Architecture & Lodging
1998 Readers Poll
1998 Critics Picks
Best Arch

This monolithic Stonehenge of towering shell-encrusted limestone actually has nothing to do with the Holly Street Power Plant; it merely resides in its shadow. Despite the hiss and whine of millions of gallons of water coursing and steaming through the Holly superstructure, the monument stands silent, solid, acting as majestic gateway between the Town Lake and Boggy Creek Hike & Bike Trails. Its subtle features are worth a pause for a breather and contemplation. Otherwise, you might not notice the eerie row of marbles caught like the doomed of Pompeii in one of the concrete seams between two of the five angular cut boulders, or catch that the odd wash of red to brown pigments in the rock are likely due to rain as it first passes across the wrought iron cactus topper on the verge of vertigris. You might also miss the main feature: an impressive carved relief on the keystone. Three profiles: ancient warrior, European explorer, and modern dude, replete with headband and shades, together looking towards three symbols: a pre-invasion pyramid, the State of Texas, and the United Farm Workers eagle. Breathtaking, really.

Holly Power Plant
Holly Street

Best Cemetery For Meditation

Eyes can't help but shift from one tombstone marked "unknown" to the next as intense heat is kept from gravesites by a thick surrounding of trees. History takes shape in a family of markers, one with a three-day-old's name on it - her mother's name and day of death close in time. A plaque telling of one woman's terrifying death from a scalping by Indians adds a mysterious atmosphere.

Miller Creek Cemetery
20 minutes West of Buddy's Corner Store on Hwy. 290

Best Diner Decor

It would be novel to breakfast in the Beaver's kitchen or lunch with Lucy & Ethel, but that's sort of what eating at Laura's Bluebonnet is like. Part diner, part museum, Laura's decor pays homage to the Fifties by showcasing brightly colored Pyrex stacking bowls, colored aluminum drink serving sets, and shiny chrome small appliances from another era. A pastel rainbow of Sunbeam mixers lines the back wall, and a behemoth enamel gas oven or two occupy space that another formica-topped table might. Laura's vintage decor may be the current rage, but her old-fashioned home-cooking won't ever go out of style.

Best Door Handle

It may be plebeian, it may be mundane, it may be just a hunk of burnished wood, but we've always had a soft spot for the baseball bat that serves as a handle on the Hole's front door. We can hardly grasp it without sweet daydreams dancing in our heads: knocking hanging curves into the pen, roping doubles down the line, beating smart-ass punks over their - er, playing catch with Dad. Americana at its best.

Hole in the Wall
2538 Guadalupe

photograph by John Carrico   John Carrico

photograph by John Carrico   John Carrico

Best Fair Warning

The stenciled sign on the side of this venerable I-35 motel reads "No Trasspass No Weapons No Drugs No Prostitusion." Oh, and we checked: no hourly rates, either. Guess we'll have to keep lookin'.

Best Improvement In Bathroom Decor

Time was, relieving yourself at Lala's was like walking into the Yellow Rose: The men's room was plastered with posters of waxy, busty babes in poses both tawdry and revealing. Imagine our surprise when, the last time we went to (ahem) "see a man about a horse" in that fine old bar, we were greeted instead by soothing turquoise walls and an artful painting of the sun. Striking a blow for the feminist cause? "Nah," says proprietor Frances Lala. "We had to change. Every time we put those posters up, people would steal them." Either way, it's an improvement.

2207 Justin

Best Industrial Landscape

We fell in love with this place while putting the Eastside Guide together. Down on East Seventh, the eccentric building stands out from its fast food and taqueria-filled street like a misplaced little piece of 1950. Though the building was used most recently as a distribution plant for Shiner of Austin, the red Schiltz signs and Quonset-domed black tar roof have stayed in place through the years. Investors bought the place four years ago betting on the location's importance for the revitalization of East Seventh Street. The La Michoacana grocery store has recently opened in the western wing, but three spaces remain up for grabs. You too can set up shop beneath the sign of an era and taste gone by!

1917 E. Seventh

Best Interior Design

More than a thousand bunches of plastic grapes adorn the ceiling over Centennial's wine section at the back of the store. If you look at the right angle, it gives the effect of a vineyard trellis. If you look at the wrong angle, the fluorescent lights are clearly visible behind the grapes and so is the dust covering nearly every grape. But no wonder; they've been here since the 1970s. We asked why some of the grapes seemed clean while most were filthy. A worker in an American flag tie clued us in. "The drunks love to pull the grapes down - I dust 'em off before I stick 'em back up there."

Centennial Main Store & Office, 2932 Guadalupe, 512/478-4646
Centennial #2, 6534 N. Lamar, 512/451-3147

Best New Building Facade

We almost got into a wreck when we first saw the gorgeous glowing, green light pylons jutting out onto W. Fifth. Five of them protroud from a new turquoise facade atop bright Texas limestone. Big storefront windows (for a new Tapelenders video branch, Zan-Ray salon, and a gym) are accented by bright yellow awnings and even brighter red calling card tenant signage in a way-out Fifties homage. Sounds like a discordant mess? The combination of these disparate elements would seem an unadvisable and twisted take on Jetsons architecture. But some how, Paul Lamb Architects and designer Dineen Berger from Perspecta pulled it off with panache.

Best New Neon Sign

Actually, the shiny red boot is facing Duval right across from the gigantic fork at Hyde Park Bar & Grill. The pride of owner Steve Martin, this new landmark makes giving directions to Hyde Park locations even easier.

