1996 Readers Poll
1996 Critics Picks
Best Bed & Breakfast

A winner from previous years, Woodburn House returns as a favorite among Chronicle staffers for its central location and relaxed atmosphere. Located in the heart of Hyde Park, Woodburn House caters to honeymooners and guests of neighboring residents, but owners Sandra Villalaz-Dickson and Herbert R. Dickson also have played host to film industry types visiting for SXSW, among other celebs. Woodburn House offers reasonable rates, a claw-footed tub dating back to the home's 1909 roots, and a laid-back welcome that is part of what Dickson calls its "low fluff factor."

Best Capital Inprovement To The Third Coast

Guiltless Gourmet entrepreneur Doug Forman opened the doors to his 12,000-square-foot soundstage and production facility in what was once the Post Oak Ranch -- an old movie theater in Capital Plaza -- this past May. Promising state-of-the-art equipment, the space is ready for infinite projects of the commercial, feature film, and television variety. And with such a capable local film community at hand, we've all the elements necessary in wooing the lucrative industry to town. Now we've built it... will they come?

Best Deck

Better than a deck, it's actually a third-floor roof, the kind from which Spiderman jumps and such. It has a helluva view of the now-bustling surrounding area, and you can people-watch or stargaze with equal impunity.

Best Fresco

Harold "Bubi" Jessen's artistry in the portal of the history center -- peach-colored horses dancing across the ceiling -- is still stylish after 63 years.

Austin History Center
810 Guadalupe

Best Grounds At A Suburban Church

The "Man for All Seasons," Sir Thomas More, served God and King Henry VIII, but lost his head for putting God first. The campus of this church features more of the "stuff" people associate with Roman Catholicism, but it's offered in a refreshingly tasteful way. There are two shrines and an outdoor Stations of the Cross artfully installed among the spreading live oaks and limestone-lined paths. Rather than going the strict, ghoulish, representational route, these stations merely suggest each scene. A quiet place to be by yourself, even if you aren't Catholic.

St. Thomas More Catholic Church
10205 RR 620 N

Best Hinges

Cast from the behemoth hinges adorning the State Capitol since 1888, these hinges might not fit the scale of today's homes, but that's okay; they're so substantial, they make great bookends. The Capitol Gift shop only sells non-operable sets -- along with doorknobs and Seal of Texas paperweights -- but if you've got the caliber of doors in your house that can justify these beauties, working pairs can be ordered from the manufacturer in Bryan at 800/488-4662.

Capitol Visitors Center
112 E. 11th

photograph by Michelle Dapra   Michelle Dapra

Best Neighborhood Castle

It's a beautiful day in the Ney-borhood. And who wouldn't love this personal-scale castle/studio, built by the late German sculptress after emigrating to Texas in the mid-1800s? View her works amid the cool hush of the main rooms, then climb the turret or wander the grounds where, in Ney's day, a small lagoon afforded boating. Each June, the castle hosts a series of children's story hours, culminating in a fairy tale costume party where small princesses and dragons consume cookies made from Ney's cook's original recipe. Some enchanted evening, indeed.

Elisabet Ney Museum
304 E. 44th

Best Once And Future Landmark

Usually news that real estate developers have bought a beloved Austin landmark spells doom, but not when you're talking about the restaurant formerly known as Mad Dog and Beans. "I put on my freshman 15 right here," admits new owner Matthew Wheeler. Established in 1968, the beloved greasy spoon has a new coat of paint and new name, but the menu has stayed intact. They even have 10 beers on tap now, and will be reinstituting the traditional cookies `n' cream milkshake this fall. For those of us who grew up on the rickety porch slurping oreos through a straw, it's a relief to find that some things never change.

Best Outdoor A/C

In addition to its beautiful edifices, the springs, the flowers, the plants, and the aqueduct, the Wildflower Center also has the most amazing breezeway in town. Located at the Center's offices, the breezeway whooshes, but is not gusty; it's cool in both senses, with the gardens on one side and the nature trail on the other. Even in mid-July, the breezeway provides a comfortable, cool stop during a stomp through the center's breathtaking grounds. We can only dream of building one in our homes.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
4801 La Crosse

Best Place To Attend A Church Wedding

No matter how long the ceremony drones on, you'll have plenty of architectural details at which to gaze in an attempt to look spiritual. Erected in 1929, this church sports Nordic-esque beam work and delightful copper light fixtures.

