Austin, Texas: a boogie wonderland

by Madra Rua

For an exciting, fun-packed short stay or a stopover think Texas - the Lone Star state, JR Ewing and the Alamo. Now think Austin - the undisputed live music capital of the World. You'll love it!

Austin has just beeen voted, number one best city for the next decade, by the influential magazine, Kiplinger. This thriving, dynamic city is unlike most others in the United States. Sure, it has its skyscrapers, titanic stores and malls; and is home to Dell Computers and a fistful more corporations, but that is where the similarities end. Once you explore Austin’s underbelly and participate in its captivating nightlife, then you will experience just why the motto, ‘Keep Austin Weird’ is perfectly apt.

If you think that you have experienced the ultimate live music pub gig, think again. Until you have strolled along Sixth Street, shimmied around the Warehouse District, sunk some cold Bud, thrown back throat-biting tequila, enjoyed pulsating, inspiring live music, devoured some wholesome Texan culinary specials and jived to rockabilly, you will soon realise that you have only ever been to a side show.

Sixth Street and the Warehouse District

Formally Pecan Street, East Sixth is an oasis of history set amidst a desert of the modern and mundane. It doesn't only have bars, but also inviting restaurants, cafés, funky art galleries, theatres, pool halls and historic buildings dating back to the 18th century.

This long, captivating, neon-festooned drag is home to some of the best music bars in the USA. They conjure up flavours of all musical genres - from rock to hip-hop and soul, jazz to country, heavy metal to the blues. Flower-adorned hippies rub shoulders with pink-haired punks, tall Marlboro smoking, Stetson-adorned cowboys yeehaa with scruffy old rockers. Surgeons move like cool operators, while bulky builders swoon like swans and hairdressers cut a smooth dance. Meanwhile, the serious converse with the curious and the barfly homes in on the naïve.

The buzz is as pronounced as a bee's annual convention. People meander back and forth, the sea of faces a kaleidoscope of images, so many at times that the drag has to be, blocked at both ends allowing pedestrian access only. It is a melting pot of humanity served up with grand helpings of musical diversity and coolness.

Eating, drinking and music

Most bars serve food of humongous proportions and of equally mouth-watering tastes, which dance about your mouth in a frenzy of excitement. In Austin it's BBQ, and ethnic, and it's awesome; from beef, to chicken to ribs, these charcoaled roasted pieces of meat taste delicious and the prices are pretty tasty too. Toe popping chilli or Cajun dishes with some cold beer and blueberry pie, will cost around $10/20.00. In local restaurants, three generous courses will cost from $30.00.

Call into the highly acclaimed Jackalopes (404 East Sixth: Tel: 512 469-5801) and eat the night away with food from one of its three themed kitchens and enjoy the sounds and dazzling, loud, gaudy décor of velvet and gold flake making it one of Austin's best dive bars. Fistfuls of good, finger licking food, like the Cajun Cheese Steak with smoked pepper mayo, from $5/9.00.

Jazz-A Louisiana Kitchen (214 East Sixth; Tel: 512 479-0474) serves up the very best in the sounds and food from New Orleans. Here the Deep South meets the Wild West, where jazz and the blues harmonise to create a misty, black-magic experience.

Or if it's beer and a sing-along pop into Pete's Dueling Piano Bar (421 East Sixth; Tel: 512-472-7390) and be entertained by a variety of brilliant piano players trying to outplay and out sing each other's talents in an atmosphere as cool as the music. The decor is definite Texan and the bar tenders are typically first class.

Fantastically preserved buildings are home to the likes of Buffalo Billiards (201 East Sixth; Tel: 512.479.7665), probably Austin’s best-known pool haunt, authenticity of the highest order and a pumping ambience. This is complemented by fantastic service and music.

Friends (208 East Sixth; Tel: 512-320-8193) is one hell of a lively bar. Its motto, "never a cover charge" ensures one great crowd and it boasts live bands daily playing rock and blues. The bar staff are excellent and the atmosphere electric - you can always depend on friends!

