Take Me Home To ATX
I was notified by my phone this morning that five years ago today I arrived in Austin as part of the trip all around Texas I took.
My friends poke fun at me whenever I mention that city, because apparently I do quite a bit and it’s very obvious that I have a strong affection for it. I’m happy to take it though, it’s always in good fun and I can’t really fight back against it, I do bloody love that place.
When I was a kid, probably ten or eleven, I was fascinated with San Antonio, mostly because thats where my favourite wrestler was from and it looked really nice whenever they’d show it off in promo packages and whatnot. I said for years that I really wanted to visit the place but I’m glad I didn’t as a kid. I would have probably been really bored. It’s a lovely place but there isn’t a ton to do there after you’ve hit the tourist spots. Regardless, my passion for the place faded in the years I was growing up but I knew I’d still like to visit one day.
In the mean time the more I saw and heard about the city to San Antonio’s north, the state capital, Austin, the more I became obsessed.
My favourite director, Richard Linklater was from where? Austin.
My favourite movie was shot where? Austin.
Rooster Teeth, the thing I watch more than any other media combined, founded and based out of where? Austin.
Live music capital of America? Austin.
A creative, liberal, quirky, weird, hipster, techie, foodie, unique and wonderful hub in the centre of Texas… yup, that’s Austin.
People have asked me, fairly regularly, what it is that makes me love ATX so much? I’ve always struggled to give them a proper answer, so I’m hoping that in writing this I’ll be able to come up with a more solid answer not just for them but for myself too. It’s not like there was any one thing that I could point to though. It’s not like there was a theme park or a beach or mountain or attraction that you can point to. It was always more of a feeling.
I had preconditioned myself love the place before I even got there, I know that. I had a long list of bars I wanted to drink at, restaurants, take aways and food trucks I wanted to eat at and places I wanted to see. But in the months and now years since I not only only scratched about half of the list off, but I ended up adding a whole load more to it.
That may sound like I didn’t do as much in the week I spent there as I would have liked but it’s in fact just the opposite. I ended up doing so much more than I had accounted for and had been given a lot more recommendations by locals while I was out there.
When people think of Texas they mostly likely think of horse backed, gun toting cowboys or redneck conservative Americans. Or if they watch NFL they think of the Dallas Cowboys and throw up a little in their mouth.
None of these prejudices are innately wrong, depending on where it is you’re visiting, except that is for Austin.
Austin is a little blue island in a sea of red. A free and fun place that shares way more in common with cities like Portland and San Fransisco than it does a lot of its in-state neighbours.
The official motto of the city is ‘Keep Austin Weird.’ The people there are extremely proud of their uniquely different status and have clung on to it since the heyday of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Janis Joplin and Willie Nelson.
In a state known for its closed mindedness, Austin is the kind of town where a trans couple can walk down the street and be more likely to catch a high five rather than an insult. Hell, every city has a homeless problem and I’m sure my experience isn’t emblematic of the general vibe, but when I was out on a busy Friday night the one homeless person to ask me for change was so cheerful and friendly I ended up not giving him any money but buying him a slice of pizza instead.
That leads nicely to the food. Oh, the food. If you want it, chances are Austin not only has it, but has it just as good if not better than most everywhere else. A lot of the best restaurants in the city started life as food trucks before setting up permanent residence, though some of the very top places have opted to stay small and keep up the truck life, even if it is in a fixed location, simply so they can maintain control of their high standards by keeping the number of potential tickets to a certain, smaller, number. It almost certainly saves them a lot on money in property costs in a city that is expanding at such a rapid rate that prices are increasing exponentially.
I can’t speak to Via 313 as they opened since I was there but for pizza, Homeslice is a must. There are great tacos all over the city, I wish I knew the name of the truck that was outside Little Woodrows the Sunday I spent watching football at that bar, but I have to mention Torchy’s if only because months after I was home I tweeted that I was craving their tacos and they shipped a bottle of their hot sauce over seas to me completely for free. There are a lot of good burgers too, Casino El Camino comes to mind as does a chain that isn’t specific to Austin but you can only find in Texas, Whattaburger. There are amazing places for almost any cuisine, from doughnuts to sushi, but let’s be honest; you’re in Texas, you’re in central Texas. You’re in the home of woodsmoked barbecue.
If there is one place on earth that will convince you to stop using barbecue not as a word to describe an event but as a cuisine, it’s ATX. We’re not talking about throwing some beef patties and little sausages on a grill here, no the barbecue that you’ll get from Franklin (if you get up early enough to get in line) Micklethwait, la Barbecue, Blacks or even at Salt Lick among others is sixteen plus hour smoked brisket, beef rib, amazing sausage, ribs and pulled pork in some spots. Sauce is not required and is even actively discouraged at certain places and don’t go getting precious about finding a knife and fork, you have hands for a reason. My mouth is watering just thinking about it but more than that I’m longing for the summer to come back so I can get up at the crack of dawn, get a fire going and cook low and slow all day with a beer in hand.
I’m pretty good at these segways huh? There are so many cool bars in Austin that I am not going to go through listing them all. Obviously sixth street is famous for its street party atmosphere almost every night, especially when the University of Texas is in term. I had a night out on Dirty Sixth when I was there, I was twenty seven at the time and while I could pass for a college kid I definitely felt old at some points of the night. It was fun, and I think if you’re visiting you should check it out. If you like to go out out you’ll probably love it, but I wouldn’t want to do more than a couple of hours there now.
It’s not a problem though because just a few blocks over there are still tons of great places that aren’t nearly as crazy and many of them have a better selection of awesome drinks anyway.
Possibly the coolest thing about Austin is the fact that almost every single bar, at least those down town, have a stage area and live music playing at some point of the night. These stages range from a fully lit production, to a few beer crates with a sheet over them in a corner and they can be all over the place too, inside, outside, on the roof or in a window. The fact is that no matter where you go on any given night, you can see some live music.
My absolute favourite place though, not just in terms of bars in Austin but bars anywhere in the world, is Spider House just north of downtown. With its courtyard strewn with colourful lights, mishmash outside seating and furniture, a laid back vibe and great selection of drinks and bar snacks, Spider House is everything I want in a place to go and socialise.
I mentioned UT, the main university in Texas which is based in Austin. I was unable to go to a Lornhorns game due to them playing away the week I was there but despite not being great for a number of years the college football team still has a massively loyal fanbase of students, locals and natives and they sell out their stadium every game. Not bad considering it’s about a third again bigger than Wembley!
The city definitely has a hipster vibe to it, for good or for ill depending on how you see that. But that is unavoidable with everything else I’ve talked about. I for one don’t see it as a blanket negative and enjoy the general aesthetic of it all.
ATX is expanding rapidly with tech companies among others flocking to it in ever increasing numbers. It’s a catch twenty two really; everyone is flocking to Austin because of how cool it is, but in doing so everyone who’s been there forever feels that the cool is being diluted. That’s just progress though, and there is still plenty of cool to go around.
I’m going to wrap this up, but I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. I didn’t even talk about Mondo, The Alamo Drafthouse, the film production scene, the creative writing scene or a slew of other amazing parts of Austin.
I don’t know if I’ve done a good job explaining exactly why love the place so much, but I guess it just comes down to the fact that I felt like I belonged there. It felt like somewhere I could, and would want to call home. I’ll go back again, hopefully as soon as next year, and you never know what the future brings in terms of where I’ll end up, but for now I think it’s safe to say that my body may be in Southampton, England but my heart belongs in Austin, Texas.