Sunday, November 13, 2016

Five Can't Miss Spots When You Have 24 Hours in Austin, TX

I visited Austin, TX in November 2016 for business. Business trips can be boring, so thankfully, my friend Britt flew out to join me for a couple days. It was my first time in town, but I guarantee it won't be my last. The city has amazing night life, great food, and such friendly locals.

Note as of November 2016, neither Uber nor Lyft operate in Austin because the city requires criminal background checks of rideshare drivers. As substitutes, I found the local cabs to be plentiful and efficient. I also found Fasten, an Uber/Lyft alternative, to be awesome. One driver even recommended La BBQ (on the list below) for the best BBQ in town.

In town for a day or two? Don't miss the spots below.

1) The Driskill Hotel
Austin's oldest operating hotel is a beautiful Romanesque and Art-Deco masterpiece, and is a downtown institution. The huge bar area at the Driskill Bar was loud and crowded with Hillary supporters when Britt and I visited on Election Night 2016, but its unmistakable Texan decor, with its warm leather and dark tones, gives it a friendly air even when only lightly trafficked. The bar may feel casual, but it has plenty of class.

The Driskill Grill sits next to the bar, behind double glass doors. I only peeked in, but its spacious dining room had dark-colored tables and booths covered with white linen tablecloths. Only a few patrons were dining there on Election Night 2016. Everyone seemed to prefer the crowd at the bar.

Through the Driskill Bar and down some stairs is the hotel lobby. It's a gorgeous white and black marble tiled floor with soaring ceiling and marble columns. Across the lobby from the staircase leading up to the Driskill Bar is 1886 Cafe and Bar. Britt and I ate here and were handled by a wonderfully friendly local, Aaron, who helpfully reminded us to stay hydrated after we told him we were going to bar hop all night to sample Austin's nightlife.

When you go, definitely get 1886 Cafe and Bar's fried chicken plate. Aaron told us it was the best fried chicken in town, and that's no lie. It's a generous helping of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, veggies and sauerkraut. We washed our dinner down with a couple Texas Floods, a mildy fruity pale pink drink which was equal parts refreshing and strong.

Also, the Driskill is supposed to be haunted, but I can't vouch for that.

2) The White Horse
I promised Britt I'd take her two-stepping while we were together and the White Horse was at the top of my "Austin two-stepping" Yelp search. It completely delivered. The White Horse is a large dive bar at the corner of 5th and Comal in eclectic East Austin. You'd think the concrete floor wouldn't be good for dancing...and you'd be wrong! The bar has stage in the corner right in front of the dance floor, and both days we went, the live music was first-rate. The first night we went (Election Night 2016) there weren't many people. Thankfully, there weren't any TVs, either, so Britt and I successfully avoided the election. Our first memory of the White Horse was of two 20-something men two-stepping gracefully to lively country music. They were soon joined by another gay couple and several lesbian couples. Progressive living + country-western music. Only in Austin.

Lest you think tourists get ignored here, think again. The second night my friend and I came back, the White Horse had a swing band. My friend and I swing danced some, and then she befriended a tiara-wearing local who was out celebrating her two year anniversary of recovering from a near-fatal boating accident. The celebrant and her friends joined my friend and I for a night of animated conversation, whiskey drinking and swing dancing.

3) Voodoo Doughnuts
Why is his wang coming out of his tummy?
This Portland institution has made its way below the Mason-Dixon line! I had never visited a Voodoo Doughnut store but Britt had, so she bought me their trademark Voodoo Doll. This man-shaped chocolate covered and raspberry filled jelly doughnut was the perfect sugary sweet complement to the Driskill's fried chicken and the stiff drinks she and I had at a small bar couple doors down.

4) The Weatherup
Find this well-hidden bar at the corner of Chicon and East Caesar Chavez. Austin's off-shoot of the NYC bar faces the street with only a red light and a dark storefront. Walk a few steps further towards Chicon to find the main entrance around the bar's corner. The bar's patio is huge, and has lots of benches to enjoy on nice days. We visited on a drizzly night, so Britt and I stepped inside to the cozy, modern, well-appointed interior and found a table in the corner. It was the day after Election Day, and the bar was pretty quiet. It was a great place to talk quietly and just enjoy the evening before visiting the White Horse again. Also, they craft an Old Fashioned that's spot on, and a couple friendly dogs lying around the patio added to the atmosphere.

5) La BBQ
On East Caesar Chavez and half a block across Chicon from The Weatherup is this BBQ truck, complete with smoker truck. They closed at 6PM the day Britt and I showed up, and we showed up just before closing, and am I damn glad we did. She and I both got the brisket sandwich. The BBQ melted in our mouths, the bun was warm and soft, and the BBQ sauce was heavenly. My friend said she could even taste some of the smoke from the smoker. There's no "inside" at La BBQ, just some benches under a tent and some other ones under the endless Texas sky. Don't mind the cats that prowl the patio. They're cool.