Each year, I spend a few days eating, talking, drinking and generally living the good life with a few friends for about four days. After spending those days in the May snow of Minneapolis last year, we decided this year to descend on the live music mecca that is Austin, Texas. Most of us had never been, so we relied on social media, friend recommendations and the good work of the Google to help craft our itinerary. I chose the photo above for this index page because it captures something about Austin that isn’t so obvious from a guidebook. The city is trying to make itself a place that welcomes being outside – outside of a car, outside when you eat, outside of what other places call the norm. It spoke to me.
I am passionate about great food and great craft beer, but even more about the experiences that happen when people are open to explore. This was one of those trips, and the people of Austin were some of the nicest and most open I’ve ever met. Here’s a snapshot of my four days in Austin (click on the links for write-ups) – The “short version” is at the bottom of this page:
Interlude: Texas Craft Beer
Day Two (Pt I of II): Helping Dominican kids, Wanderlust, and the city by bike
Day Two (Pt II of II): A ridiculously good meal at Odd Duck (and a bike tour and more local craft beer)
Day Three (Pt I of II): Linin’ up & Franklin BBQ
Day Three (Pt II of II): Old Pecan Street Festival, Red’s Range and Foreign & Domestic
Interlude: Gun control – The price of bullets
Day Four: Elizabeth St., Stag, the LBJ Library, Rainey St. at Craft Pride and a trip to Uchi
The “short” version (links and summaries of the places I visited on this trip)
We started planning for this trip a few months ago. So I was following folks like Craft Beer Austin and Tribeza on Twitter, getting tips from local food people I trust here in San Diego, and hitting the Internets pretty hard. I landed on a Thursday, weather was great, picked up my checked luggage – San Diego Craft Beer to share – and hopped a Car-2-Go to my vacation rental. There I met friend #1 (we ended up being seven guys in our late 30s/early 40s, mostly married and several with kids). Friend #1 and I piled in the tiny Car2Go and headed for Austin Beerworks, a brewery out in some industrial stretch. There’s more detail on the day one adventures here. From there we met up with more friends at Austin Beer Garden Company, did what one does at such a place, and then adjourned to our rental. This was followed by walking to SoCo, seeing some old work friends of one of the guys at Hotel San Jose, then meandering about until settling in at Torchy’s Tacos in a trailer park (technically a food court for food trucks, but you get the idea). Read the “EP” Version HERE.
Day 2 started really early. Two of us grabbed bags and wallets and hit the streets to explore Austin. First stop was a quaint little coffee shop called Dominican Joe that incorporates a mission of helping Dominican children learn to read and write into every cup of coffee it sells. Heaven, if you ask me. From there we made our way over the bat bridge (e.g. the Congress Street Bridge over Lady Bird “Lake” – which looked oddly like a river on the map, but whatever), and then made our way through the surprisingly uncrowded downtown streets at 8AM on a Friday morning. Maybe people in Austin don’t really work. Just play music and exercise all day. I dunno. Lots of statues with guns in Austin. That was different. We hopped a couple B-Cycle bike share bikes back to the house and got ready for the Wanderlust Yoga fun. Hot yoga in a city known for being warm is a challenge. But Jo (our instructor) was perfect. She calibrated to our skill level, allowed for the junior high humor that made the session less like a traditional class and generally treated us very well. Yoga was followed by a leisurely lunch at Odd Duck for a really spectacular meal and a bike tour around parts of Austin via Barton Springs Bike Rental. This was fun but could have been MUCH better if the tour guide had a better handle on the history of the city. Or its architecture. Or its communities. He wasn’t a bad guy, but there’s an unmet need in Austin for a more robust tour. The day rounded out with some shenanigans at Key Bar and J-Black’s on 6th Street. A full day indeed. Read the Kant-esque Long Versions HERE and HERE.
I got up extra early, snagged a Car2Go and some coffee at Dominican Joe, then dropped myself in the Franklin BBQ
line tailgate. Lots of people told me the idea of waiting in a 4-hour line for food was ridiculous. I was prepared to do it anyway. Turns out it wasn’t waiting in a line, as such. It was a big party with strangers – and as I said the Austinites are a friendly bunch. I’ll write more about the line, the conversation, the Cards Against Humanity and the brisket (OMFG the brisket) when I get to the second day post, but let’s just say there is nothing about that experience I’d give back (except maybe not renting a chair from “The Chair Guy”). After Franklin we walked in the now obscene Austin heat to a street festival. Spoiler alert: street festivals don’t vary that much. Plus did I mention it was hot? Our group separated into those who don’t mind strolling in the heat and those who do – and those of us who did stopped by a handmade cigar shop and retreated to the air conditioning of our rental. Fast forward a couple hours and it was off to Red’s Gun Range for some of us to experience the local love for one interpretation of the Second Amendment. It was fun, but no one will confuse me with Simo Hayha. We had an expert on the trip, though, which made that part more fun. Post-range, a subset of us nestled in at Foreign & Domestic – a delicious restaurant that served us up a fall-off-the-bone tender lamb, flavorful quail and two incredible desserts. I’d eat there right now again if I could. F & D was followed by fight night. The fight night dynamic – and cat lady, Steph Curry upstairs and a range of random events made the night quite the interesting one.
Somehow we managed to pack a bit more into our last day in Austin. It started with a couple trips to the airport to drop folks off, then breakfast at a charming little Vietnamese place called the Elizabeth Street Cafe. I’ll get back to noodles as breakfast. This was followed by a pop-in at Stag Men’s Provisions, which nailed interesting fashion and other curious stuff for guys. I did more damage in there to my wallet than at any other part of the trip. Having failed to properly enjoy the Texas Craft Beer left by our property managers, we adjourned for a quick self-made flight of 2 oz pours and then headed off to the LBJ Library and a quick look at UT. There was a massive country music concert going on so I was able to say I heard some live music while in Austin, even if it wasn’t quite my cup of sweet tea. Having filled up on history, legacy and country music, I got dropped off at Craft Pride on Rainey Street, thanks to this Rainey Street Bars link. There I heard the best line of the weekend – which I’ll share in the post – and actually had a nice conversation about the future with an old friend. A nice, calm space to relax in, write a little and then get ready for dinner at Uchi. Uchi was as advertised, which is to say really, really good. And Audrey behind the bar was a pleasant addition to the experience. A new friend whisked me off to the airport after a solid final meal in Austin and this vacation was in the books. Four days well spent exploring a new city with great friends. Austin treated me well and seems to be doing quite a bit right for itself. And the people, man the people of Austin might be its best kept secret.