The best bartender... hmmm, well, Mom at the Poodle Dog certainly lives up to her name. While she'll treat you right if you behave yourself, she'll also bash your head in with her special baseball bat if you don't. They have lots of pool tables and a great jukebox. But remember, be on your best behavior.
Graffiti reading is an intensely personal pleasure, but the Hole in the Wall's renderings are as colorful as they are diverse, and must be read to believed. Highly recommended.
You've probably heard about this incredibly cool new warehouse-turned-club, but have you heard about the bathroom? You push through aluminum double doors to enter an airy, minimalist co-ed environment. A partial wall separates the men's and women's sections as modesty demands, but the sexy, communal wild spirit rules. And what about that big red velvet couch? Talk about putting the rest back in restroom. Try to tear yourself away long enough to check out the bar, monolithic grey cement with chunks of colored glass embedded in the surface, and behind it, adorable bartenders mixing the best Bloody Marys since the Crucifixion. Not to mention the lights. Did you realize that technology had progressed to the point where lasers can respond directly to music, changing color, intensity and direction according to 50 million programmable options? Go be amazed. We'll meet in the bathroom.
Even though the incredibly low beer tariffs they even printed on a t-shirt have since been raised a bit, you can still go in there with a mere five bucks and come out with a buzz, and even get a in game of pool to boot. The sort of small, friendly neighborhood joint every part of town should have.
On certain nights, you can find him standing at one side of his club's stage, soaking up the music with beatific pride. No one in Austin seems to love the blues more deeply than Clifford Antone, who puts his money where his mouth is with the activities of his nightclub, record label and record store. A major force in making Austin one of the top cities in the world for the blues, he's made the name "Antone's" internationally recognized as a trademark for the best in blues and Texas R&B.
Because the much-maligned job of monitoring incoming and outgoing club patrons requires maddeningly equal proportions of mediation and muscle, it is often dismissed as an insignificant position. Not so with Liberty Lunch's debonair Roscoe Shoemaker, who can check hand stamps, scrutinize for the underaged, and wax effusive about Flat Duo Jets and the Gear Daddies, all in the same breath. He has our unqualified respect - what a guy!
A very admirable club policy, even though hanging out there sometimes makes Austin feel like far too small a town. Emo's is the perfect start off to the night, cheap Lone Star Bock before 11pm, and music you can either love or hate without kicking yourself for spending that five bucks you would have spent anywhere else. No commitment here - stay an hour, or till closing. Black bustiers, flannel shirts and tattoos are not required attire, honest, and they have a great outdoor patio, too - so, go down and listen to some alternative music for free, and spend all your money on beer!
Every Friday and Saturday night, Jay Clark - a blind crooner, keyboardist, saxophonist and clarinetist - gives the standards a whole new slant with interpretations that are personal, loving and incredibly sincere. His style is a perfect complement to this almost hallucinogenic bar where Clark has entertained for decades, and there's no better way to celebrate the durability and malleability of the classic American pop song than hearing Clark give them his own singular treatments.
Fresh off the boat from Hong Kong, the movies presented at the Riverside 8's Chinese movie night (every other Saturday at half past midnight - watch the listings) comprise the most entertaining cinema being made in the world today. Doubt it? Then you didn't see Once Upon a Time in China, Days of Being Wild, Twin Dragons, Once A Thief, God of Gamblers, The Raid, King of Chess or a slew of others. The chopsocky days of kung fu formula pix are long gone, but HK movies still race at such a crazy pace it's hard not to wonder how many people get killed making them.
This regular Tuesday evening theme night - excepting the weeks hostess Sarah Elizabeth Campbell is out of town on tour - has grown into something of a hang-out for the local singer-songwriter crowd, and you never know the surprises that may appear on stage. Some of this town's best-known names and talented veterans share their favorite sad songs alongside up-and-comers, a collective sort of therapy that ends up making all comers feel good. Campbell's own sets are always a nightly high point, with the Queen of the Zona, Marcia Ball, often joining her. Gives new meaning to the term "a good cry."
Arguably, the PA systems in many Austin clubs are not state-of-the-sonic-art, but that's not what music is about here anyway. Nonetheless, when it comes to loud music, the Back Room's system delivers it with a clarity and presence that only complements rock'n'roll.
Arguably, the PA systems in many Austin clubs are not state-of-the-sonic-art, but that's not what music is about here anyway. The Cactus system may not wail, but it conveys the nuances of singing and acoustic music cleanly.
Chances used to be the ultimate neighborhood hang-out bar for Austin lesbians, but over the past couple years it has become the ultimate neighborhood hang-out bar for everybody. The tone is set by the personnel: a beautiful black lesbian at the door, a terrific gay man behind the bar, and maybe some heterosexual band like Texas Instruments jamming on the patio. Play pool, play volleyball, lay in a hammock, groove to the music, and select your beverage of choice from an extensive array of alcoholic and non-alcoholic options. Our kind of bar.
900 Red River
The Spoke's dance floor is hardly the biggest in Austin, but between owner James White's devotion to Texas C&W dance music and the dancers it attracts, this is the place to two-step in style. Even for those with two left feet, there's a thrill to be had in watching the best couples whirl and glide across the floor in this authentic and friendly dance palace.
