• Stephen Warneke

Dear Austin...



They say music is good for the soul—and I believe that to be true. So, thank you, Austin, Texas, for being the Live Music Capital of the World. The beauty of your live music tantalized my ears and made my soul smile. As if that weren’t enough, I will also dream of your amazing food. Especially all the delicious tacos! Yum! That’s not your only specialty though, is it? Steak, beef, hamburgers, and of course, barbecue! Nobody does these things like you can, Austin. So, those are my takeaways, now let’s get into the nitty-gritty of you and what you have to offer!



As I stroll up and down your famous “Dirty 6th Street” downtown, a cacophony of music dances into my ears as it pours out onto the streets from every propped open door from the endless line of bars. I feel safe because your brave police have shut down the road to vehicles for several blocks for pedestrian safety. I’m guessing this procedure is a regular weekend occurrence. Bar employees stand outside, enticing passersby to enter, reciting the drink specials, and letting the respective music from each bar speak for itself. Walking down the street felt like changing channels on a radio.


We finally settled on a rather packed and noisy establishment called Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar. On this particular Friday night, the musicians’ performance was not one of the better ones I’ve ever seen at similar type bars. I wondered if the proliferation of bars all trying to offer live music hadn’t reduced the overall high-standard for talent. Perhaps a dueling piano bar isn’t the best measure of the musical talent of a city though, as part of the shtick of this kind of place is to play a little piano and then abruptly stop, letting everyone scream out the next few lines of lyrics. I probably would need to spend a lot more time attending different bars and listening to bands to accurately give an answer to my question. Nevertheless, we still had a fun time, mostly because the packed house of jolly patrons were all singing along and dancing.


You strike me as an up and coming city, Austin. New building is taking place everywhere, with the majority of your infrastructure seemingly in its infancy. Most of your buildings feel like walking into a model home. Things are nice, new and clean. It doesn’t appear to be coming to an end either—there are high rises and unique architecture everywhere with more on the way. As far as your people go, they are mostly nice and friendly. As a measure, maybe not out-of-the-way friendly like Portland, but certainly not the “Fugetaboutit” East Coast vibe I’m used to at home.


Also, a pleasant aspect of what you have to offer Austin was your clean crisp air. Sure, I bet there are ozone days every now and then, but after having left the Island of Capri, Italy, and taking pictures of what turned out to be a nasty haze of smog obscuring nature’s best, I was particularly appreciative of your beautiful air. There were many moments I stopped and took in a deep breath as a means of relaxation when I was struck by the thought, “God, the air is great here!” I’m sure the air quality is an encouragement for people to be more active. And boy did I notice Austin, that must be true because your people are in really good shape—so many were out exercising.



I’m wondering if they shouldn’t rename you, Austin, from the Live Music Capital of the World to the K-9 Capital of the World? I can’t recall ever seeing so many dogs out and about in one place. For me, this is a good thing. I am a huge dog lover. I’m not kidding, they were literally almost everywhere. Even one owner brought his Frenchie to the bar drinking with him late on a Saturday. Excuse the blurriness—I got busted taking their photo. I’m sure this will come as no surprise to anyone that knows Texans, but I would also note that I’ve never seen so many well-behaved dogs in my life. And I tell you this as I sit on a plane on my way to Denver, with a dog two rows ahead of me barking at everyone who is trying to use the bathroom.


Which came first?! Austin or Portland?!

I also discovered something about you, Austin, that surprised me. While walking around your town I saw “Keep Austin Weird” schwag everywhere. I kept thinking to myself, “Hey, that’s Portland’s slogan! Lame! You can’t steal that! You should come up with your own.” Then I did a little research and found Portland stole that shit from you, Austin! My apologies. But who is more deserving of the slogan?


To check out your weirdness firsthand Austin, we walked down South Congress Avenue. There, we met a lecherous Santa Claus, a strange jewelry/pastry shop and a plethora of local stores selling…well, I’m not sure what. Now, if we are judging solely based on the weird stuff for sale in these shops, Austin wins the weirdest award. I’m not sure what all this crap is or what one would even do with it. It seemed like miles and miles of junk that I wouldn’t in a million years purchase, and yet the stores were busy—maybe with people wondering what the hell was even for sale. To make matters worse, they had weird rules like you couldn’t carry around your coffee cup in most of these stores, which was super annoying. Apparently, these trinkets and treasures were worth so much as to disallow fully grown adults to shop while sipping coffee secured with a lid. I’ve been plenty of places where the trinkets and shopping were unique and interesting, but I’m sorry Austin, most of what I saw in your strange stores would qualify as straight up junk in my house.




