07 May 2008

Top Ten Things I Love About Austin

This happens anytime I visit Austin these days; I am filled with love for my old place of residence and dream wistfully of all the places I wish I could go every day. (Don't worry, then I dream about getting on Mopac or having to drive downtown past 12 at night or running into certain ex-boyfriends who want to glom all over me with their gross emotional issues, and I remember why I left.) So because I'm still on an Austin high, here are my Top Ten Things I Love About Austin (to be immediately supplanted with other things as I think them up later):

10) Driving through 360/Bee Caves and looking at houses.

When I was at school, Mandy and I used to climb in my car on weekday afternoons and drive around the hills of Austin. We'd make up stories about the people who lived in the giant houses towering above the lake and plan our own lottery-winnings-funded dream houses. I don't have any made-up stories of people in houses to share with you today, but instead you can have this true story:

I was a sophomore in college and I needed a new job, having been burned out (and burned, period) at my previous 40-hour job at the hair salon. (You guys, hair is SRS BZNZ, okay?) So I decided to nanny.

I know. It's cool; I'll wait till you stop laughing at the idea of me taking care of kids for a living. I laughed too.

Anyway, so this family included a previously-divorced woman, her new husband (who I never saw in five months of working there), his 18 year old son who lived in California, and their two girls, aged 5 and 7. I was never really clear, actually, on whether the girls were the absent husband's or the first husband's, and I thought it rude to ask. To paint a picture of the mom, who was the only non-child family member I ever saw, I will just tell you that she wore designer track suits and had her makeup tattooed on her face. Tattooed. And she wasn't like Mia's grandma in The Princess Diaries, you know, 70+ years old. She was like 40.

The first time I came to the house to meet the girls, the mom had the youngest one take me on a grand tour of the home. I was charmed by little Kayla's impestuous nature, but started to realize exactly what I was getting into when she led me into the third-floor playroom. Looking out the window, she said, "This window has to stay closed all the time because of Alli." (Alli was the 7 year old.) "Oh," I say. "Did she try to climb out of it?" "No," little Kayla replied, matter-of-factly. "She got jealous because the last babysitter was braiding my hair and not hers, so she threw the cat out the window."

Yeah. Threw the cat. Out of a third story window. Because she was jealous.

Why I didn't just cut and run then is still a mystery to me, although it may have been due to the size of my bank account. But no, like the moron I usually am, I stayed. Stayed through the fights and the tantrums and the spoiled princess behavior, stayed through 6 solid weeks of going to Chuck E Cheese EVERY DAY because their mom asked me to take them, stayed through the Friday afternoon drive to the kids' psychotherapy appointments (I am not even kidding), Alli pitching a fit because she didn't want to "color some fucking house" and Kayla humming to herself like a space cadet.

Oh, it was a time. The final straw came when Kayla pitched a fit because I wouldn't let her ride her bicycle in the house, due to, you know, the priceless works of art and also the fact that it's Austin in October and it's gorgeous out. She walked over to the grand piano and started kicking it and hitting it, picking up sculptures and vases and slamming them against the keys. That was the point when their mom came home, and I explained what was going on. She said she'd handle it, and she certainly did, in her weird hippie-mom way: "Kayla, I appreciate that you're expressing your anger artistically."

That was is. That was the reprimand. "I appreciate that you're expressing your anger artistically." That was the point when I knew I just couldn't do it anymore.

I often think about little Alli and Kayla, who'd be teenagers now, and wonder if their mother has completely destroyed any hope of normalcy for them. But when I pass those big houses in the hills, I always figure that is exactly what's going on behind closed doors.

9)Dolce Vita gelato shop in Hyde Park

This is one of those Austin places that make me sad now, because it's gotten really snobby and expensive and lame, I hear. And, to be fair, it was always a little snobby and expensive, but it used to not be lame. Katherine, Mandy and I would go here late on Tuesday nights and eat gelato and drink cappucino and smoke expensive hand-rolled cigars that we bought from Mojo's (that'd top my list if it were still the real thing) and generally be pretty douchey and snobby ourselves. But I am a firm believer that everyone deserves a little luxury, even poor college kids who just want to talk about whether Leo and Greenlee are ever going to FINALLY get together.

