ACL isn't the only reason to go to Austin. But if you're in town for the festival, you might not want to sleep. There's too much to hear, eat, drink, and see.
AUSTIN, Texas – In Austin, there's always a party happening somewhere. Probably right around the corner. The scene can be pretty down-home, even in the middle of the city, and crowds tend to be mixed. Which means that even though I'm a filmmaker with lots of creative friends, sometimes I like a steak with the suits or a shot with cowboys.
WHERE TO LISTEN
213 W. 5th St.; +1-512-320-8424
The first music club on 6th Street, Antone's is one of the largest and most established venues in town: Everyone has played here. Check the schedule before your trip because you never know who will be there. Anton's packs you in, so if you have a thing about crowds, try one of the other smaller venues like those listed next.
The Saxon Pub
1320 S. Lamar; +1-512-448-2552
A great place to see live music. It's on the small side, which means no one is more than 25 feet from the stage. Austin musician Bob Schneider and his band Lonelyland have a standing Monday night gig. Call ahead and ask for one of the booths along the back wall.
The Continental Club
1315 S. Congress Ave.; +1-512-441-2444
"Who's at the Continental?" is a phrase you hear a lot in Austin. Open since the 1950s, the Continental is legendary. Located in a strip of stores along South Congress Boulevard, it's been a supper club and a burlesque club but for the last four decades has been the premier place to see live music. If you're lucky, Patricia Vonne, Haybale, or Joe Ely will be putting on a show.
WHAT TO SEE
The bats! Every year from March to October, 100,000 bats make their home under the Congress Avenue Bridge. Every night at sunset, those bats fly out in search of food, returning before sunrise. If you've never seen 100,000 bats in the sky — and really, who has? — you must check it out. Just stand along the walkway on the bridge. You can't miss it: There will be hundreds of people there. It's awesome.
WHERE TO DRINK
1621 W. 5th St.; +1-512-472-6326
It used to be a chainsaw shop and there are still signs on the wall advertising blades. But don't let that scare you. These days, it's a bar...no, make that a shrine to the late, great Johnny Cash. They only serve beer. (Seriously, no joke: No liquor, and the bartenders will set you straight right quick if you act like a jerk about it.) But you're here for the great jukebox, the memorabilia on the walls, and the live music outdoors. And the bartenders are super cute.
1901 S. Lamar Blvd.; +1-512-445-9500
The newest bar to open on South Lamar. Try the $2 Lone Star Happy Hour special or come on Sundays and for the Build Your Bloody Mary.
Ginny's Little Longhorn Saloon
5434 Burnet Rd.; +1-512-803-4468
Just look for the steeple as you come along Burnet Road. Famous for Sunday's Chicken Shit Bingo, where live chickens pick the numbers with their poop (yup, you read that right), Ginny's is the perfect dive bar. Dale Sterling's Friday Happy Hour is the perfect way to end the week, and you might even win a prize during the weekly raffle. Don't forget to say hi to the original Ginny. She's always behind the bar.
A short walk from the downtown hotels is The Rainey Street District, a strip of bungalows that have been converted into bars, each with its own feel.
97 Rainey St.; +1-512-469-0400
This was the first, and it kept the original floor plan of the original bungalow. So it's like going to a party at your friend's house. The huge backyard has picnic tables, ping-pong, and hula hoops. You'll never want to leave.
609 Davis St.; +1-512-494-4120
More clubby, with dark interiors and leather chairs but also a great deck that's perfect for drinks with friends after work.
96 Rainey St.; +1-512-433-6604
A full-on sports bar with flat screens everywhere and a delicious food trailer out back. You can soak up all the Bloody Marys while you cheer for your team on Sundays. Feel free to bring your dogs. Go Longhorns!!!
83 Rainey St.; +1-512-473-0005
Slightly more upscale, with a bar menu that includes specialty drinks named after women. Best bets are Caroline (Champagne with St. Germain elderflower liqueur and lemon ginger syrup) and Katie (ginger and lime-infused Tito's Handmade Vodka and freshly squeezed lime juice topped with ginger beer).
