You Stay Weird, Austin: The Good, The Bad, & The Super Weird

September 24, 2019

"Uh, but Shell? This mural is in Dallas." Yeah I know - hold your cattle. I'm getting to that.
Ok, buckle up because this one is going to be a long one. But there's lots of pictures, so stay with me here. Got your coffee (or beer, or wine)? Alright, good.

So Barry & I had a chance to take a vacation just the two of us while Lilly stayed with grandma & grandpa & got spoiled all week. Since my parents live in Memphis, we needed something within driving distance, so we settled on Austin, TX. We'd never been and I had heard really cool things about the city. Dallas was only about 6(ish) hours from Memphis, so we headed out to make a stopover there for a night first, before continuing on the extra 2 hours down to Austin.

But my mind was blown. Everything I thought I knew about Texas was wrong.

I guess I had just pictured everyone wearing those crazy pointy/curly-toed cowboy boots, ten gallon hats, and sporting giant rodeo belt buckles. Either that, or everyone in head-to-toe Dallas Cowboys gear. But are you that surprised? (This from the girl whose every vacation is to Disney World...) Texans probably think the same of TN. Minus the steer & sub in trailer parks, cutoff jorts and sleeveless plaid shirts. I mean, they wouldn't be that wrong..depending on what part of TN you found yourself in, but I digress.

Honestly, Dallas left me underwhelmed (really guys? Not a single ten gallon hat sighting), but it did have its fair share of cool spots. Namely, Deep Ellum. Plus this cool plant wall. It's not a real vacation until someone takes a wall pic. (Insert husband eye-roll here).

We hit up Pecan Lodge for dinner, since this was apparently the number 1 spot for BBQ (& I don't have any photos of it - so that tells you how good it was, since I wolfed it down before even snapping one). At the time, I was impressed, but it paled in comparison to the BBQ I would have later have in Austin (keep reading - you'll want to know about this place). That night was mostly just dinner & a few bars; not much to report here, except be sure to stop over at Black Swan for a cocktail. Hands down the best bar of the night. There was no menu (or at least we weren't given one), so we told the bartenders what we liked and he literally whipped up 2 drinks on the spot. This place had pecan infused bourbon that was so smooth and Put this place on your list.

The next day we headed back to Deep Ellum. It's this pretty artsy/indie part of Dallas with tons of cool bars, restaurants, shops & coffee joints (and walls. So many walls. So...Barry's own personal hell). We stopped over into Merit for some iced coffee & a poptart (breakfast of champions) to fuel up for the day.
After Deep Ellum, we went to Thanksgiving Square to see the beautiful stained glass chapel. The square is just a really cool, serene spot/park in the middle of the city (read the full rundown of it here), so we wandered around the area for a bit, and then hopped back in the car, bound for Austin.

Austin literally has so much to see and do. We spent 3.5 days there and managed to cram in a lot, but still probably only scratched the surface, so I'll try to break it down in sections on what we did/saw.

The Food

Austin has an amazing foodie scene. I think I probably gained at least 10 pounds over the course of a few days. Two things I knew I had to try while in town were BBQ and tacos. I'm from Memphis so I'm pretty picky about my BBQ, but Memphis is known for doing pork BBQ (wet style ribs, chopped BBQ pork sandwiches, etc.), whereas Texas is more focused on beef brisket, so that's what we got. TX is serious about their BBQ. We attempted to go to Franklin's BBQ first, but they were sold out by noon (NOON!!!), and our 2nd option La Barbeque was closed. So we ended up at Terry Black's but I'm oh so glad we did. This stuff was melt-in-your-mouth good.

Other stops we frequented were Phoebe's Diner (brisket for breakfast), Magnolia Cafe (breakfast tacos!), Torchy's (obligatory & delicious), and Grizzelda's (more tacos). I mean...when in Rome Texas!

Left: Tony's Black's BBQ | Center & Right: Three Alarm Breakfast Tacos at Magnolia Cafe

Really though, have you ever seen such beautiful things in your whole life? Brisket!? For breakfast!? I think I'm moving to Austin.

Phoebe's Diner:
Left: " Brisket Benny" - bbq brisket, buttermilk biscuits, over easy eggs, hollandaise & bbq sauce served with hashbrown casserole (Damn, son!)
Right: "Fried Chicken & Grits" - fried chicken thighs on goat cheese grits, with pickled chiles & maple hot sauce

When we weren't stuffing our faces with some combination of meat & tortillas or something that had been smoked for 8 hours, there was ice cream and cocktails (you know, the other 2 food groups). Kidding. (No I'm not. This was vacation).

Left: Torchy's famous tacos | Center: monster ice cream sandwich at Baked Bear | Right: I've-died-and-gone-to-heaven brisket from Tony Black's

The Drinks
When we weren't eating, we were doing fun activities and sightseeing, and when we weren't doing that, we were holed up in a bar or coffee shop. Austin has a ton of watering holes, but we couldn't possibly frequent them all (we made a valiant effort though). One of our favorite bars was the Roosevelt Room, a pretty bougie 20s inspired spot where reservations were strongly encouraged. We didn't have them so we had to wait about 40 minutes (at the bar down the street) but the wait was worth it. Roosevelt Room takes cocktails seriously and their menu was broken down by era. How cool is that!? I ordered a Florodora because my subconscious probably just saw a word resembling "Florida" and thought "Why the hell not?" (plus, gin).

