1996 Readers Poll
1996 Critics Picks
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 South Star, 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.

Best Places To Say "I Was Retro Before Retro Was Cool"

Back in the early Eighties, the Carousel was still an old-folks bar and Ego's... well, we don't remember much about Ego's -- we were way too drunk, but something kept us coming back. Since then, each place has exploited its seedy ambiance and produced a hyper-hip hangout extraordinaire. Oh, the Ego's Christmas light-shrine thingy and the big screen cartoons -- yum! The Carousel has added avant-garde film screenings to its already surreal blind piano player, Jay Clark. While these spots may have lost their quiet edge, the alluring piquant flavor remains, with a little extra modern spice to spare.

Carousel Lounge
1110 E. 52nd

510 S. Congress

Best Point-of Purchase Marketing

Selection, schmelection! While these guys have tons which outdo most competitors, remotes down, that's not what keeps us coming back. It's those little notes -- sometimes blissful rants, sometimes disparaging rages -- stuck all over the VHS cases, indicating that not only have the whacked-out staff seen every one of these titles but that they have bothered to develop and chronicle an opinion as well, so you can ask important questions like: "So how is this new Godzilla vs. the Space Aliens?" and enjoy their careful analysis: "It's great! It's just like the old one but with shinier suits!"

I Luv Video
4803 Airport, 512/450-1966

photograph by John Anderson   John Anderson

Best Resurfacing Of Mia Barkeep

The famous Biss Mitch seemed Mitching in Action after the shrouded demise of the troubled DJ's on Red River. The sassy tender of the tropical bar in the back was sorely missed, especially when it came time to choose a liqueur to accompany our Irish Whiskey! Well, we recently ventured into Momma's, a new restaurant on Congress specializing in all that stuff that made the White Trash Cookbook famous, and lo and behold!, lookee who's behind the counter cookin' up a lot of sass and attitude to go along with the grits: Ol' Biss Mitch hisself, who assures us the place will have a full bar in in no time!

Best Resurrection Of Tradition

When this venerable Eastside legend re-opened over a year ago, we were thrilled. We're even more thrilled to see the venue thriving with its emphasis above and beyond music. In the past year, the Victory Grill has hosted poetry readings. book receptions, dance performances, and art exhibitions, plus the kind of blues and jazz that are at the heart of our town's musical tradition.

Victory Grill
1104 E. 11th

Best Seat In The Shadows

We spent two months - the first in the spring and the second (back by popular demand) in the heat of the summer -- sipping soda on the edge of our seats as the Austin Film Society (along with co-sponsors Dobie Theater and the Austin-American Statesman) brought to screen the devilishly dark stories of drifters and femmes fatales associated with the film noir genre of the post-WWII years. Intending to educate as well as entertain, the series offered each film lovingly introduced (and devoured) by a resident expert, most of whom went above and beyond the call of duty to bring the audience up to speed on background and behind-the-scenes lore. The movies were impressive to say the least, featuring works by such masters as Samuel Fuller, Fritz Lang, Orson Welles, Nicholas Ray, and Joseph Lewis. The audience turnout was likewise.

Austin Film Society
1901 E. 51st

Best Sign Of Civilized Living

We don't even want to guess how we survived so long in Austin without cabaret, but it's moot now, n'est-ce pas? Now, we can saunter over to Bremond House thrice weekly, cozy up to a two-top, and sail away on a tide of romantic song by Cole, Coward, Kern, and company. It's cosmopolitan bliss, made all the richer by the talents of Karen Kuykendall, Sterling Price-McKinney, Karen Kohler, and Larry Greenawalt, who perform these melodic treasures with zest and elegance, longing and grace.

photograph by Jana Birchum   Jana Birchum

Best Skate Shop Music Venue

Okay, so it's probably the only skate shop/music venue. But there's a big stage, excellent PA (better than a lot of clubs), and lots of room to see bands, including Sixteen Deluxe, the Motards, and Buzzcrusher. Plus posters, skatewear, shoes, and boards. Music usually starts Saturdays at 7pm. Good deal -- you're depriving yourself if you don't check it out.

Best Summer Beer

This summer the wheat beers hit the Austin market with a vengeance and a twist of lemon, providing yet another excuse to sit around and bitch about the heat. Waterloo's unfiltered wheat beer regularly topped our beer tastings for consistent quality, complex taste, and numerous pint specials.

photograph by Laura Skelding   Laura Skelding

Best Tease

Miss Xanna Don't (from Xanadu, maybe?) sports the best head of hair in town, hands down. Raven dark tresses that tumble to her waist set off her China-white complexion -- but come showtime, the hair goes nowhere but up. Up, up, up, in fact, piled into luxurious curls that nestle gloriously atop her head, whether she's singing about sending dead flowers to k.d. lang or making you wonder if Patsy's getting jealous in hillbilly heaven. Beehives never looked so good.

Best Transformation From Sauna To Sonic

A few months ago, we could have retitled the category "Next Best Thing to Barton Springs Without Getting Wet." The AMH would have deserved this hands down. Along with the recent addition of the Chicago House, the AMH also just installed a killer A/C system, the likes of which make even the prospect of a hip-hop show in August worth considering.

Austin Music Hall
208 Nueces

Best Unidentified Film Encounter

This hard-to-pronounce collective of filmmakers and videographers have made it their mission to bring experimental film works out of obscurity and into a light of their own creation, often inviting musical ensembles to compose and perform original scores as accompaniment. Aside from recent programs of rarely screened films by Bruce Connor, Chris Marker, the Lumiére brothers, and Stan Brakhage, in*situ encourages a kind of local guerrilla filmmaking by regularly soliciting Super-8 projects with a central theme to compile and screen for the phenomena-hungry public.

Best Way To Drown One's Sorrows

When we've tired of those wacky flavored margaritas but desire something in the same genre of alcohol, Trudy's satisfies our needs with its Top Shelf Mexican Martini. Although there are over 26 tequilas to choose from, we recommend ordering a martini with Cuervo 1800 and Grand Marnier for a velvety sweet taste so potent that each customer is limited to two martinis per visit. Served in a sophisticated martini glass (salted or not) accompanied by an equally spare metal shaker, this drink is perfection when topped with a generous supply of olives on cute little plastic swords.

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

photograph by Laura Skelding   Laura Skelding

Best Weekly No-Cover Blowout

We at the Chronicle confess to having a special affection for 30-year-old Austin native Paul Minor. At the age of 16, Minor presented himself to us as a music intern and -- since we probably earned the equivalent of his weekly allowance back then -- we worked his willing little butt to the bone. What he learned was that he did not want be a journalist, and he has amply proved his mettle as a musician in the ensuing years. So here's to the Free-for-All, to Paul Minor, to the beloved Hole in the Wall, and to all the musicians who have performed those Sunday nights. Traditions, after all, must be kept up.

Hole in the Wall
2538 Guadalupe

Critics: Arts & Culture
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