WHERE TO EAT
Iron Works BBQ
100 Red River;+1-512-478-4855
You can't come to south Texas and not have barbecue. Perfectly located two blocks from the Convention Center, you will wait on a line for delicious brisket, ribs, or turkey, you will eat off paper plates, you will pick your beer out of a bucket, you will sit at wooden tables, and you will like it.
300 Colorado St.; +1-512-495-6504
The best happy hour bar menu in town. Nearly everything costs less than $10 dollars, including "The Best Burger in Town," Tavern sliced steak, gnocchi, BBQ beef stack, and chipotle beef wrap. A great place to meet after work, there's always live music and the bartenders are some of the nicest around.
Le Café Crepe
200 San Jacinto Blvd.; +1-512-480-0084
If you like authentic French crepes and truly good coffee, this is your place. Tables are tight, so you will get to know your neighbor real quick. Best to come at 11:30 to beat the noon rush.
G'Raj Mahal Cafe
91 Red River St.; +1-512-480-2255
You wouldn't think you'd find great indian food coming out of a food trailer, but if you go to the very end of Red River, turn left and venture into the lot with the huge white paper caterpillar outside, you will be surprised. It's a real restaurant with tables and chairs, just no walls. And the food is delicious and inexpensive. Definitely worth the trip. Try the madrasi and remember to BYOB.
Pirahna Killer Sushi
207 San Jacinto Blvd.; +1-512-473-8775
Unlike Uchi where they take sushi very seriously, Pirahna Killer Sushi is clearly having a good time, starting with the menu rolls like Love at First Sight (charbroiled fish over a California roll), Sexy Roll (my favorite: shrimp tempura, ginger cream, and cilantro topped with avocado, crawfish, and mango), and The Bullet (spicy salmon, cucumber, shiso leaf, avocado, escolar, and cilantro puree). Yum, yum, yum.
1300 S. Congress Ave.; +1-512-444-3800
See and be seen at this SoCo coffee house located on the other side of the parking lot from the hip San Jose Hotel. If you need a mid-day jolt try the Turbo, a powerhouse drink packed with enough sugar and caffeine to keep you going until dinner.
Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill
303 Red River St.; +1-512-236-9599
Arguably one of the best brunches in town, for $16.95 the all-you-can-eat (within reason) buffet includes migas (eggs scrambled with tortillas, cheddar, jalapenos, and ranchero), King Ranch casserole, green chile cheese grits, and cornflake friend chicken. You will feel your cholesterol start to climb before you even pay the check, so plan on at least walking to and from the restaurant.
El Sol y La Luna
600 E. 6th St.; +1-512-444-7770
A favorite among locals, there was public outcry a few years back when they lost their lease. But they reopened a few blocks away and peace was restored in the land. Located in the heart of downtown, they serve traditional Mexican dishes as well as my favorite category, desayunos: breakfast served all day.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel San José
1316 S. Congress Ave.; +1-512-444-7322
Perfectly situated in the middle of the busy SoCo area, it's a small oasis just a stone's throw away from great music, great shopping, and some of Austin's best restaurants. Ask for a room in the back; the front can get noisy at night.
1220 S. Congress Ave.; +1-512-441-1157
If you want to stay in SoCo but don't want to spend a fortune, this is a reasonable alternative. Family owned, clean, comfortable, and walking distance to everything. Just look for the HUGE neon sign shaped like a phallus. You can't miss it.
604 Brazos St.; +1-512-474-5911
One of the oldest hotels in Texas, The Driskill has lots of history. Rumor has it there's even a ghost who walks the halls. Located downtown right off 6th Street, it's ideal for people who want to be able to walk home after a night of bar hopping.
Homestead Studio Suites
507 S. First St.; +1-512-476-1818
The best kept secret in Austin, is located right off South First in the middle of everything. The rooms all have kitchens, making it perfect for families, and those in the front of the building have gorgeous views of downtown. Local film productions house their talent here, so you never know who you might see walking through the lobby.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
See Fathom's Austin Guide for vintage shopping, a 72-hour food tour, and so much more.
See the locations in this story. (Google Maps)