I used the last of the credit cards points I racked up over the summer to buy a flight to Austin, Texas, for the Christmas break. My parents recently relocated to a retirement community north of the city, so I was eager to see both them and their new house. Mom and Dad used my visit as an excuse to get down to Austin for the first time since they arrived.
Surprisingly, Austin has a rather decent public transportation system, including a commuter train that runs pretty far north of the city. We got on at the last stop, Leander. The train only leaves from this stop certain times of day and days of the week, so while it limited our choice of which day to go, it provided a great way to get to Austin and back.
Once the train had dropped us off downtown, we headed to Ironworks, a BBQ joint my aunt had recommended. I'm not big on Texas barbeque (I prefer mine Carolina style), and this was okay - decent, but not life-changing. I had a pulled pork sandwich and was reminded once again, to always go with the brisket in Texas (I sampled Mom's). The decor was pretty fun though, as was the chance to sample sodas that you just can't find outside Texas/the south.
Stuffed to the gills, we walked around the nearby Convention Center and on up to Austin's 6th Street. My first impression was that this was Texas's version of Bourbon Street - the jazz replaced with country and rock, but the liquor flowing just the same.
The main drag that comprises 6th Street is said to run for nine or so blocks, but most of the bars are squished together in four or five. The eastern edge seems a bit dodgier, with more tattoo parlors and shady-looking characters wandering around. We got hit up for money about five times in two hours - while there were the typical sob stories about "lost my wallet and need change to get home," some of the panhandlers straight-out asked for money for booze or weed - points for honesty.
Up at the other end is the Driskill Hotel. Beyond the Driskill, 6th Street starts looking more upscale, with more sit-down restaurants and hotels and less to do. We popped in to the historic hotel for a drink in its bar. The bar was crowded and a band was playing live music. We arrived at the end of happy hour, and while this meant our waitress was a little disinterested (not bringing a drink menu over till we'd already ordered), drinks were reasonably priced and the people-watching was priceless. Cowboy hat count: 3, bolo tie count: 1, gorgeous shaggy dog count: 1, cute kid count: ~5.
We explored the hotel a little further after finishing our drinks. The Driskill's early history is pretty trippy, with the original owner going broke and selling it within a year. A hotel brochure we picked up in the lobby outlined the hotel's bumpy journey, including its LBJ connection and reports of the numerous ghosts that supposedly haunt its halls.
Having seen the 'Batini' listed on the (belated) Driskill menu as an Austin specialty, we went in search of one. We figured the Bat Bar (named for the creatures that roost under a nearby city bridge and emerge every summer evening in the thousands) would be a good place to try one. "Do you serve Batinis?" my mom asked the bouncer. "Sure," he said. Inside, it was a different story - beer and shots only. My mom reported this back to the bouncer on our way out. He shook his head. "Sounds like I need to kick some lazy ass."
Being in the market for a mixed drink rather than beer or shots, we ended up in what was perhaps the safest, blandest bar/restaurant on the strip - the Iron Cactus. I enjoyed my Texas Peach - tequila and peach-flavored rum that went beautifully with a rim of lime chili salt. After round two, we moseyed on back to the train, which sat at the station, waiting for us not-quite-last-call folks.
I look forward to returning in warmer weather, to see more of Austin, and hope to drag my brother along. It's definitely his kind of place.