Jordan Goes to Austin and Lives to Tell the Tale
Editor’s Note: Jordan made you this playlist of his favorite Texans. Enjoy.
I’ve always felt a connection to Texas. As a kid my mom used to play Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson records in the house and, as I got older, I developed an affinity for musicians from the state. Steve Earle, ZZ Top, Waylon Jennings, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Townes Van Zandt, Freddie King… the list is endless. There’s something about music made by Texans that makes you wonder if the beauty and soul in their songs truly matches the reality of their lives, or if it even matters.
Throw in a healthy appreciation for Western Noir clichés (wide open ranges, slow burning campfires, lonely and misunderstood cowboy types), great food/BBQ, and McConaughey-esque cool and, yeah, Texas, specifically Austin, has always seemed alright, alright, alright…
I had to pause, take a deep breath, and come to terms with the fact that this trip may end up being as rad as I’d hoped.
Funny thing is, after six-and-a-half years with Mathys+Potestio, almost the same amount of time we’ve had a thriving and productive branch in Austin, I’d never been. Aside from a quick stop once in Amarillo while driving east on I-40, I hadn’t really been to Texas at all. So, at the risk of over-romanticizing a work trip, my first journey to Austin was one that I welcomed with a lot of enthusiasm. I worked on my “y’alls” for a good month.
When I got off the airplane in Austin, I almost couldn’t believe it but the airport was playing Willie Nelson. Now, I’m sure this is as common as people taking those weird carpet/feet pictures in the Portland airport. Still… I had to pause, take a deep breath, and come to terms with the fact that this trip may end up being as rad as I’d hoped.
Ultimately, I decided I’d try and downplay the fact that Willie had greeted me (kind of) at the airport. It is, after all, just another city and I didn’t want to ruin my trip with unrealistic expectations. I decided to worry only about what I had immediate control over… so the priority became my belly. I’d already made it known to my colleagues in the office that I wanted a tour of Austin’s best dining experiences, and they didn’t disappoint.
Every morning my coffee was accompanied by a breakfast taco. You really don’t have a choice.
For the next three days I ate brisket sandwiches, BBQ’d lamb, chicken karaage (you know, fusion!), plenty of pickled things, and a spectacular bag of wood-grilled chicken, onions, and peppers from Fresa’s that weighed five pounds if it weighed an ounce. It won’t be the last time I dive into that butcher paper-wrapped piece of heaven, and Odd Duck, Loro, and Swedish Hill Bakery will also be hearing from me again soon.
But, c’mon, we’re talking about Austin. Let’s talk tacos. When you’re a tourist, you don’t always mind indulging in a city’s clichés and tacos-in-Austin is one cliché I was more than happy to take part in. Every morning my coffee was accompanied by a breakfast taco. You really don’t have a choice. The coffee shops have them all ready to go. Chorizo and eggs? Peppers, potatoes, and eggs? Yes, please. And, by the time the day has turned to night, taco trucks are there for you like that loyal friend who always seems to say the right thing and reminds you that the world is still a lovely place to be. Austin taco trucks at night were that friend to me. Thank you, Austin taco trucks. Yay, tacos.
Speaking of nightlife, Austin has too much of it. At least more than its share. Never before have I seen such an incredible concentration of fun. Sure, my location and the limited streets I strolled had a lot to do with it, but there are bars everywhere. With patios! Whether you prefer an amazing brewery (special shout outs to Zilker Brewing and Central Machine Works), a makes-no-sense-yet-makes-perfect-sense food/drink spot with a Caribbean theme (Kinda Tropical), a fancy cocktail bar (take your pick), or an old-school, leather-and-wood Texas bar in a 133-year-old hotel (The Driskill Bar), your brand of watering hole is always pretty damned close. It’ll most likely have a patio. And probably a band.
Yeah, I walked down Dirty 6th. I saw it. I don’t need to see it again. The several blocks of cavernous, divey-yet-douchey bars lined one-after-the-other on East 6th Street had the 20-year-old me thinking of all the incredible fun and debauchery to be had. However, they had the mid-40s me thinking he’d rather avoid an infectious skin disease. I did appreciate how the doormen at these places, otherwise working hard to attract the evening’s revelers, politely avoided eye contact when they saw me approaching. I was not their target demographic.
There was one establishment on the outskirts of Dirty 6th that did catch my eye and required a pop-in. The Casino El Camino is my kind of place. Dark. Greasy. Hot food and cold beer, and the kind of cartoonish devil-and-hell branding you’d see at a Reverend Horton Heat (another legendary Texas musician) show. Hail Satan.
So, what about all the music? After a few days of meetings, happy hours, food tours, and making it to my cool hotel sheets each night, I hadn’t actually seen much live music. So, I made it the priority my last night in town and, luckily, I didn’t have to stray too far from those hotel sheets to find the perfect Austin evening.
When yours truly was invited to get in on the action, the Lone Stars helped a great deal, as did that 9th grade assembly where I had to dance to “Rock Around The Clock” with Kelly Blodgett.
The White Horse is a honky tonk dive in East Austin that’s jam-packed with character, and that night it featured a tight-as-hell throwback band playing Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison (both Texans!) tunes to a full floor of two-step dancers. As much as I loved the band, and the many ice cold cans of Lone Star, the dancers were the star of the night. You’d be hard pressed to find so many people having that much fun in such a “hip” city. I’m looking at you, Portland. When yours truly was invited to get in on the action, the Lone Stars helped a great deal, as did that 9th grade assembly where I had to dance to “Rock Around The Clock” with Kelly Blodgett. I’d like to thank the kind Texas lady for taking the lead, explaining which step was coming next, and not getting mad when I stepped on her feet. When the song was over I walked out of that place smiling ear-to-ear, seeking out my final late-night taco, and knowing that Austin, like any great entertainer, had left me wanting more.
I’m aware that I still know very little about what it is to be an Austinite. Three days in East Austin doesn’t give you a ton of insight. But, I’ll continue to eagerly anticipate my trips there and sampling all the city has to offer. And, just like those songs I love, my cherry-picked and fairy tale version of what makes Austin great is never likely to match the reality of what it’s like to live there… and it doesn’t really matter.
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