Also, since it's an italian dessert shop, I never felt guilty about taking my Italian books there to study. I was ABSORBING CULTURE. In the form of pomegranate gelato.

8) B Side/The Showdown*

I had to list these together because they represent my two favorite bars in Austin, for two very different reasons. I lived next door to the Showdown for five freaking years, and I am not even kidding when I say that I used to drink there in my pjs. Why not? It was just next door! Jeannie and Grae's boyfriend Mel and I used to skip class and go play pool all day, drinking pitcher after pitcher of Shiner until we were so stumbling drunk that we could barely find our way home. Which was NEXT DOOR. Of course, The Showdown is now sort of Dead To Me, after they kicked us out one time after catching Mere drinking without an ID. It was my celebratory "I can drink again!" night, too, which is just uncool, Showdown.

My other favorite bar in Austin is B Side, both for its laid-back-yet-sort-of-swanky-atmosphere and the fact that it never, never checked IDs. The first time I ever went there was when I was invited to a photograper's gallery opening after-party. There I was, nineteen years old, surrounded by skinny models (he was a fashion photographer, and he dated my coworker) and tons of rich Austin people. I had no idea what I was even doing there and sort of wanted to fade into the walls, but instead I got pulled up to the bar, bought several rounds of drinks, and ended up making about 10 new friends. And then, later on in my college career, my bestie Lucas and I would always end up at B Side, because we were both unbearably posh but also sort of poor (B Side's perfect clientele!). I miss your Manhattans, B Side!

*Yes, yes, Mugshots is totally number three.

7) The Enchanted Forest

What's that you say? I can't include it on my list because I just discovered it? I don't think so! The Enchanted Forest totally deserves a place of honor. It's enchanted.

6) Whole Foods flagship store

That's sort of a cliche, but it's true, so what can I do? I'd moved away during the construction of the flagship store, and I came back to visit Austin and randomly ran into Matt at Taco Shack (more on that later). We decided to hang out for a while, and he asked if I'd been to the new Whole Foods. When he learned I hadn't, he just laid a gentle hand on my arm and said very solemly, "Erin, the cheese section. You're going to need someone to catch you when you collapse." He was so right, too. UGH, MARRY ME, CHEESEMONGERS.

5) Mozart's

This is Mozart's:

It is my number one studying/thinking/espresso-shake-consuming place in Austin. I miss being able to go there whenever I wanted and enjoy delicious baked goods in the cool breeze off Lake Austin.

4) Waterloo Records

Where else can you stock an entire esoteric record collection in a half-hour's time?

3) Mexican Martinis at Trudy's.

Look, I know Trudy's is overrun with people most of us want to avoid (i.e. all of Austin), but that does not change the fact that Mexican Martinis are possibly God's greatest gift to mankind, right after free will. They are delicious and toxic and cause everyone to love each other in all the right ways.

If you've never been to Trudy's, let me explain the rules. You are allowed two Mexican Martinis. That's it, no more. They come with the glass and the shaker, so two actually equals about 8 or 9 regular martinis. Of course, like with everything, there's a way to get around this rule. If you sit at the bar before you go eat (or eat and then sit at the bar), you can order a Mexican Martini there as well, bringing you to a grand total of three Mexican Martinis in one evening. I have prepared this simple chart of the effects of Mexican Martinis for your perusal:

Half of one Mexican Martini - stop obsessing over your Italian final which you're pretty sure you just bombed.

One Mexican Martini - start thinking you did pretty damn good on the Italian final that you maybe didn't even bomb.

One and a half Mexican Martinis - start speaking in Italian about your Italian final that you are now sure you aced. Probably you will earn some sort of award for being a genius at lo coniugazione di verbi imperfetti.

