Considering it was once just another cavernous warehouse often mistaken for the real "Bat Cave," the Austin Music Hall's transformation into a state-of-the-art live music venue has been astonishing. Now one of Austin's larger music halls (accomodating between 2,500 and 3,000 people), the AMH not only offers a great view from nearly any seat, it also sounds fantastic if you're standing - in the foyer, in the bathroom, or right in front of the stage.
As home to our finest civic building, the Capitol, and to several institutions which define Austin, from St. Edward's University to the Paramount Theatre to those wacky bats under the bridge, Congress Avenue has a special character and needs restaurants, shops, and landmarks which reflect that character and keep the street alive. The best recent addition in this regard is the State Theatre, which re-opened in January under the auspices of Live Oak Theatre. The polished work of this stage company, headed by artistic director Don Toner, fits smoothly on the Avenue, and having one more home for live performance on the main street of this city burgeoning with performers - especially one next to the Paramount - makes Congress more vital and keeps it the true center of our town.
Step through the gates and back in time to another era. A place where the final chapter in the lives of some of Austin's earliest citizens are laid to eternal rest under ornate, Victorian headstones and iron work. Established in 1839, Oakwood has a host of notables from Austin history - from A.J. Zilker to O. Henry's wife, Athol Estes - buried there. A great source for charcoal rubbings for the artistically inspired, a misty, foggy morning is a must for achieving the ultimate Gothic experience.
Isabella Rosselini would be right at home crooning in front of the red neon sign on the blue velvet background behind the stage at Electric Lounge - it's purely Lynchian. Then again, this logo-friendly script may be more at home on the front of a baseball jersey.
Otherwise known as the home of Boggy Creek farmers Larry Butler and Carol Ann Sayle, this white frame Greek Revival-style house has been home to Capitol-area farm families since the days of the Republic. The other two local historic homes that date to the same era (The Paggi House and the French Legation) have long been commercial buildings but the Smith house has been home to someone for more than 150 years.
It's only a few months old, but the architecture at the center already reeks of history. The stone, corkscrew observation tower, the man-made spring bubbling in the middle of the courtyard, the fortress-like rock fences, the corrugated metal barns, and the mysterious aqueduct create the illusion of an ancient settlement that underwent many changes over the centuries. It also makes a stunning backdrop for the stars of the show - wildflowers and native plants. Texas French Bread runs the Wildflower Cafe, where you can sit on the patio and eat your salad greens while you study the Texas greens all around you. The gift shop has a great selection of gardening and wildflower books, which you're going to need because you'll want to run home and dig up your St. Augustine and plant buffalo grass and blue bells after a visit here.
Going to Barton Springs is more glorious than ever since this statue's arrival. Now, every visit takes one by three illustrious Spirits of Austin Past - naturalist Roy Bedichek, historian Walter Prescott Webb, and folklorist J. Frank Dobie - engaged, as they often were in life, in lively conversation by the springs. Sculptor Glenna Goodacre's portrayal of these men - informal, languid in repose but vigorous in intellect, connected with the environment and each other, having a good time - captures their spirit and Austin's, too, at least Austin's at its best. It does what great statues do: recognize achievement, convey a sense of the community from which it sprang, and inspire us.
Central: Bertram's We just can't say enough good things about this wonderful new restaurant, recently opened in the historic Bertram's Mercantile Building at 16th and Guadalupe. Ask your waitperson for a tour of the basement to see the tunnel that led to Mr. Bertram's conveniently located brothel next door. Seems that the fine, upstanding businessmen and legislators of 1860s Austin didn't care to be seen entering or departing from a brothel, so canny Mr. Bertram provided them with a more discreet access. South: Güero's Taco Bar Owners Rob and Cathy Lippincott encountered some opposition from East Congress Avenue neighbors when they initially proposed to purchase and renovate the old Central Feed and Seed Store at the corner of S. Congress and W. Elizabeth Street. They were victorious, however, and their great new restaurant has been an incredible boost to the funky little business scene blooming on S. Congress. They restored a historic building and helped reduce the transients, prostitution, and drug traffic on their section of the Avenue in the bargain. The homemade tortillas and tamales are just the icing on the cake.
Imagine a laconic, mint julep-sippin' afternoon, poolside, under a brush of bamboo and palm, with the afternoon sun glinting off of the white stucco and red, Spanish tile. This three-tiered marvel of a motel was originally built in 1938 and even through disheveled periods of disrepair recalls the simpler elegance of a bygone era - the days of the roadside, "mom & pop" inn. Funk factor aside, even persnickety moms and pops will be impressed with the cedar-wrapped beams, saltillo tile, and Jacuzzi tubs in the pricier, renovated rooms, and the rooms that have not yet tasted 1995 are still comfortable, clean, and affordable. Owner Dottye Dean's vision is happening steadily, one room at a time.
What's up with that? The old haunt's been gone for years but the sign blazes on. Because of its campus proximity, it's a great frosh confounder. Heading for flat fajitas, the newbies must be pleasantly surprised by the yummy, all-natural barbecue offered instead.
This is the place to see and be seen seven days a week. Forget about tables and chairs - just hunker down on this hunk of cement, dangle your legs into the imaginary bay that is Fourth Street, and size up the sundry patrons going to and from Capitol City Playhouse, Cedar Street, and Gilligan's, puffing cigars, and committing various fashion crimes. Cheap too - an iced mocha'll run you a couple of bucks and, sipped properly, will last at least an hour. Much, much better than TV.
East: Taqueria Los Comales Drop in to this East Seventh Mexican eatery and take a look at the profusion of piñatas hanging from the very low ceiling. These folks have one of the best piñata selections in the city. 2136 E. Seventh, 480-9358 South: El Sol y La Luna The restaurant's namesakes, the sun and the moon, adorn various surfaces in this charming South Congress Avenue spot. The whimsical paintings are the work of one of the three owners, artist and teacher Anna Salinas.
The Virgin stands watch over the offerings - flames from over 150 candles burn at her feet. The tranquil blue and white grotto of San Jose Church in South Austin is a humble, man-made attempt at serenity. If you come to light a candle, take a walk around the parish grounds and enjoy the peace.
Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin. Support the Chronicle