Central Christian Church
1110 Guadalupe

Best Place To Propose

The food is incredible, with a wine list to match, which is a huge bonus, since the atmosphere alone makes the cellar at Bertram's the most romantic dinner spot in town. The very limited seating capacity and quiet ambiance is spiced with the intoxication of the food and beverage. A splash of candlelight will have any dreamboat's head sitting in Cupid's crosshairs in no time. We like to send Mom & Dad there, just to watch the oldtimers hold hands again.

1601 Guadalupe-OUT OF BUS.

Best Signage

This new French Place restaurant gives a convenient landmark for those direction-givers trying to convey the confusing Manor/26th Street merge -- just look for the metal sign with the flaming letters and the steaming coffee cup which started life as a 50-gallon oil drum. It's industrial and nuclear yet coyly charming.

photograph by Michelle Dapra   Michelle Dapra

Best Statue Of Jesus

There's something aesthetically pleasing and strangely reassuring about a Versace Christ. Umlauf's style is sleek, elegant, and energetic, and this statue is a surprising counter to its parent building, the monolithic, "I Like Ike-era" Seton Medical Center.

Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum
605 Azie Morton

Best Sub-erotica

This unmistakably phallic work of neon has risen majestically from its location on the western side of South Congress for what seems like decades. If the motel's walls had ears, our ears would probably burn off, but there is the sign -- glowing, beckoning travelers and musicians alike into its peculiar warmth and the promise of a good night's rest. Yeah, right -- it's across the street from the Continental Club!

Austin Motel
1220 S. Congress

Best Theatrical Theatre

Gothic. Victorian. Egyptian. Other. Man, when longtime Dobie manager/wunderkind Scott Dinger announced his intention to remodel/divide "Austin's Most Innovative Theatre," did anyone have any idea? Months in the makeover, the revamped Dobie is a cinematic palace fit for a king (recent visiting auteur Q.T. is rumored to have been "silly from joy" and bummed 'cause he didn't think of it first). Four different settings for four different moods (but where did Babe play, Scott?), complete with faux gargoyles, massive bookshelves, enormous tapestries, flickering flames -- a filmgoer's dream come true. Get to your fave show early -- seating isn't always the best, but the atmosphere makes up for anything you might miss on the screen.

Best Use Of An Old Taco Bell

This South Austin landmark might also get an award for Best Unofficial Museum of Austin History and Culture. An extension of owner Danny Young's personality, it is everything that makes Austin unique from the rest of Texas -- in lieu of wallpaper, every nook and cranny is covered with an assortment of flyers announcing old Armadillo and Soap Creek gigs, left-wing political bumper stickers, and autographed pictures from great Austin musicians past and present. Young's clientele is eclectic -- hippies, rednecks, and businessmen, all chowing down on his great sandwiches.

photograph by Michelle Dapra   Michelle Dapra

Best View Of The City

We're fascinated with this Fifties vintage Frank Lloyd Wright-style home built high on a South Austin hillside. The wraparound picture windows offer a breathtaking view of downtown and the beautifully landscaped grounds are fast becoming a popular wedding and event setting. We just can't get enough of the art deco decor and the animal menagerie.

Best Art Museum Fundraiser

For their first fundraising event, Mexic-Arte threw a bash for "Frida-maniacs" at Jalisco Restaurant and packed the house, netting $3,000 (thanks to event underwriter Whole Foods Market). The featured speaker was Guadalupe Rivera Marin, daughter of famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and author of a cookbook featuring the treasured recipes of her stepmother, the artist Frida Kahlo. Jalisco owner Miguel Stupignan's staff faithfully recreated Kahlo's dishes, which were devoured with mariachi music. Frida's Fiestas was so successful that Mexic-Arte is making the fundraiser an annual event. The 1996 edition took place at Fonda San Miguel last week, with celebrity chef Ricardo Muñoz replicating the meals of Señora Kahlo. We can't wait for next year.

Mexic-Arte Museum
419 Congress

Best Bookstore To Be Someone Else

Besides their dark-horse win this year in the readers poll for comics, Dragon's Lair is also Gaming Central, with stacks of books and supplements on the most popular role-playing games, such as Magic: The Gathering, Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Forgotten Realms, and even the granddemon of fantasy role-play, Dungeons & Dragons. The Lair also has a huge selection of GURPS books, so that if you, a self-respecting Masquerade vampire, happen to be sitting in an InterNet Tavern next to a Svirbneflin deep gnome, you can figure out his THaC0 and alignment. Sounds like another world? Step through the door, please...

Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy
2438 W. Anderson Ste. B-1

Best Bookstore To Get A Clue In

This nifty little bookstore seems to be thriving; its shelves of mysteries, science fiction, thrillers, comics, and more are attracting healthy crowds of the city's book-devouring public. Even more impressive than the stock of new and used books is the amazing array of authors who've appeared at the store, from Michael Moorcock to Mary Willis Walker. Why go there? Elementary, our dear Watson.