Coyote Ugly (501 East Sixth; Tel: 512-236-ulgy) is another great spot to hang out. The air is energised, the bar tenders friendly and the beer is cool as the Coyote Ugly girls that dance on the counters prompting the clientele to join in. A motley crew of customers that are as entertaining as the music are not in short supply and add to the enjoyment in this spit and sawdust dive bar.

For country, it has to be Broken Spoke (3201 South Lamar Blvd; Tel: 512 442-6189). This could be the last of the true Texan country music hangouts boosting performers such as Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. Full of thigh slapping cowboys and cowgals having a honky tonk of a time, it is a short drive from Sixth and well worth a visit if you like your country music, wild, live, up close and personal.

If there is an ounce of energy left in your body then move to the groove at Copa Bar & Grill (217 Congress Ave; Tel: 512-479-5002), where the sounds of Latin America arouse the salsa and tango in most of us. It is cool, seductive and serves fantastic food. $6/14 for spicy Mexican delights.

Events and attractions

The historic district around Sixth is also the venue for the spectacular Austin Mardi Gra held in February each year, the Pelcan Street Festival and a host of other events including the bewitching Halloween Party that is attended by thousands of mummies, dragons, witches and icons of the cinema and the occult.

After a night on Sixth enjoy a relaxing and fulfilling day by visiting some of Austin’s attractions that include excellent museums, like the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum (1800 Congress Avenue; Tel: 512-936-4639). There are art galleries that include the Austin Museum of Art (823 Congress Avenue; Tel: 512-495-9224). In fact, Austin is a remarkably interesting city with an equally appealing culture and history that cannot be underestimated.

Where to stay

The downtown hotel of Radisson Hotel and Suites Austin is a very comfortable lodging for that short stay. It provides a great service from front desk arrival to departure. Facilities and rooms are typical of this company’s reputation worldwide. The location is ideal and within a short distance of East Sixth and if you are here on business, the Convention and Austin's business centres are close by. Facilities include a fantastic gym and swimming pool. Two persons sharing, $150/200 p/n.

The Hilton Austin is a big modern hotel that offers a grand experience. Its location on East Fourth means easy walking to just about anywhere downtown, allowing you to take in the vibe that is Austin without the hassle of transport. The hotel has staff who remain committed to always putting the customer first. The rooms are big, super comfortable and with every mod con you could ever need. Two persons sharing, $200/300 p/n.

The Driskill Hotel located off Sixth on Brazos Street is an iconic part of Austin's history and a truly impressive building. Walk into its magnificent lobby and you go back in time to 1886, the year of construction. Bonanza, the Ponte Rosa and cattle tycoons come to mind, with big public areas tastefully adorned with colonial furniture - you will be living the Texan dream. The hotel is as grand as it is comfortable with its huge leather couches and chairs, massive dining tables, ornate walls and columns and impeccable service. The rooms are modern, chic and very spacious. Be prepared to be wowed in this - the best hotel in town! Two persons sharing, $240/550 p/n.

Madra Rua

Liam spends his days transforming people’s bathrooms and kitchens into an oasis of beauty. Utilising his skills as a tiler, he believes that he gives his clients the dream and sanctuary they wish for. As for his travel dreams, well they began at the tender but adventurous age of fourteen. His friend Dessy and Liam both set out on a life changing youth hostelling holiday, from the counties of Donegal to Kerry and Mayo to Wexford. Since then he has zig-zagged his way across America on a greyhound bus; hitch-hiked from Belfast to southern Spain and back; visited most major European cities and a few American; staying in the very best and the very worst of hotels. He has skied in some of the Alps most heavenly resorts; enjoyed the hectic, chaotic, but brilliant holidays that are camping and scorched his fair Irish skin on the beaches of Spain, Greece, Italy and Los Angeles. But he shall always have a very, very, soft spot for Italy and all this wonderfully; delicious and exciting country has to offer.