Two Mexican Martinis - Summon the nerve to ask out cute guy in your Italian class.

Two and a half Mexican Martinis - Ask out the cute girl in your Italian class, too. The more the merrier!

Three Mexican Martinis - think it's a really swell idea to dive into the shallow end of a pool, forgetting that A) you don't really know how to dive, B) you are wearing all of your clothes and C) when you slam your chin against concrete, it tends to really hurt.

Three Mexican Martinis plus one Dos Equis in the hot tub: Stop feeling chin pain altogether.

For the record, the above did happen to me, although on two different nights. The night of the Italian final, I ended up sitting on the floor of Trudy's, giggling and talking about Francesco, the hot Italian grad student. While Francesco's girlfriend was sitting right next to me (also on the floor). The pool incident also involved a trip to the steam room. SUCH A BAD IDEA.

2) BookPeople

BookPeople is my absolute, favorite store in Austin. When I first moved there, I just wanted something that would remind me of my absolute, favorite store in Houston (BookStop, natch), and I found and fell in love with BookPeople. I love that store so much. Just . . . so many books! A children's area that even I want to read in! The science section alone, people!

But the best part about BookPeople is that the people who work there love books and want everyone to love books like they do. When I was a junior at UT, I decided to read The Divine Comedy. In Italian. In the original Italian that Dante used, not a modern abridged copy. So I went to Barnes and Noble and asked the customer service person how I could go about purchasing this book.

Me: "Hi, I'm looking for a book. Dante's The Divine Comedy, but in Italian."
Her: ". . . ."
Me: "See, I've written down the title for you in Italian - just right here - I was wondering if there was some way you could order it? Because you don't have it in stock."
Her: "Who is . . . Dante? Is this a new release?"
Me: "Um, no, it's . . . The Divine Comedy? Dante? Can you just search for it?"
Her: "Oh, here we go. The Divine Comedy. It'll be 120 dollars and it'll take three months to get here because it's out of print."
Me: "Okay, never mind."

But I just couldn't get the idea out of my head, so I went to BookPeople and asked their customer service people.

Me: "Okay, this is stupid, but I'm looking for The Divine Comedy. But in Italian."
Him: "Hmm, okay. Do you have a translation of the title that I can search for?"
Me: "Sure. Here you go."
Him: "Hmm, I'm not showing it in stock . . ."
Me: "Yeah, I figured."
Him: "So we'll just order it for you. Should come in in about a week, okay? What's your number, I'll call you when it gets here."
Me: "Really? The Divine Comedy? By Dante? In Italian? You can order it and it'll be here next week?"
Him: "well, sure."
Me: "awesome!"

- one week later -

Me: "Hi, my name is Erin, I got a call about a book - "
Girl: "oh! The Divine Comedy, right?"
Me: "Yes! In Italian?"
Her: "Yep! Here it is, right here. We put your name on it so no one would take it. Do you want to purchase it?"
Me: "Oh, well, I sort of figured I had to at this point."
Her: "No, not unless you look at it and approve of it."
Me: (looks at book.) "Yeah, I'll buy it. Um, how much?"
Her: "Twenty-three dollars, please."
Me: "Oh! Great! Okay, here! So I was just wondering how you got it so fast?"
Her: "Oh, we just researched until we found an independant book store in Milan and ordered it from them. They were happy to ship it quickly."

So, that's my BookPeople story. I came in with a silly request, and not only did they know what I was talking about, but they found me a book from some tiny little bookstore in Milan and paid the shipping costs. ♥

1) Breakfast Tacos

Oh, sure. Other places have Breakfast Tacos. Bob's Taco Stand in my hometown of Richmond has amazing breakfast tacos. But no city has quite the proliferation of The Most Holy Of All Foods like Austin does. Everywhere you turn, there are breakfast tacos, and they're all delicious. Mmm, chorizo. Marry me.

