A November 2007 trip
to Austin by sararevell
Quote: Austin is living proof that great things come in small packages. The downtown is a celebration of 19th century architecture and vibrant music clubs, catering to young and old alike. Austin is also home to some wonderful restaurants, and it wasn’t long before we became bona fide barbecue addicts.
Austin is extremely pedestrian friendly, with many shops, bars and restaurants centered in and around the 6th Street district. We discovered on a Friday night that this area really comes alive as bars open their doors and invite every passer by to stop in and check out their live music offerings. We stopped by at Nuno’s on Sixth and were blown away by the blues band performing that night. There seemed to be live music to cater to most tastes and I’d encourage newcomers to try out one or two of the clubs or bars, not just for the music, but also to witness the carnival atmosphere that greets you on the streets late at night. When we eventually left Nuno’s, the streets in the centre of Austin had been closed off to traffic and had been reclaimed by swarms of partygoers, swaying from one bar to another. Despite the chaos, everyone seemed to be in great spirits and it felt more like a Mardi Gras celebration than your regular Friday night out.
We spent both our nights in Austin eating at barbecue joints. On our first night we scored seats at the busy and centrally located Stubb’s Bar-B-Q. Downstairs you can find a bar and live music so it’s worth checking out their website to see which bands are playing. We didn’t stay for the music but were extremely glad that we stopped in to try their Chicken and their Pork Rib Bar-B-Q plates, which were covered in the sublime Stubb’s barbecue sauce. The next night we followed it up with a trip to Iron Works Barbecue. Whilst it wasn’t as busy and the food wasn’t quite up to the standard of Stubb’s, it’s a great hangout for large groups or anyone in search of a hearty, home-cooked, great value meal.
Austin is a great place to pick up a cowboy hat. I stopped in at the Hatbox haberdashery, directly opposite the Driskill Hotel and picked up a beautiful shoulder bag, complete with leather tassels. Photos behind the counter show Mick Jagger trying on some of their hats at a Rolling Stones concert. I can’t sing to save my life but with my new bag I felt like a pop star for the day!
Hotel | "The Driskill "
We arrived after an early morning flight from Washington DC, looking and feeling a little worse for wear. In spite of our appearance, the staff was all smiles and swiftly checked us in. Meanwhile our luggage had disappeared but was delivered to us in our room within minutes. I began to understand that at The Driskill, you really do get what you pay for. The service is incredible, and the presentation of almost everything here is top class. Our quiet ninth floor room was cosy and well outfitted. Monikered bathrobes hung in a closet next to an iron and ironing board. In the opposing cupboard I found the television and mini bar. The plush double bed was decked in bright white linens and in the chequered tiled bathroom I found luxury Molton Brown toiletries.
Built in 1886 by cattle baron Jesse Lincoln Driskill, the hotel remains a landmark architectural showpiece of downtown Austin. The bar area, decked with mounted cattle heads and draped with cowhides is a direct reminder of the original owner’s roots. The Driskill was also the one time home of the Texas state legislature, as they waited for the Capitol to be completed in 1888.
After the speedy delivery of our luggage, I wanted to take advantage of our room, which we would sadly spend less than 24 hours inhabiting. I passed on the mini bar but jumped at the chance to wash off the airplane dust and try out the complimentary shower accessories.
To prolong the luxury experience, we stopped in downstairs at the Bakery and Café for a decadent lunch of chicken potpie and pecan pie and to admire the dazzling cake display.
After a walk around town and dinner at Stubb’s, we returned to our room, which by now had been subjected to their turndown service. It’s not something that I’ve experienced before and I’m not convinced of its value but it’s yet another indication of the attention to detail when it comes to providing perfect service at the Driskill. The curtains had been drawn, towels rearranged and a card left on our bed with details of the weather forecast for the following day.
The Driskill is a hotel from another era but the real beauty is that the staff is so open and friendly that I felt right at home in spite of the grand surroundings. It was also well set up for business travelers with a snug office area just off the lobby where I was able to print out boarding passes for onward flights the following day.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 30, 2007
604 BRAZOS ST
Austin, Texas 78701
Hotel | "Omni Austin Hotel Downtown – Outside In"
We reluctantly left The Driskill (the first night was for business, the second night was on our own dime) and walked up the hill to the Omni, which was bustling with guests checking in and out. Despite all the activity the desk staff were very quick to check us in and equally as friendly as at The Driskill. We were randomly upgraded to a suite on the 13th floor, which gave us access to an area where complimentary drinks were served between 5-7pm and breakfast laid out from 8-10pm. We managed to take advantage of the drinks hour and perhaps as a part-consequence, missed out on the breakfast the following morning.
At the time of our visit, the elevators were being renovated and to be honest, this was a bit of an inconvenience, possibly compounded by the fact that we had so many floors between our room and the lobby. On one occasion I think we waited about ten minutes before one of the two in-service elevators arrived.