Ok, I may have found one thing I was tempted to purchase. Strengthening the case for buying this hat was the irony of the perfectly juxtaposed fit to my Carhartt jacket. I’m sure I won’t be called to be the Carhartt spokesman anytime soon, but that’s ok. I’m still holding out hope Rolex will call. Daddy needs a Sky Dweller one day.




RAPID FIRE


ATTRACTIONS

So once visitors have made their souls smile with live music, what else do you offer Austin? If you check TripAdvisor, the number one thing to do is to attend a show at the Zach Theater. I’m not sure I ever recall seeing the theater as the number one attraction in any city. Unless I’m missing something, I didn’t find any unique, one-of-a-kind attractions that will draw visitors from around the world to see you. Let me make this point a little more clearly.


Here are the first few attractions listed in the top 10 of things to do, after the Zach Theater, in order of appearance on TripAdvisor: The Moody Theater (yet another theater), The LBJ Presidential Library (lame), Lady Bird Lake Hike-and-Bike Trail (nature), Austin City Limits Live (another theater, this one outdoors), Texas State Cemetery (uhm...no), and the Texas State Capitol (nerdy fun). Sidebar—your state capitol is a cool building, but I think it comes in second to Denver, whose capitol building is just as beautiful, except their dome is covered in gold leaf—end sidebar.


STATE CAPITOL BUILDING

Nevertheless, I did like my tour of the capitol which we did in the evening. Believe it or not, it’s open until 8pm. Upon entering, I was immediately filled with patriotism, peace and awe of the beauty of this immaculate and very cool building. Looking up at the dome was definitely worth stopping in to see.


URBAN TRAILS & HIKING

While one will certainly find more breathtaking views high atop the Rocky Mountains, or in Montana, Alaska, or frankly, lots of other places, Austin, you do offer plenty of nature and trails. We found and navigated some of your hiking trails including the Barton Creek area. I would add much of which needs some upkeep. We found a lot of the trail system outside the inner city trails, devoid of any really nice paths. It was difficult to get around. We found out later high flood waters had covered the path we intended on taking, making it impossible to get to the falls. We didn’t know it at the time and ended up climbing around rocks on the side of a river bed until we dead ended and had to turn back. We tried to take another “trail” instead, ending up in someone’s backyard on a dead end street of some subdivision flanking the nature area. What I’m saying is things could definitely have been marked more clearly and better kept up.


TRANSPORTATION

Austin, you won’t be getting a good grade in this category. While I saw a handful of buses during my visit, there weren’t as many as in cities like San Diego, Denver, or Portland which have much better public transportation. No light rail, streetcars or other public modes of transportation exist that I saw. I felt you whispering to me the entire time, “It’s Texas, Steve. Buy a pickup truck and drive yourself!” There were those handy little rental scooters that people just leave lying around everywhere, but it was too cold for me to hop on and hop off one of those.


Getting around with Uber and Lyft was pretty easy. The drivers were friendly, the cars were all new, clean and well maintained. This is more than I can say about these ride-share experiences where I’m from in South Florida, where you’re likely to be reminded of a taxi ride in the 1990s in New York City. Many of the cars in my town are old, beat up, and smelly. Even the ones using air fresheners have gone so far overboard I get a headache by the time I arrive. The drivers either talk on the phone, smoke, play whatever music they want too loudly (complete with swear words), ignore you completely, or overshare about things far too personal. But I digress.


TACOS

Austin, your tacos deserve their own mention. Please hold while I roll up my sleeves to type this section. Barbecue tacos, steak tacos, taco trucks, taco stops, breakfast tacos! The selection is endless. And since breakfast is the first meal of the day, let me start there. I’ve had breakfast tacos before and never given them a second thought—until now that is.


TACO JOINT

Nothing spectacular in particular about the individual ingredients here. What was spectacular was when they were all put together. I seriously had the thought that I could eat here every morning. Cheap and yummy. I’m not sure why this place isn’t as prolific as Starbucks. I still wake up wishing I could walk to this place.


LOS COMALES

After being a cop for 15 years, I know a secret about life: Find the small restaurants off the beaten path, usually family owned, typically not in the nicest areas of town because the rent is cheaper, who specialize in a type of food, and you won’t be sorry. You probably won’t find Los Comales on many tourist sites, but I want to marry into the family so they can teach me how to cook Mexican food. There were four of us dining there: All four of us had an alcoholic drink, three margaritas and one wine (ya, ya I drank wine with my Mexican food. I’m on a wine thing now. Quiet!). We had a chorizo and cheese appetizer, and we each had an entree. We split the bill and it was like $22 each. I had the carne asada. It was so yummy. Take a look. Notice, it's a good cut of beef, the guacamole is bright green and the rice and beans are fresh, instead of mushy and old. And yes, I ate that entire jalapeño.