So I don't really have a question to ask today, like "What are your favorite Austin things?" because not everyone who reads this has even been to Austin before. But I'd like to know what your favorite things are about any town you miss, so please tell me!


Moody said...

I'm originally from NC and your list inspired me to list a few things I miss about Wilmington, NC.

1. Flaming Amy's Burrito Barn- There is not a better burrito found anywhere. Even in TX. And their homemade salsas can't be beat. Pineapple Jalapeno and Ginger Peach salsas are among my favorites. When I visit home twice a year I have to go to this place every time. I must say that it has an Austin vibe to it.

2. The Brown Coat Pub. Sure I haven't actually seen it yet but my friends just opened a bar/theatre that shows plays. The theatre is meant to show plays that John Q. Public would find entertaining. And the bar has a Firefly theme to it so yes I am sure it will be one of my favorite places to visit back home.

3. Beach Access. True I never really go to the beach but it is nice to have the option.

4. It's funny to see that there is a Whiskey bar in downtown Wilmington and right across the street is a bar called Side Bar(not as cool as the ATX one).

I can't think of any more at the moment but these are enough to make me a bit homesick when I think of them.

As for the Austin bars you mentioned I have never heard of them nor been to them. (Mugshots excluded.)

Erin said...

no one goes to the Showdown unless they live on the drag, trust me.

I would be all over a Brown Coat pub. Hell yes. A bar with a Firefly theme?? Yes, please.

poshdeluxe said...

first of all, erin, i really hope you write a book someday. that nanny story alone is better than anything in those "nanny diaries" type books. which i haven't read, but i *have* seen the trailer for the movie, and that's all i need to know.

second, i love all of the places you listed! yay!

third, since you listed some places in the town where i live, i thought i would list some places in the town where you live.

(in no particular order)

1) empire cafe: there's a reason why i was customer of the week for two months running. i LIVED at this place... esp. on monday nights, when all cake is half price. love love LOVE.

2) dietrich's on westheimer: i guess i split my study time between empire and dietrich's. then, when i lived on marshall street, i was mere blocks away from this cozy, charming little place. and now it's closed (cue sarah wailing).

3) jenni's noodle house: TASTY BUSINESS

4) allen parkway: i LOVE driving on allen parkway. one of the many perks of staying with matt and meredith is that i use allen parkway nonstop (except when it's closed, which is often and ANNOYING).

5) mary jane's: is it called fat cat's now? is it even open? i saw a ton of shows at this dive, including one when the plumbing in the bathroom broke and the entire floor was soaked with water and WHO KNOWS WHAT GAH. i remember i actually left a deathcab show cos the sound was atrocious. still, i miss those nights of raucous rocking; you couldn't escape without reeking of cigarettes, beer and well, general nastiness.

6) the grit: there's something so gritty and dirty and real about houston... it's hard for me to describe, but i miss the atmosphere of the city. it's easy to feel lost there, but lost in a good way, where you don't know what's coming, but it's bound to be interesting. i had so many, SO MANY moments when i made a startling discovery, in the form of a person or a place... it doesn't happen to me quite as much in austin. i miss you, houston. you were home and yet you were always a stranger.

poshdeluxe said...

oops i forgot to click the box for follow-up, which is why i'm leaving this comment.

Meredith said...

Henri told me Showdown is closing. Also he told me that Hole in the Wall, my original number one favorite of all time bars in Austin (it was a little bit further than Showdown but SO MUCH better, b/c they never cared that I had an expired ID, which is actually why I got kicked out of Showdown that one time, plus I was friends w/ all the bartenders and never paid for anything) is a lame, douchey, terrible thing now that I must never go back to see b/c Henri (another HITW fan) says it will break my heart now.

Meredith said...

