November 15, 2007
At a weekend bachelor party in Austin, TX, IgoUgo Community Editor, beer enthusiast, and carnivore Charlie Davidson shows he has the guts to get through a weekend of eating, drinking, and floating.
When the groom-to-be is a New York resident from Washington state and his friends hail from all across the US, where is the best place to go for a bachelor party? Texas, of course. Avoiding the Vegas rut, we settled on Austin as more or less midway between Puget Sound and the Hudson River. I had never been to Austin—or Texas—and was eager to see both.
Despite some delays out of Newark, I managed to get on a direct flight. With time to kill in the airport, I found a seat at the bar in the Budweiser Brew House—Terminal C1, Gate 73—and settled in with a perfectly poured pint and my New York Times crosswords. Airport bars can be a bit depressing, but this particular one was lively and friendly. A number of hours later, I was on my way to Texas. Needless to say, after a considerable wait in that pub, I slept for most of the flight.
Arriving at Austin-Bergstrom, I grabbed my bags and headed downstairs. The airport is not huge and, at this late hour, it was mostly empty. It was still bright inside, however, and the info desk was open. As I waited for the groom-to-be to arrive, I noticed that most of the shops and eateries within the terminal were closed. No matter: we grabbed a taxi outside and headed to our lodging for the weekend. Thirteen people looking to save cash did not want to spend on hotel rooms, so we found a fairly unique B&B, the Miyard Bed and Breakfast. Miyard was basically a guesthouse on the back portion of the owner’s property. It was clean and comfortable—and replete with reggae and Rastafarian paraphernalia. I’m a reggae fan, but I was not expecting a single Burning Spear poster, let alone many, in a Texas guesthouse. However, as the saying goes, “Keep Austin Weird.” Miyard does just that, in a cheerful, affordable, convenient-to-the-city way.
After dropping off our bags, we headed out to Austin’s famous 6th Street. The Longhorns were out of town, so the atmosphere was not as wild as I’m sure it has the propensity to be. Our first and only stop—it was late—was Shakespeare’s. My first impression was not a good one. The room was lit with black light, and there were just a few people dancing to too-loud music. However, just a short walk further into the bar yielded great satisfaction. The front of the bar that opens onto 6th Street is a classic wood-paneled bar scene, with classic rock on the jukebox and people enjoying their beer and company. Attached to this was yet another bar, next to the outdoor seating area and live performance stage. This particular night featured a great cover band, warm weather, and cold $3 Lone Stars. It was hard to beat that for my first night in Texas. After the last-call bell had rung and everyone poured out onto 6th Street, there were plenty of late-night food options and cabs nearby to get us home.
The following morning, we all woke up (slowly) and tried to ready ourselves for the day ahead. We piled into the van and headed about 45 minutes to Andy’s Toobs. I’d never been “tubing” by this definition: sitting in an inner tube, floating down a river. Now, I’m more of an active, adventure-sports enthusiast, but I have to say that there is something pretty nice about tubing. It really involves few things. One merely sits in the tube, floats in the warm river under the sun, and drinks beer from a cooler on its very own tube. Of course, there are one or two points where the river picks up a little bit of steam and could potentially dump you and your precious cargo out of your tubes, leaving you to scramble desperately for errant cans full of beer which—and this was news to me—float. Andy’s is a pretty laid-back institution. There is a main office, a shed full of tubes, a small eatery, and bathrooms. Once you’ve parked and paid, it’s a short walk to the entry point of the river. After a few hours, you simply get out of the river and call Andy’s; they come to pick up your group. On a warm day when no one really wanted to move much, it was the perfect activity.
Shortly after baking in the sun and basting ourselves with cheap beer, we committed ourselves to finding some great barbecue. After getting lost through several small towns with names such as Driftwood and Dripping Springs, we came across our desired destination: Salt Lick BBQ. A real down-home kind of place, Salt Lick is an expansive one-story building packed to the gills with family-style tables and benches. No booze is served—a policy we could have swallowed more easily were it not for the BYOB clause. The staff helped us maximize our brisket for the buck and kept it coming until we were too full to even nod our heads to ask for more. This place seems like a local institution, crowded with families, football teams, and friends. The parking lot looks like it could double as a rodeo corral: a local sheriff helped direct the constant flow of traffic.
After a catnap to sleep off the glut of UV rays and hot links, I managed to squeeze in a quick run around the neighborhood. Unfortunately, being outside of the city proper, I saw little in the way of sights, but the gleam of downtown could be seen from where we were, and I was ready to get back to the action. Soon after, we were cleaned up, looking mostly respectable, and ready to hit the town. Some members of our rabble had a hard time accepting that we were about to eat again, but once we got to Lambert’s, all doubt vanished. The restaurant is in a warehouse-like building with an industrial façade and towering ceilings. While our table was being readied, we were whisked upstairs to the chic lounge and bar, laid out with tables and comfortable leather-covered booths. The crowd ate and drank and listened to an impressive seven-piece jazz band at the front of the room. We were soon seated and welcomed by an array of friendly staffers who catered to our drink orders. If the Salt Lick was good country dining, Lambert’s is upscale BBQ all the way. The brown-sugar-and-coffee-rubbed brisket was less dry and more flavorful than the brisket at the Salt Lick, and the sides—including bacon-braised collard greens—defied my conception of what barbecue could be. With a slick setting, friendly staff, great drinks, and perfect food, Lambert’s is reason enough to visit Austin.
After dinner, to further toast the groom-to-be, we headed off in search of a watering hole that could stake a claim to being an Austin institution. We were not disappointed when we arrived at The Ginger Man. Technically a chain of four Texas bars, plus a Greenwich, CT, location and one in our very own NYC, the Ginger Man prides itself on its extensive beer lists and its beer advocacy. The Austin location is no exception, offering about 80 different brews on tap and many more in bottles.
Inside, the Ginger Man is spacious, with plenty of room at the bar, though it can get crowded as the night wears on. There are tables where one can sit and order snacks, as well as dart boards, pool tables, and a comprehensive jukebox. The biggest boon of this particular location, however, takes advantage of the beautiful Austin climate. A large beer garden out back provides a breath of fresh air and a chance to enjoy the warm weather that was not awaiting us back in New York, Chicago, Seattle, and beyond.
Clearly, 36 hours is not enough time to spend in weird, wonderful Austin, but it is better than no time at all, as this city offers plenty to do—and eat—for anyone. Even my abbreviated stay was enough to leave me wanting to return, and soon.