow, I guarantee it’s because they’re busy. Also, at Casino el Camino, it may just take an hour for your food to get there. I fear that complaining puts you at the bottom of the queue, so hold your horses and have another drink.
Don’t forget to tip 20%.
*It is kind of endearing to pick up the habit of drinking Lone Star right away.
*The dress code is mandatory casual. I’ve tried to spruce stuff up by wearing a kicky but casual sundress and had people ask why I’m so dressed up. Now that there’s more money in the town, you can get away with wearing a skirt or slacks if you want (I plan to for most of the conference), but don’t feel like you ever have to assault your person with a tie or pantyhose or other such monstrosities. This isn’t Birmingham.
*Yes, Texas is a red state and a redneck state, but Austin is a squishy liberal city that’s highly educated, where you can find vegetarian entrees is almost any restaurant. As such, don’t assume we’re that much different from you. In fact, we’re so liberal that some of our Bible-thumping brethern that live in the suburbs have upped the nuttery in an effort to distance themselves from our gay bar-coddling, rabbit food-munching, book-reading, art house movie-watching ways. There are a couple stereotypes that are mildly true, though. Football is as popular here as it is with our more rednecky neighbors. We’re probably a lot more tolerant of guns than most liberal cities, so that’s really never going to be an interesting topic here. Country-western is one of the many fine forms of music, along with blues and rock and roll, that Austin is known for. If you want to check out some good country-western tunes, go to the Broken Spoke. Well worth it, I promise you.
*Austin is an outdoorsy city. Not necessarily that we like to camp all the time, but we just like to be outdoors because it’s pretty out. As such, be forewarned that almost any restaurant you go to will have a choice between inside and outside seating, and some will let you smoke outside. Almost all bars let you smoke outside if they have a patio.
*If you have to travel north/south in this town, be mindful of the fact that we have really random and erratic traffic patterns. Avoid I-35 if you can, and take Lamar or Red River to travel if you can.
*Don’t complain the heat. This is a typical summer, not really that unique at all.
*If it’s west of Mopac or north of 183, it sucks.