I forgot to answer your question! I'm going to do Lufkin, b/c even though I don't miss the city as a whole, there are certain areas I really miss:

1. Downtown. My small group of delinquent friends used to go downtown and intoxicate ourselves in various ways and just walk around, going to the tiny coffee shop that's closed now, looking at all the weird murals, and just generally being loitering kids. Also, Pete and I once playd in the huge fountain RIGHT outside the police station at 3 in the morning (SOBER), and we didn't get caught!

2. Mom's Diner. That is exactly what it sounds like. They have, no exaggeration, the best chicken strips in the history of the world. Also, their chicken fried steak is outrageous. But once I left a $5 tip on the table, and the waitress chased me into the parking lot: "Wait, you forgot some money on the table!" The poor lady did not RECOGNIZE a tip.

3. The Kettle. This is where my small group of delinquent friends came of age. We did NOT eat at The Kettle (in fact, if a newbie was hanging out with us and tried to order food, we would all vehemently dissuade him/her of that notion, b/c ick), but we'd drink cup after cup after cup of black coffee and smoke packs of cigarettes. We had the numbers of our favorite songs memorized on the jukebox.

4. The Crown Colony Country Club. My dad was a member there, and I'd take my friends there so we could eat everything on the menu and order tons of Long Island Iced Teas (that seems like a country club cocktail, yeah? But only after we turned 21 and returned from college for the weekend, obvs) or margaritas by the pool, and just enjoy the guilty perks of White Privilege.

5. Ray's West. This is a burger joint to end all burger joints. Their burgers are PERFECT. Their french fries are amazing. Their onion rings (my preference) are TO DIE FOR. They have that perfect ice, you know, like Sonic ice? They have flavored syrups for your sodas. But only Ray's West. Once, the Ray brothers had a falling out, and one of them opened a Ray's East, which was actually within walking distance of my house, but it was far inferior so I always made the drive to Ray's West.

6. The trees. It's the piney woods! Trees EVERYWHERE. Also, everything is named Piney this or Something Woods that, which is annoying. But also you can see a billion stars at night and it rains ALL the time there, big huge thunderstorms, and I miss that. I used to walk around in the lit cul-de-sac of my neighborhood in the rain, splashing and dancing and thinking.

Wow, I just realized I'm actually totally nostalgic for that crappy little redneck burg. Aww!

Erin said...

sarah, it was called fat cat's and is now closed. I'm 99% sure, anyway. Sadness. :(

it's hard for me to describe, but i miss the atmosphere of the city. it's easy to feel lost there, but lost in a good way, where you don't know what's coming, but it's bound to be interesting. i had so many, SO MANY moments when i made a startling discovery, in the form of a person or a place...

Me too!! That's one of my very favorite things about Houston - the sense that you can have an adventure anywhere. Austin has lots of adventures too, but it's just so small - I felt like I saw all the same people every day. I needed space. Houston has lots of space.

Erin said...

Mere - Lufkin has a downtown?

Dang, now *I'm* nostalgic for Lufkin, and I've only ever driven through! But I concur on the trees. I love driving through East Texas. As long as I don't have to stop anywhere.

SHOWDOWN IS CLOSING??? What will be in its place??? Who will come drink out of mugs hung on the wall? whose cars will we be towing now?

Meredith said...

Yes, a teeny tiny little downtown. It's actually hella cute. All the streets are red brick and the library and newspaper are there.

OMG, how could I forget my favorite (now burned down and moved) establishment in Lufkin: Jimmy's Too? (Yes, Too, not Two, and if there ever was a Jimmy's One--or Won for some reason--it's not in my memory). That is the crappiest little bar in all of history, one of only TWO bars in Lufkin b/c Angelina is a dry county and we had to sign membership cards to drink there. They actually measure out ONE shot very carefully in every drink you order, so I just get beer. The jukebox is miserable and it's always sooo smoky. But I went there every single Christmas night home from college and saw dozens of old friends and sorta-friends that I only saw that one night a year, and we'd get really lit and nostalgic and then I'd give them a fake number b/c I really don't want to see them any other time.