An Insider's Guide to Austin: Downtime During SXSW
Austin, the seat of Texas politics, is famous for live music, hipsters and general weirdness. But once you veer off Congress Avenue, with its classic view of the capitol building, away from the seemingly eternal Mardi Gras-style revelry on 6th Street, you’ll find that it’s a city of neighborhoods with something for everyone. If you’re in town for SXSW, check out these three hot spots not included on your typical tourist-trap Segway tour.
This green, hilly, Westside district, originally founded by freed slaves, has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976 and retains much of the “old Austin” charm. It’s a pleasant, walkable neighborhood full of regal older homes juxtaposed with hip boutiques and the can’t-miss graffiti park. If you’re starting here, there are Zipcars a couple of blocks away at 12th and Rio Grande.
The multi-tiered, constantly changing Graffiti Park sits on one side of Clarksville’s Castle Hill. There’s often an artist or two at work, and, while you can climb and wander around this public art playground, make sure you pause to take in the details. Everything here is covered in paint, from the walls to the salvaged outdoor furniture. The park is free and open to all.
If you’ve always wanted to time-travel back to the 1950s (and really, who hasn’t?), belly up to the lunch counter at Nau's Enfield Drug, where you’ll find more people reading newspapers than tapping on phones. Known for its maxed-out, juicy cheeseburgers and extra-thick malts (we love the banana), Nau’s also boasts the city’s only old-fashioned soda fountain. The legendary shakes are made with Blue Bell ice cream and classically flavored: chocolate, vanilla, cherry; for an adventure, splurge on the too-tempting-not-to-try pineapple. Bonus: Nau’s is also a pharmacy, so you can fill prescriptions while you eat.
Clarksville’s eastern edge is home to a number of clothing boutiques, including Kick Pleat, a carefully curated women’s clothing shop located inside a clapboard house. The friendly staff creates a laid-back vibe. Both sexes will appreciate the designer duds at By George. The men’s shop, located inside the Lamar flagship location, carries a variety of closet staples.
Just north of the university and posh Hyde Park lies the street known as North Loop (spoiler alert: it’s not a loop at all.) Along this drag you’ll find some of Austin’s best vintage shops, killer coffee, a vegan food truck park, and chill, hip bars. Travel a couple blocks further north and you’ll find yourself in Brentwood, an eclectic neighborhood that, at first glance, may seem strip-mally, but is home to some real legendary Austin haunts.
Thirsty? Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon is a classic dive bar that hosts live music (including favorite Dale Watson) and Austin’s favorite sport, Chicken Shit Bingo, every Sunday. Place bets on painted square numbers in the chicken cage and wait for the bird to relieve itself. If the “goodies” fall on your number, you’re a winner. The event also, oddly enough, features a free chili-dog bar.
For some of Austin’s best vintage shopping, start at Room Service Vintage for a huge, funky selection of clothing, old cowboy boots, jewelry, furniture, and housewares. Check their website to peek at current highlights. Across the street is Ermine Vintage, a shop that focuses on women’s vintage clothes (though there’s a small men’s section as well) and, brilliantly, organizes clothing by modern-day sizes.
While you’re in the ’hood, chow down at Lucy’s Fried Chicken where gizzards, mountain oysters, chicken and deep-fried deviled eggs await.
South of the river and Lady Bird Lake lies the ever-evolving South Lamar. The area’s a respite from the trendy crowds in the South Congress (SoCo) area. This stretch, once home to a handful of car dealerships, has grown rapidly during the past few years, resulting in a unique hodgepodge of locally owned bars, food trucks, taxidermists (yup), shoe doctors (double yup), and art galleries.
Local and emerging artists are showcased at Austin Art Garage, whose mission is to bring art into the lives of people from all socio-economic backgrounds. This is your chance to snag a piece by an artist while they’re still affordable. And the artistic styles represented are all over the map, including many that might not find gallery homes elsewhere.
South Lamar is home to a number of great places to hang out and grab a drink, but Gibson Street Bar stands out for its mix of lively atmosphere, epic events (think Game of Thrones trivia night), and cheap drink specials. Stop by for Mustache Mondays—there’s a $3 Markers special for the mustachioed (don't worry; they have extra mustaches at the bar). The bar is stocked with libations only, so fuel up at the Guy Fieri-approved Luke’s Inside Out—a food “trailer” just out front. The $12 all you can eat “Son of a Brunch” on Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. is a can’t-miss—Szechuan chicken and waffles with bacon and Brie—need we say more? Well, yes, actually, we should mention that The Gibson next door serves dollar mimosas and has a $5 bloody Mary bar.
If you crave a taste of old Austin and real Texas, the Broken Spoke is the place to come. With live music every night of the week, the Broken Spoke is the place for outlaws and cowboys who know how to two-step or are willing to learn (there are free lessons every night). Even if you don’t dance, the Spoke is a great place to drink a Lone Star (the “national” beer of Texas; don’t dare order anything else) and watch the locals.
Now you know how to leave the craziness of SXSW—book a Zipcar in Austin and go explore!