There's nothing little about saying your home was designed by Emily Little. Little and her partners, Stephen Levy and Paul Clayton, have protected historic landmarks like the Texas State Cemetery, the moonlight towers, and the J.P. Schneider store and have still found time for cutting-edge design like 707 Cardinal. They've been thinking green since before thinking green was on pulse, fitting buildings between the trees instead of leveling the land. Architecture is so hot right now, Austin. And Emily Little sizzles.
Emily Little, Clayton Levy & Little Architects, 1001 E. Eighth, 512/477-1727, www.emilylittle.com
A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet? Yes. Is that still true … in the bathroom? Yes. So says Vivo, where the sinks are filled with ice and the floral touches are as important as your hand-washing, sending wafts of sweet-smelling roses and orchids into your nose-powdering experience. Simple, unique elegance and somewhere to relieve yourself. Now that's a water closet.
This circa 1900 mansion boasts some strange bragging rights: the first azalea bushes in the city, the first home in Austin to have wall-to-wall carpet, and columns carved by a master stonemason bailed from Travis County booking by the home's original owner. Imagine surprising your lover with a weekend getaway, omelets in bed, and then … dessert. You might impress your guest with your smarts about the stone columns on your way out, if you ever leave the room.
Originally created by Austin's own Sherry Matthews Advocacy Marketing in 2001, this startling reminder to strap in makes its point as it tours Texas cities each year. For three months in each market, commuters are presented with a mangled, black 1996 Camaro, whose passenger and driver survived because, you guessed it, they buckled up. Fabulously expensive to move and insure, the billboard is nonetheless so popular that it took six years to return home before moving on to its next stop, San Antonio.
For the worms at this impeccably groomed resting place, it's only the best. The best Texans: governors, legislators, senators, congressmen, Confederates (lotsa of dead white guys and their wives) all lined up in reverie. Big Texas flags over here, smaller ones over there. And a landscaping crew that apparently never sleeps.
The aftermath of the dot-com bust may have slightly altered the vast, lush garden the city master-planned almost 10 years ago, but the recently dedicated Town Lake Park, replete with a giant concrete map of Texas and dancing water fountains, finally opened in August. And since the lake itself was recently renamed after Lady Bird Johnson, the city is taking nominations from the public for a new park name. So, ponder possible new ways to refer to this playful 21-acre spread, and give yourself a contemplative head scratch as you try to figure out that new roundabout on Riverside.
If size does matter, the Texas Capitol wins. It's taller than the U.S. Capitol by 7 feet (thanks to the statue of the Goddess of Liberty on the dome) and is a superior example of 19th century public architecture. History permeates the present. Kids can scream through nighttime sprinklers or get their first kisses on the steps for good luck. Tours have that field trip vibe to them, daring visitors to stare into the eyes of Texas political revolutionaries. So, being at the Capitol is kind of like that part in Cribs when the rapper waltzes into his bedroom chuckling, "This is where all the magic happens." Sort of.
Raise your hand if you've ever had a two-shades-of-red smile to show for your tasty cheese platter while relaxing in the courtyard where feng shui handbooks come to die. Raise it again if you've enjoyed creamy sheets and have been woken up by the light instead of the alarm just to get up early and grab a sweet Granny Smith crunch from the lobby. Yer just staying the night, but yer worlds away. You know the way.
Its outdoor plaza has been the setting for live music, swanky parties, and even a few barking Klansmen. But within City Hall's limestone walls and among the shimmer of her 66,000 square feet of copper, you'll find a great indoor space, including the People's Gallery, which showcases visual art. There you'll find virtually no Klansmen. Perhaps they don't care for artsy types.
If you wanted to convey the grandeur of the Driskill lobby, you could use words like "opulent," "posh," or "lavish." Or you could describe the imposing three-story columns, the sparkling marble floors, or the kind of stained-glass ceiling fixture that stuntmen were born to dive through. You'd never know that, in 1908, two Texas lawyers had a gunfight right here. So just call it what it is: fancy-schmancy.
So, maybe it's known by most outsiders as the place they pass on South Congress uttering, "Hey, doesn't that sign look just like a … ?" But there is so much more to this package. What Austin adores is the fact that this comfortable, modern, yet charming and family-owned (since 1938) place has more than just personality and location, location, location. They've got integrity. No eyes on a corporate prize. No schemes to franchise, even though success shows that they could. Just some regular folks running a regular motel. And that's simply extraordinary.
Her topping-out ceremony was held in May 2003, and since then, this 515-foot-9-inch-tall beauty has topped this poll while redefining Austin's new-century skyline. With the recent thrust of high-rise rectangles all over our hyperdeveloping Downtown, this might be the Frost's last year as Austin's tallest building, but with her distinct tiara of 45,000 square feet of glass, her majesty will continue to reign above the rest.
Unveiled in 2004, our city's fifth City Hall is four stories of sleek limestone and copper with more than 70% recycled materials used in its construction. A waterfall fountain greets an ascent of underground stairs rising above street-level to an outdoor amphitheatre. North of town, Simon/Endeavor's the Domain, Austin's self-proclaimed outdoor "lifestyle center," is way more than just swiping plastic. This premier high-density project unveiled its master plan this past year with rows of shops done up in minimalist charm. But wait, there's more. In 10 years, the developers hope to turn that blank patch of earth into magic: office, retail, condos, hotels, a community center, a 10-acre central park, a jogging trail, and an entertainment district. Now, that's got more future than McFly.
Serving up a chuckle with your Mexican martinis, the staff at El Arroyo, aka "the Ditch," has been gracing your commute down West Fifth with timely witticisms on their outdoor marquee for years now. From LOL to thought-provoking, even informative, the signs have helped TCU fans to the game: "This is Memorial Stadium" and "Free parking for Horned Frog fans." We could sit here and list 'em all, but why not swing by this happy-hour spot and read one for your own damn self?
It's like watching your baby grow up, SoCo is, with original Austin restaurants (Home Slice Pizza, Mars, Botticelli's, Woodland, etc.), boutiques (Pink, Wet, etc.), antique shops (Uncommon Objects, Off the Wall), toy stores (Kid Genius; Monkey See, Monkey Do), markets (Farm to Market, Cissi's Market), and spots just for chillaxing (whew!). Sometimes, sitting on a shaded patio, sipping chilled bevvies, pinkies raised, thinking how good life is, window-shopping the cool kids, it's easy to forget that all of this happened within the last decade.
Maybe Blackmail owner Gail Chovan loses sleep searching for her next inspiration, bending the question, "How much can you really do with the color black?" So much. Head-to-head with Gail's daring, artsy, award-winning designs are some poignant displays flittering in By George's windows. Sometimes the clothes speak for themselves, acting as a megaphone, catching the attention of all the onlookers who just got switched on, as Austin continues to blip the national high-fashion Richter. Blip.