The Black Cat is the only bar on Sixth Street where you can get cheap longnecks, eat free hot dogs, and put out your cigarette on the floor without getting tossed out by a bunch of muscled up steroid zombies. On any given night, you can find a bizarre collection of bikers, skinheads, frat boys, PIBs, slackers and plain old "normal people," listening to some of Austin's best bands for less money than it costs to park your car. Sure, there's no air-conditioning, and you will more than likely want to lift the toilet seat with your foot, but the advantage is that you get to hang out in the type of place your parents warned you about. Hell, bring your parents with you. If you're nice, you might even get one of the bikers out front to take your mom for a ride on his Harley.
Black Cat Lounge
309 E. 6th
Austin's only stock car track, and the oldest oval track of its type in the Southwest. It makes for an amazingly fun evening, and registers a lot lower on the Officious Bubba Index than you'd expect. Another venue to experience the many moods of Louise, who could be found last season in the grandstands nearest to the pits, cheering on a stock car she sponsored this year.
6401 S. Hwy 183
If you're from the generation that grew up believing it simply was not possible to have much fun without smoking or drinking, well, honey, these kids today can open your eyes. This little juice bar (?), nightspot (?) - in our day you would have called it a coffeehouse - is more healthy fun than we've had since last month's trip to Schlitterbahn. High Time has a whole menu full of juices and "smart drinks," in which are mixed special (legal!) extracts and potions to make you feel sexy, relaxed, wired, or other moods of your choice. They also offer Pacific Northwest quality espresso options. There's good, healthy food, tables full of every kind of board game, puzzle, mind toy, and neural synapse stretcher known to man. We rediscovered the joy of backgammon one night at High Time, and have been at it ever since. Not to mention the interesting art on the walls, poetry readings, and cool music. Check it out, man.
Just a short drive east of I-35 on Riverside, El Coyote vies with La Esquina, the Hwy. 290 flea market, and El Conquistador Ballroom for a pretty close call all around, but remains the absolute best when security and service are factored in. The doormen see that everyone behaves, and the music ranges from rough-trade conjunto to polished touring norteño groups.
Maybe it's that "continental" ambience that comes through in the late afternoon, when the sun filters through the smokey windows and lights those kitschy scenes painted on the walls, or maybe it's just the comfy feeling of familiarity, but Steve Wertheimer has created the quintessential South Austin nightspot. And after work, it's a fine place to socialize and hear some good music. Toni Price on Tuesday afternoons is a must-see for any music fan, as is veteran bluesman Erbie Bowser. Thursdays feature the burgeoning collaboration between Evan Johns and Charlie Burton. Good rockin' this evening.
We know it's really commercial and unhip, but any place whose mascot is a gigantic rodent is okay by us. There are millions of machines, toys, air hockey games etc. It's really, really loud and there's enough stuff to satisfy even the grumpiest youngster. The pizza is horrible, but who cares? Plus, they have a stage where 6-foot tall electronic puppets put on a show every 30 minutes or so. You can also bond with the many, many shell-shocked, exhausted parents who frequent the place. Lastly, they sell beer, so you can sip a cool one while watching Junior emerge from a huge pit filled with multi-colored plastic balls.
502 Ben White, 8038 Burnet
The old saw about visiting England is not to expect much from the food, but if you know that the average Englishman eats where he drinks - the pub - you are probably also familiar with such wonderful plebian staples as bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes) and the ploughman's lunch (Stilton cheese and a roll). Dog & Duck has them both in fairly authentic fashion (as well as a less-accurate fish and chips, sans chip shop newspaper wrapping), as well as the appropriate ales. Cheers, mate!
If you haven't already heard, Henry's as we now know it is not long for its current address, though owner James Henry is actively scouting a new location. In the meanwhile, Don Walser's Pure Texas Band is as good a reason as any to go out on Monday nights. His clear-as-a-bell yodeling, crack back-up band and surprise guests always make for a well-spent evening. Besides, Henry's is the only real honky-tonk in North Austin.
Henry's Bar & Grill
County Rd 29 & 183
Miss those drive-in, outdoor movies? For the nostalgic motorist or even pedestrians, Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Shady Grove replace memories of backseat cuddling with playing footsie under the table, a speaker hooked next to your beer, and a movie screen waving in the distance above a trailer parked in the outdoor courtyard. Features start at 10pm; call to get the name of the movie of the week.
Why is it that every time a new movie comes out, Blockbuster has 50 copies of it, and naturally every single one is checked out. But if you amble over to Vulcan to get something cool and funky instead, the same new release you were looking for is sitting right there on the shelf. Does this happen to everybody? Is this store magic? The motley crew of counter clerks at Vulcan are friendly and wonderful in a way no corporate training program could ever produce. They actually try to get all the crazy cult movies people write on the request pad. And when told that their prices for kids' movies were too high (they were $2.50 compared to 99 cents at the 'Buster), they dropped the price right then and there. Just the pleasure of being in the presence of all those great movies, and people who care about them, is reason enough to stop by Vulcan every day just to browse. With all the movies to see, there's probably still so many one hasn't. What better reason to live?
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