Adventures in Crime & Space
609-A W. Sixth

Best Dimmer Dude

Consistent, eager, and reliable, Segna is a master at a sometimes thankless task. Someone has to be the man in the booth with his finger poised over the go button while dealing with the last-minute nit-picks from the lighting designer. Maybe he is so good because he is also one of the ever-so-cool lighting guys at Eden 2000.

Best Fun, Folk Art Division

Between the spirited exhibition titles -- "Sweet Mud," "Two People Who Drag Stuff Home and Make Art Out of It" -- and playful receptions -- the one for "Elvis Is (Mostly) 61!" featured jelly doughnuts -- this South Congress gallery seems more intent on having a good time than promoting good culture. But hey, who says art and fun are mutually exclusive? Every time we visit Yard Dog and see the funky, odd, enthralling work of the folk artists exhibited there, we're reminded that art is many things, and fun is definitely one of them.

Yard Dog
916 Springdale

Best Gallery For The Money

Forget about spacious presentation when you walk into this cozy South Austin gallery. Here, art gets jammed together like so many bats under the Congress Avenue bridge. Pieces cover almost every inch of wall space, from ceiling to floor (and sometimes a good deal of that, too). It's just one way AC owners Susan Maynard and David Pratt make the most of their limited resources, and the result is a kaleidoscope of creative imagery that can be dizzying but is invigorating. Maynard and Pratt sponsor intriguing theme exhibitions -- The Mojo Show, He Said/She Said -- that are amazingly inclusive, and they throw a hell of a debutante ball, too.

Alternate Current Artspace
2209 S. First

Best Razzle Dazzle

Generally, Austin theatre is more about smoke than sizzle, i.e., more pungent scripts than flashy presentations. Maybe that's why we get such a kick from Zachary Scott Theatre Center productions: They aren't shy about showmanship. Whether it's the the lustrous sets of Michael Raiford and Christopher McCollum, the dizzying choreography of Dave Steakley, or the grab-you-by-the-lapels performances in Avenue X or Alice Wilson's crisp revival of Born Yesterday, Zach delivers spectacle with captivating craft. Now, that's show biz!

Topfer Theatre at Zach
202 S. Lamar

Best Reason To Avoid Iambic Pentameter

Wammo, Phil West, Hilary Thomas, Danny Solis, and team coach Mike Henry took their war of the words all the way to the 1996 National Poetry Slam in Portland, Oregon in August where they finished fourth in the team finals. Wammo went into the individual finals (top six out of an eligible field of 120), where he placed fifth. In our book, they're all winners.

Best Reason To Climb The Stairs

The Public Domain Theatre
807 Congress

Best Reason To Forget Arthur Murray

Matt the Cat has been squiring women of all ages (and abilities) in front of bandstands across the city and every single one leaves his arms breathless. Bluntly, the man can dance like nobody's business. Small wonder he teaches the popular dance lessons at the Split Rail on Mondays and Thursdays.

Best Support For Cinema

We wanted to be academic about this and talk about how the AFS is one of the best film organizations in the country, bringing classic movies to Austin audiences for a pittance. But what we keep coming back to is how Richard Linklater doggedly kept it going as he went from Slacker to Dazed to Sunrise and -- the most astonishing thing to us -- the way it has attracted support from the likes of Quentin Tarantino, who spent his summer vacation this year running a benefit festival for the AFS at Dobie Theater. Nowhere but Austin.

Austin Film Society
1901 E. 51st

Best Theatre Of The Soul

It's common for theatre to engage the intellect or emotions; what's uncommon is for it to engage the spirit. That's what makes root wy'mn an uncommon theatre company. It speaks to our soul, the spark at the core of us all. Make no mistake; poet/playwright Sharon Bridgforth doesn't pen spacy, ethereal verse. Her words are earthy, sensual, brimming with worldly experience. But they explore voyages and displacement and the ache we all feel to find home, and as delivered by Bridgforth's fiery collaborator, Sonja Parks, they get across the truly redeeming power of love. Bridgforth and Parks tour extensively and are earning a strong national rep. But they always come home. And when they do, they bring us home.

Best Theatrical Daredevils

Nowadays, many stage groups shy away from creative risks for fear of running off what few folks still go to theatre. Not Frontera@Hyde Park Theatre. Its adventurous artists take us on unexpected journeys -- to a Big Apple in meltdown, a government hearing for a Greek tragedy, a boyhood memory of funk and Julia Child -- using theatrical gestures of daring: slo-mo movement, environmental staging, word jazz. F@HP aren't Austin's only theatrical daredevils; they're just the ones who most consistently deliver quality and dramatic power. They fly through the air with the greatest of ease.