If you’re in Austin on business then the Omni will make you feel like a business traveler. Whilst comfortable, the room was decorated classic chain-hotel style and the view out over the offices opposite is hardly relaxing or romantic. In spite of the bizarre view, our room was big and bright, with floor to ceiling windows. The one drawback was that the windows didn’t open up, which makes the atmosphere a bit stifling after a while. We were impressed by the smart array of complimentary magazines in the bathroom though.
After a couple of complimentary drinks and snacks, we took a short walk into town and enjoyed an evening of barbecued ribs and blues. The Omni is in a great location for accessing the main bars and is also en route to the State Capitol building at the end of Congress Avenue. As I mentioned we sadly missed out on the breakfast but in a moment of wisdom the day before, we requested a late check out at 1pm. This gave us an extra hour to seek out a coffee shop before returning to pack our bags and catch a cab to the airport, which is only 11 miles away.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 30, 2007
Omni Austin Hotel Downtown
700 SAN JACINTO
Austin, Texas 78701
Restaurant | "Roux Restaurant"
Touted as a modern, New Orleans style restaurant, Roux also has a certain grittiness to it, which it owes to its beautiful exposed brick walls, flat screen televisions for sports viewers and eclectic art displays. It’s an environment that wants to appeal to everyone, and fortunately the menu does the same thing.
On a very warm winter’s morning, we were catching an early lunch. Any pretense of trying to eat light went straight out the window once we saw the menu. Gumbo, bisque, cornbread, bison, oysters, jambalaya. You name a New Orleans dish and they have it. I can’t testify to its authenticity as I’ve never been to Louisiana but I was wishing that I had time to stay and taste more of their dishes, almost all of which sounded as exotic as a Mardi Gras festival.
In a weak attempt to eat in moderation (almost impossible in Austin, and I’m guessing Texas in general), I ordered the Chicken Po’boy Sandwich, which came with a side of Cajun potato salad. The sandwich was constructed out of a soft, large baguette bread with an ingenious spread of tapenade. I’ve only really ever experienced tapenade as a dip but to have it in the Po’boy sandwich, next to the tender blackened chicken breast was definitely an inspired creation on their part.
I couldn’t finish my sandwich but that didn’t stop me from trying a bite of their Key Lime Pie (ordered by someone else in our group – honest.) I’m not a connoisseur on Florida cuisine either but this was an interesting take on the pie. It was fairly small in size, not much bigger than a Christmas mince pie, but it was very deep and very dense. It had a robust pastry crust and the inside was the same consistency as a rich cheesecake. This was offset but the subtle but tangy lime sauce.
The service at Roux was excellent. The staff was sweet and attentive and went back to the kitchen more than once to find out the ingredients of their barbecue sauce for us. It was nice and quiet at the time we were there and I was surprised to read that it only opened in 2007. Roux already strikes its own identity in a town where I imagine you have to prove yourself pretty quickly to keep up with the competition.
Roux Austin Cajun Con-fusion
214 East Sixth Street
Restaurant | "Stubb’s Bar-B-Q"
"Stubbs" was born Christopher B. Stubblefield in Navasota and opened his first restaurant in Lubbock in 1968. He made his first barbecue in a hickory pit and filled a nearby jukebox with vintage blues music. The Lubbock location is now closed but the legendary food and music lives on in Austin.
We arrived on a lively Thursday night and were initially told that we would have a half hour wait. We wandered to the downstairs bar but before we could even place a drinks order, our remote button began flashing and we ran back upstairs. Not knowing or caring if a mistake had been made, we kept quiet, and lucky for us we were seated right away.
The dress code at Stubb’s is informal. It’s all about having a good time with friends or family and enjoying a plate of great food Texas-style. We all ordered from their Bar-B-Q Plate menu, which includes beef brisket, chicken, turkey breast, and pork ribs. The plate comes with sliced white bread, pickles, onions and a choice of two sides. Usually the side options are limited but at Stubb’s it’s hard to limit yourself. Coleslaw, mashed potatoes, yams, fried okra, pinto beans as well as salads are just a few of the options. I went for the chicken with the fried okra and mashed yams.
The service at Stubb’s is very quick. Some guests stop in on their way to a concert at their popular music venue just downstairs from the restaurant and whilst I would have been happy to linger, Stubb’s is one of those places that thrives on the fast pace and turnover of customers.
Within five minutes our Bar-B-Q plates were upon us and we were faced with a mountain of food (although the turkey breast was the one plate strangely lacking in quantity.) Stubb’s also attempts to cater to vegetarians by offering two plates, one offers a choice of three side dishes and the other slightly more expensive option offers a choice of four sides.