Cute hot pink wall outside Grizzelda's - if only I had my GrizzMizz in hand!
Other notable libations included the GrizzMizz from Grizzelda's (their house margarita - in living hot pink color no less. #SOLD) and Flat Track Coffee. We totally stumbled upon that gem, and I'm so glad we stopped (the perks of being able to leisurely pop in & out of wherever, whenever we want, when traveling without little ones). But honestly, I shudder to think of the actual daily route we took while in Austin. We would go across town for a coffee, backtrack the opposite direction 15 minutes for BBQ, then double back to the part of town we were at earlier for a cocktail, and then throw caution to the wind and travel another 30 minutes in the opposite direction again for a some shopping (Exhibit A: accurate depiction of our daily driving route):

Still with me? Good! But grab a refill on the coffee. We're only halfway.

The Sights

Since I'm already on the subject of booze, I'll continue with the theme. Barry & I love checking out breweries when we travel, and Austin did not disappoint. We stopped in to Austin Eastciders because we had already tried their blood orange cider here in TN, but unfortunately for us, that's the only kind we could get here, and they make so many different kinds! Seriously, whoever is buying for the Publix on Hixson Pike needs to get it together and order some of their new flavors.

We got flights and I tried the rosé, pineapple, Texas honey, and grapefruit. Rosé was the clear winner for me (millenial girl, remember?) but pineapple came in close second.

I promise we did other stuff besides eating and drinking. We did have to burn off some of those calories after all. So we attempted some strenuous outdoorsy activities like a 5 minute hike to an overlook and some natural springs swimming.

First up was Mt. Bonnell, the highest point in Austin at 775 ft. It was a short drive up to the top and from there, just a high intensity hike up a hill to the overlook (there's a lot of sarcasm here that I hope is coming through). Really though - this was a quick drive in the car, followed by an easy "hike" (you walk up a flight of stairs) with gorgeous views. If you want to feel outdoorsy without actually being outdoorsy, this is for you. So naturally, this was about my speed.

Hiking had us sweating, so we headed out to Barton Springs Pool in Zilker park. Barton Springs is a natural springs pool that stays a chilly 40° year round. Ok, so its really 68° but you could have fooled me! I jumped in once the whole time we were here. And immediately jumped out. I'll just put my feet in, sit here & look cute in my Lilly Pulitzer, and take some blog photos thankyouverymuch. But Barton Springs is a very scenic & pretty historical spot, so it's worth checking out.
Other stops on our Austin trip included more than one shopping spree in the South Congress area. South Congress has tons of unique shopping, dining, and artsy spots (literally. More murals). If you're looking for souvenirs, this is the place to find them. There's also a Torchy's location on the strip, so when you work up an appetite from all the walking, Torchy's is there to save the day with tacos (Amy's Icecream is also nearby).

One of my favorite things we did was visiting East Austin Succulents in all their greenhouse glory. There were so many tiny, adorable succulents and cacti! I took one home with me, where it now lives proudly on my desk at work. I will be the first to tell you that I am not a plant lady. I mean, I can barely keep the bushes in my front yard alive, but by God I am bound and determined to keep my sweet little baby angel succulent alive. So far, I have not killed it (yet).

The Unique & Weird

Above: neon sign at Hotel Indigo
So this is what we came for. Austin's unofficial (or maybe it's the official?) slogan is "Keep Austin Weird" and they definitely embrace it wholeheartedly. We came across (& sought out) some of the more unique & weird things on our travels and loved it all.

Like I said before, Austin has a bar on every corner, in every hotel, and every...parking garage? Yup. We went to a a parking garage; aptly named, "Garage" and notated only by the sign over the driveway labeled "Cocktails." Pass under that bad boy and you're in the right place. Order the Jungle Bird, and you're in for a fantastic evening.

This next place was probably the highlight of my trip because it was so unexpected, random, and unique. It was a bar in a strip mall type area, called Lala's Little Nugget. And get this, the entire place is decked out in full Christmas swag, 24/7, 365. This place has everything: a countdown to Christmas, Christmas lights and ornaments everywhere, and a string of Elf-of-the-Shelf elves that come down from the ceiling when anyone goes in or out of the bathroom. Plus, there's a giant Santa chair and a holiday drink menu. The commitment to the theme was impressive.

We also stopped in to Museum of the Weird, a pretty cheesy but also kind of fascinating museum in the downtown Austin area. It was kind of like freakshow-meets-Ripley's Believe It or Not. We got a mini-tour and an unexpected sideshow act where the tourguide did gross-but-can't-look-away stuff like putting a nail through his nose or fishooks in his eyelids. Not for the squeamish, at all. But the macabre was cool. We were into it and fully embraced the weird.

The last thing I'll mention (before you breathe a sigh of relief that this post is almost over), is the huge vintage scene that Austin has. I had no idea just how many vintage and antique shops Austin had, and if I had known beforehand, you can bet I would have dragged Barry to all 50 or so shops (literally. There's a ton). We tried to hit up some of the more well known ones, like Room Service Vintage, Blue Velvet Vintage, and Breakaway Records. I found so many treasures I wanted to take home with me, but settled on a couple of vinyls and some trinkets for friends (mostly because I was kind of overwhelmed and couldn't bring myself to buy a dress at one shop, lest I get FOMO of what another shop had).

10/10 would recommend if you're even remotely interested in vintage. Just stop in any of the shops and ask for the vintage guide. It will list out all of the shops in town, along with a map, and descriptions of each.

Oh yeah, and on our way back home, we had to cross through Waco. So Magnolia happened.

Can you even believe we did all of that in 3.5 days? When we travel, we really travel. It was a YOLO kind of few days, but by the end, we were exhausted and ready to get back to our sweet baby girl and spend the rest of the week with family. Austin was such a blast though, and I am definitely putting it in our travel rotation!

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