Exclusive | Destinations: When in Austin...



Originally published in OUT January 2008

The Lone Star State's capital boasts one of the biggest clusters of music venues in the country, so make sure to bring your dancing pants. Each year, the city hosts the increasingly popular Austin City Limits Music Festival (held in late September) and March's South by Southwest (SXSW) film and music festival.

Even though Austin is in Texas, it isn't necessarily of Texas. Austin is home to Whole Foods, which opened its first all-natural-foods market there in 1980. The city is also home to a large population of liberal voters who pride themselves on their progressiveness. Consequently, the social scene is very mixed, with gay men and lesbians fully integrated into the city's vibrant art, film, music and nightlife scenes.

Austin's longtime slogan may be "The Live Music Capital of the World," but as of late it has been eclipsed by a grassroots "Keep Austin Weird" campaign that is intended not only to preserve Austin's unique flavor but also to support local businesses and minimize overcommercialization.

The drink

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
1120 S. Lamar Blvd.
Part bar, part restaurant and part movie theater, the Alamo screens current movies as it offers full bar service in the theater and a robust menu of cinema-themed entrées -- all served in the theater, which is equipped with tables.

Oil Can Harry's
211 W. 4th St.
Visitors in Austin looking to find a megaclub will be disappointed, but if shirtless shot boys or yuppies on the prowl are what you're seeking, check out Harry's. A good-size dance club with a nice bi-level garden bar out back, it's just a few doors down from the equally enjoyable Rain on West 4th.

The bite

401 W. 2nd St.
If it's barbecue you crave, then head to Lambert's, a finer barbecue joint specializing in "modern Texas cuisine" such as natural barbecue, wood-grilled steaks, fresh seafood, family-style sides and homemade desserts. There's also live music five nights a week.

2004 S. 1st St.
Serving up some of the best and most authentic Tex-Mex in town, family-run Polvo's is best known for its daily lunch specials, its machacado and scrambled eggs plate for breakfast and its roasted onion and poblano strips.

1716 S. Congress Ave.
(512) 441-6800
Upscale comfort food isn't an oxymoron at this relatively new entry to the South Congress culinary scene. Favorite dishes here include corn fritters with cayenne cream, pulled-pork sloppy joes and peanut butter pie.

The groove

The Continental Club
1315 S. Congress Ave.
(512) 441-2444
One of Austin's most beloved honky-tonks. Everyone from Stevie Ray Vaughn and Joe Ely to the Butthole Surfers (all current or former Austin residents) have played here, and it's a first stop for many visiting musicians.

Elephant Room
315 Congress Ave.
(512) 473-2279
Recently named by USA Today and Wynton Marsalis as one of the top 10 jazz venues in the UnitedStates, this underground club draws a mix of college kids and jazz aficionados alike.

Stubb's Bar-B-Que
801 Red River St.
(512) 480-8341
Stubb's Web site says it all: "Cold Beer + Live Music." Besides that, you never know what you'll get. Past acts have included Willie Nelson, Death Cab for Cutie, the Go-Go's, the Flaming Lips, Lily Allen, Snoop Dogg and Dwight Yoakum.

The art

Arthouse at the Jones Center
700 Congress Ave.
(512) 453-5312
The oldest statewide visual arts organization and the only one devoted to contemporary art, the Jones Center has a uniquely rich collection of contemporary Texas artists you won't see elsewhere.

The bed

Hotel San José
1316 S. Congress Ave.
(512) 444-7322
The city's first boutique hotel -- and it's lesbian-owned, too! Make sure to book well in advance to secure a bed at this epicenter of Austin cool. If you can't get a room, at least pop by for a drink.

The Driskill Hotel
604 Brazos St.
(512) 474-5911
If you're looking for something more upscale and old-school, check into the Driskill, Austin's stateliest hotel, built in 1886 as a showplace for a cattle baron.

Tags: Exclusives