Best Affordable Wine List

What puts the fine before dining? A nice bottle of wine does it for us, but the typically high restaurant mark-ups often keep us nursing a glass of house red all the way through to dessert. Not at Castle Hill, though, where the whites start at $10/bottle, the reds at $13, and the number of choices under $20 is truly vast. Their selection includes wines from Sonoma, Napa and other areas of California; Oregon, Texas, France, and Italy. And if you're impressed with the wine list, wait 'til you taste Castle Hill's food.

Best Alternative To Proteus

Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. "Hey, what time is it? 6am? No way!" Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. "Dawn... already?!" Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. "Yaaawnnn..." Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance... etc.

Best Annual Party To Dance To "We Are Family"

So you think you know Austin's gay community just 'cause you club hop once a week or call certain extensions in the back pages of the Fag Rag? Well, sailor, get a grip -- there's more to this town than just cruising. All the colors of the rainbow show their glory at the annual Pride Day Festival, ranging from foxy, silver-haired, birkenstock-wearin' mamas recalling days as young activists in the Seventies, to Izod-totin' Log Cabin boys pondering their Quixotic battles in the GOP last week, from healthcare and social workers united in the struggle working for Informa-SIDA, and other AIDS organizations, to nightcrawling clubkids who are squinting to adjust to the sunlight, plus friends and supporters of the community. Celebrating the community, the organizers of this year's fest did a great job of coalescing this diversity and creating an atmosphere to revel in it.

Best Arcade

There's the name, first of all, which couldn't be more perfect, and then there's the location, in the Scientology building on the Drag, which is also thematically right-on. But it's the strangely homey smell of bagels cooking next door, the dance music, and the space to stretch out that makes this feel more like a slacker-heaven living room than the typical "play and get out" feel of other arcades. A great place to divest yourself of those heavy, nagging quarters.

photograph by Laura Skelding   Laura Skelding

Best Band Name

We have a good time with this one every year. "The Unhung Heroes -- ha ha ha!" "Lotus Lane -- hee hee hee!" That one about "The Trail of the Dead --chuckle chuckle." But the one that made us smile the most -- especially in the face of Ed Hall's break-up -- was ex-kid in Ed Hall drummer Lyman Hardy's new band, The Goin' Along Feelin' Just Fines. That's one "The," two apostrophes, and an "s" at the end of "Fines." Class dismissed!

Best Bar Lighting

Everyone looks beautiful here. If it's not the light, then it must be the beer that works this magic.

photograph by Laura Skelding   Laura Skelding

Best Behind The Scenes Combat Duty

As incestuous as the Chronicle appears to be with South By Southwest on paper, a completely separate crew staffs the annual conference, and what a job they do! From the small group that works year `round in the office to the hundreds of volunteers who fill every imaginable position necessary in March, there's no way this event could possibly work without their generosity, time, and effort. SXSW workers: We salute you. Here's to 10 more years!

Best Charles Whitman Impression

The 1996 SXSW Film Festival presented plenty of possible hits, but not any as weird or as painful as this one. Before one of the late-night screenings at the Dobie, some disgruntled citizen with an identity crisis took to the 21st St./Guadalupe area with a BB gun. Who ended up one of the victims? Screenwriter Stephen Grant, in town with the movie, The Delicate Art of the Rifle, a fictional film based on the infamous 1966 UT Tower shooting. In fact, Grant actually played the Whitman-esque character in the film as well. We're glad he wasn't seriously hurt, but the coincidence is killing us.

Best Damn Danceclub Dj

Oh yeah, like that's ever gonna change. Sure, brother, sure. We may not make it to the revamped Proteus as much as we'd like, but it's still head and strut-your-stuff shoulders above the rest, right Sliver Cyberslut? Correct us if we're wrong, klubkid, but this is what we like to call "the shit," balls-out, tribal/futurehouse/triphop, Ecstasy burning from the inside, with Herb behind it all, the Master, every second, every beat, every tongue-kiss, toe-twist, spangle-rip, in and out. Yummy like you'd never believe. Bonus points for pumping it out to the kids on the corner who catch every phunky, phat beat and recycle them on the street corner curbside for the bewildered benefit of the bourgeois passersby. Harthouse toughlove. Herb rocks, in the very purest sense of the word. Peace up.

5th St.