Stubb’s, however, is a meat-lovers paradise and it was all I could do to stop myself from drowning my chicken, and my belly, in their sweet homemade sauce. Washing it down with a cold beer I began to wonder if there are clinics in Texas to help treat barbecue sauce and food addiction. Stubb’s even has it’s own off shoot website for bar-b-q lovers: www.ilovestubbs.com
After we’d cleaned our plates and our faces, we started heading out the door but couldn’t leave without indulging in one more moment of Stubb’s-mania. I bought one of their red vest tops as a memento of one of the best cheap meals I’ve ever had.
801 Red River St
Austin, Texas 78701
+1 512 480 8341
Restaurant | "Iron Works BBQ"
Approaching the diminutive restaurant on a Friday night, I wondered if there would be room for us inside but I need not have worried. Iron Works is a little bit off the beaten path and certainly wasn’t as busy at Stubb’s. In addition, they have a self-service style counter where you collect your food and pay before you take your seat. There’s no wait staff so if you want to order more you have to stand in line again. This meant that people don’t linger for too long and there were always tables open for the steady stream of customers.
Whilst this sounds a little off-putting I actually enjoyed the experience. It was like being at a country fair or on a school trip and as you stand in line deciding what to order you can also enjoy the displays of Weigl’s work as well as checking out the selection of sauces and seasonings available for purchase.
We ordered the chicken and the pork rib barbecue plates, which came with potato salad, beans, pickle, and bread. Some of the plates were about $2-3 cheaper than at Stubb’s but for the portion size and the choice of sides, I’d say that Stubb’s is actually better value for money. The meat and the sauce at Iron Works also seemed slightly inferior to its neighbour but if you’re looking for a more modest and laidback environment then Iron Works may suit you better.
The long tables and large booths made Iron Works a popular place with large groups, young and old. It’s open from 11am – 9pm (closed Sunday) and is located in a pretty, shaded corner close to the Colorado River so I’d imagine on a warm day that it’s also a nice relaxing place to stop in for lunch. Maybe I’d become too quickly accustomed to the generous Texas-sized portions but the plates at Iron Works seemed smaller than usual to me, which was another reason why I think it would work better as a lunch stop.
Iron Works Barbecue
100 Red River St
Austin, Texas 78701
+1 512 478 4855
I sunk as far as I could into a lime green chair, which oddly complimented the electric orange coffee mugs. I ordered an Earl Grey tea, which they serve up in a "Teavana" canister. Luckily I have one at home so I know how it works but if you don’t know I’d recommend asking before you spill hot water over yourself. We also ordered a couple of breakfast sandwiches although with transparent cases taking pride of place on their countertop I was almost tempted to a slice of cake instead.
Inside, Halcyon is bright and trendy, which perhaps works better for it’s other life as a bar. It certainly helps highlight the art displays and worked well against the faded brick walls and rich wooden floors.
The service was a little slow, but on this particular Sunday morning I was operating slower than usual as well and didn’t mind too much. It was nice to take our time and read through the Sunday papers whilst sipping some caffeine. They also have a great outdoor deck which wraps around the corner of 4th and Lavaca and butts up against a tumbledown wall which I think was part of an entrance to an Irish bar next door.
Halcyon was a great find for morning coffee and I imagine that at night, they up the ante a little and it becomes a place to see and be seen. Judging by their cocktail menu and tableside S’Mores, it certainly sounds like a transformation worth checking out.
218 W 4th St.
Austin, Texas 78701
Attraction | "Live Blues Music at Nuno’s "
The floor area divided into quarters. One area was taken up by the stage, another contained a pool table and the remaining space was dedicated to the bar and some scattered places for seating. We ordered a drink at the bar and found a couple of bar stools at the back of the venue. It’s fairly small so our view was decent but as people came and went we managed to work our way towards the front of the stage where the best seating was to be had.
There’s nothing fancy about Nuno’s and it looks like the sort of place that brings together great musicians as well as staff and customers who are the salt of the earth. Whilst we were there one couple announced their engagement and one bartender congratulated them, telling them that she had met her husband of 20 years at Nuno’s.
With the majority of the bar staff keeping busy behind the bar, one girl worked the floor, ensuring that we pretty much never had to leave our seats for a drink for the rest of the night. After the old timer and his band left the stage we were presented with the main act for the night. I wish I could tell you the name of the band, as they were excellent, but sadly I don’t remember. I do remember that the singer and lead guitar looked like a stocky version of The Fonz and if I saw him on the street, he would be the last person I’d pick out as gifted blues singer and guitarist.
We stayed and watched for a few hours and whilst I faded and retreated to the hotel, the band and many other people were still going strong in the clubs and on the streets. On the Nuno’s website, they promise that once you experience the live blues music scene in Austin you will ask yourself: "Why haven't I been to a blues club lately?" I know that if I actually lived in Austin I wouldn’t need to ask myself that question too often.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 30, 2007
Nuno's on Sixth
422 6th Street
London, United Kingdom