STUBBS


I ate here because I’ve seen their sauce on grocery shelves all over the nation. It wasn’t a place where I had to stop eating and start texting people they need to drop everything and come eat there, but it was pretty good. I have a feeling most of your average barbecue, Austin, is better than most other cities. Surprisingly here, the winner, and by far, was the ribs. I usually find that to be the opposite—they are either too fatty, too dry, or too tough. Most places screw the ribs up which sucks because they are my favorite. Take a look at all that delicious food.


As you admire the all this tasty barbecue, I'm confident you will appreciate Michael and I packing our best, matching plaid shirts. I mean, we were in Texas!

RAMEN TATSU YA


Most likely you’ll be waiting in a long outside corridor to eat here. If it’s cold, they offer some overhead heat lamps, which will keep you alive, but probably not that warm. If you need extra help, you can buy hot saki for a couple bucks and bring it back into the line with you and your friends. This helps a little more. Once inside, you’ll order at a counter and then be assigned a place to sit where your food will be brought to you. It was very good ramen. Personally, I would wait for it, as long as the temperature is in the 40’s or higher. Any lower, and I’ll take a rain check till it’s not so cold.



My Favorite Meal of The Week

LAMBERT'S & SUNDAY BRUNCH

We were told to come here and eat the Frito pie. Yes, it’s just what it sounds like. Having never been a huge fan of Fritos, I was skeptical, but I trusted my friend Scott’s advice. Let me show the reader what happens when you eat this dish.


I had a similar reaction. The quartet singing made the whole experience even better. They sounded a bit like the Dixie Chicks. The smell of smoked barbecue, the lovely music, my perfect bloody mary, and then, of course, the Frito pie all combined to make one of the more memorable Sunday brunch experiences I’ve had in a long time. I’d go back just to do this part again.




RAINEY STREET

Sure, of course we did it. It’s famous, right? It’s not really my scene though. I didn’t want to do it with a bunch of young 20 somethings, all drunk and bro-ing it up with shots and man talk, “Bro! That chick was so hot! I totally coulda hit that!”




Instead, we did it old man style: we went on a Sunday night when it was pretty deserted, looked at all the different bars, had a few drinks, played some darts and ubered back to our condo for an early night in.


Here are some other places I visited and liked while I was visiting you, Austin.


P TERRY'S BURGERS

Take this with a grain of salt because I had been drinking heavily, but that burger was amazing late at night. I have experienced before loving a late night, drunken meal only to revisit it during a sober lunch to find that it sucks. Not sure that’s the case here because I only had it the one time. If you’re wondering where the photo of the burger is, I finished it in the elevator going upstairs to the room. My b.


THE PUBLIC LIBRARY

We stopped in here because we needed a break from the cold, but it was the nicest public library I’ve ever seen. Unlike places like Denver whose libraries double as a homeless shelter, Austin’s was clean and people were actually using it as a library and not a campground. The rooftop has a patio with a cool garden and some really nice views as well.


BANGABILITY

Well Austin. You have some beautiful people—the men and the women. So many of your people are good looking. Ever been to a really big city where the people who lived there for any amount of time just didn’t look healthy? You know, their skin is in poor health, they are excessively hunched over, dirty, with bad dental hygiene. A place where lots of people have raspy voices, it seems like everyone is a smoker, and the pollution seemed bad enough to wonder if that wasn’t the culprit for everyone’s health. That kind of place. Ya well, Austin, you are the opposite. Maybe it’s the clean air. Maybe it’s the corn-fed, organic beef that makes everyone shine, but needless to say, it isn’t hard to find someone you feel that tingle for in Austin, Texas. Bangability there is a high 5!! In other words, I bet in fairly crowded areas, while on the move, you’ll see 5 people a minute on average you would love to get a close up look at southern hospitality.



Well, thank you, Austin, for a wonderful trip. My friends and I leave you all wishing we knew how to make better barbecue. I personally leave a little envious of your clean air, consoling myself with the plan that if I ever become an exercise enthusiast with a hot wife and 5 well-behaved dogs, I’ll be packing the U-Haul and headed toward you. But most importantly, we leave you Austin, with a spring in our step and a song in our hearts.