Best Labor Of Love

As understated as Austin's jazz scene seems next to its alternative and country siblings, it is in every way equally vibrant. Nowhere is that better illustrated than the annual Clarksville Jazz Festival, lovingly overseen every year by Harold McMillan and his hardworking staff. The down-scaling of the annual event seemed to work well, indicating that McMillan's determination and efforts to keep his dream and vision afloat are watertight.

Best Live Music In A Pinch

On weeknights, when we get the urge for a last-minute live music fix we check out the deck at this no-hassle Barton Springs hangout. Could be an evening of laid-back folk music or a rollicking swing band complete with dancing on the adjacent grassy knoll. Whatever it is, it's usually all yours for the price of a stiff cuppa joe.

Best Local TV Music Special

Local singer Pam Hart put this group of lovely jazz divas together to perform last October, Mike Emery directed, and AMN's producer Ingrid Weigand got the show on the air. Frequent airings generated lots of positive response for AMN and helped create a higher profile for the artists. Hart is hard at work on the next Women of Jazz performances in October and April and we eagerly anticipate seeing the new show in the flesh and on the tube.

Best Movie Theatre Buttered Popcorn

For those of us who still indulge in this artery-clogging movie snack, a large bag of popcorn with real butter topping at the Dobie Theater makes even the worst movie tolerable. Dobie is the only theater in town to indulge its customers in a topping made from actual butter fat instead of synthetic flavorings. Although some of us believe popcorn buckets beat out bags, Dobie staffers make the most out of the trim lunch bag look-alikes, heaping on the corn and the butter.

Best Movie Theatre Seats

When we sit our butts down in these babies, we don't care how long the movie is. Cushy, placed at an angle, and wide enough to curl up in, these vinyl seats keep numbness away, even on those rainy, marathon movie days. Barcaloungers and really loud speakers make Starport a great place to go, especially when there is A (lot of) Time To Kill.

AMC Lakeline 9
11200 Lakeline Mall Dr.
Cedar Park

Best Movie Theatre Up For Anything

There's only one movie theatre in town that plays regular host to risky-at-the-box-office independents and still has the energy and enthusiasm to stand in as a SXSW Film Festival venue, entertain the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival, and make space and time available for screenings of local and student works. They even let the Austin Film Society visit for weeks on end to present events like the Film Noir: Masters of Shadow series, and the Tarantino Film Fest, during which visiting director Quentin Tarantino spent 10 days screening a whole load of his favorite (and very oddball) films. Now that's a good sport.

Best Music Fundraiser

With funding for public television programs imperiled all over the country, good fundraising ideas are at a premium. When PBS stations in Austin and Dallas aired this special, making the CD and video available, donations poured in. In one evening, KLRU raised over $31,000 and Dallas' KERA raised over $78,000. Additional kudos to Sony for underwriting the 150,000 CDs.

KUT 90.5FM
300 W. Dean Keeton

Best Place For Freaks To Two-step

Ever since Willie Nelson, Austin's country scene has been, well, a little different. There's always been that group of us who, despite our shaved heads or long hair or nose rings, also need to pull on our boots and swing to a little fiddle music. The Split Rail is the answer. With both a spacious, hardwood dancefloor and lava lamps on the tables, we can feel right at home. And its best feature over regular redneck joints: When you ask, "What beers do you have?" the waitress doesn't answer, "All of them."

Best Place To Critique The Show

All of the caffeine without the attitude. Right next to the Capitol City Playhouse and with a view of the Cedar Street trendoids, SOMA is the perfect place to kick back and dish over a pesto pizza and a killer cheesecake brownie. Add to that a You Go Girl, a mocha latte with mint syrup, and you are near nirvana.

Soma Vida
2324 E. Cesar Chavez

photograph by John Anderson   John Anderson

Best Place To Lyle Lovett Watch

We've seen his crazily-coiffed head bobbing from behind a booth a number of times over the last few years, and we even know someone who had to ask Julia to remove herself from the hood of his car where she was leaning during a tiff with Lyle in the parking lot last summer. So the next time you see the Lone Star State's most unlikely heartthrob, give him a smile and a reason to keep coming back.

Trudy's North Star, 8820 Burnet Rd., 512/454-1474
Trudy's Little Texas Lane, 901-C Little Texas Ln., 512/326-9899

Best Place To Rent Laserdiscs

We're able to watch many a repeat performance after we rent laserdiscs (and videos) from the friendly folks at Encore. Their gigantic selection of laserdiscs -- nearly 2,000 titles fill one whole wall and then some -- rent for $2.99 per day for new releases; older titles cost just $2 for five entire days. We'd scream for more, but we don't want to appear ungrateful, Encore's doing a fine job already.

: Architecture & Lodging
: Architecture & Lodging

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