Duval & Park, 454-8829

photograph by John Carrico   John Carrico

Best New Public Building

The Cepeda Branch pulls off a neat trick: It's a secluded hideaway and a community landmark at the same time. You can't get much more accessible than Seventh & Pleasant Valley, but the plaza-like grounds and assertive yet inviting structure (both nearly hidden from the busy intersection) suggest something more cloistered and hallowed - perfectly in keeping with the mission of a library, even as the high-profile project enriches this East Austin crossroads.

Austin Public Library
Cepeda Branch Library, 651 N. Pleasant Valley, 512/974-7372
Terrazas Branch Library, 1105 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/974-3625
Twin Oaks Branch Library, 1800 S. Fifth, 512/974-9980
Hampton Branch Library, 5125 Convict Hill Rd., 512/974-9900
Spicewood Springs Library, 8637 Spicewood Springs Rd., 512/974-3800
Central Library, 710 W. Cesar Chavez, 512/974-7400
Carver Branch Library, 1161 Angelina, 512/974-1010

Best Non-residential View Of Austin

Across a wall in the Thundercloud Subs on Bee Caves is a triptych of a view over the large iron bridge of 360, the treetops of Westlake, and the centerpiece skyline of Austin, skyscrapers and all. Well, this wasn't just an incredible vision, thought up by the artist - no. It really exists and you can see it for yourself free of charge. Just park your car (or bicycle) on the north side of the bridge along the wide gravel shoulder, and walk up a steep hill and there it is, the Austin skyline and most of the surrounding Hill Country from 250 feet up. Sunrises are great for you morning folk, and the sunsets even better.

Loop 360

Best Place To Have A Gathering

Marsha Gomez has done a tremendous job of transforming 22 acres located out by the lake into a retreat center capable of housing dozens of people and providing such amenities as an outdoor stage, a sweat lodge, an herb and vegetable garden that supplies items for the veggie gourmet cooking done in the big kitchen of the main lodge, and a beautiful wooden bridge that spans the small creek meandering through the property.

Alma de Mujer Conference & Retreat Center
13621 FM 2769

Best Place To Reflect Upon The Essential Loneliness Of A Bull, Part One

In an act of bovine largesse, the Texas Wranglers and Silver Spurs commissioned and donated a statue of a staunch and stern, anatomically correct steer to the University of Texas. Though it must have seemed a place of honor at the time, the pathway between Hargis Hall and the Nowotny Building is a university pasture not often traveled, and there the lonely steer remains soldered in place, bronze eyes cast forlornly towards Memorial Stadium, where a livelier crop of Bevos get all the attention on certain Saturday afternoons. Ripe, ready, and loaded to bear, this ol' bull is woefully short on partners. Hey man, we've been there.

University of Texas at Austin
727 E. Dean Keeton, 512/471-3434
Sarah M. & Charles E. Seay Building, Speedway & Dean Keeton, 512/471-1157
UT Architecture Library, 200 Battle Hall, 512/495-4620
University of Texas Department of Art & Art History, 2301 San Jacinto, 512/475-7718

Best Place To Reflect Upon The Essential Loneliness Of A Bull, Part Two

In an act of bovine largesse, the Texas Wranglers and Silver Spurs commissioned and donated a statue of a staunch and stern, anatomically correct steer to the University of Texas. Though it must have seemed a place of honor at the time, the pathway between Hargis Hall and the Nowotny Building is a university pasture not often traveled, and there the lonely steer remains soldered in place, bronze eyes cast forlornly towards Memorial Stadium, where a livelier crop of Bevos get all the attention on certain Saturday afternoons. Ripe, ready, and loaded to bear, this ol' bull is woefully short on partners. Hey man, we've been there.

Computer Stuff
711 E. Sixth

Best Place To Throw A Swanky Party

We dream about living in this former artist's haven hidden under a mass of cedar trees. With its heavy stone floors, walls, and ceiling, the home is rustic but oh-so-comfortable, too. We love the way the light fills the rooms and can't get enough of the arched doorways and maze of indoor and outdoor living space. In lieu of moving in for good, we'll settle for renting the place, but at about $1,800 per weekend night, we'd better start saving our pennies now.

The Trois Estate
3612 Pearce

Best Place To Write On The Bathroom Walls Sans Vandalism

Finally, a place where interesting, intelligent people can do their business and still share their crude drawings, thoughts, and tawdry sayings with every other bathroom goer and not have to worry about contributing to the cost of a new paint job. Or is that half the fun? Oh well. To all you delinquents out there, you too can share your sexual conquests and phone numbers with everyone. Just use the chalk, not a Sharpie. Two chalkboards are provided in each bathroom and chalk is available upon request if it is not in there already.

Magnolia Cafe
1920 S. Congress, 512/445-0000

Best Renovation

Any respectable Gotham City set would have a building like this, not only for its lit-up letters at the top but also for its sleek and strong presence, which features large glass windows within a heavy dark stone structure. Makes us want to don pin-striped black suits and Tommy guns, and head up the avenue to the Paramount to catch a talkie.

City National Bank Building
401 Congress

Best Rooftop Riot Grrrrrl

It's been months since the split of the Skagen-Brakhage team, and they're still making ink in our pages. What can we say? We're suckers for public art. Our latest objet d'amour is the glam gal perched on the roof of Fran's Hamburger's. Guit-tar in one hand, burger in the other, she's literally grasping the Austin essentials: food and music. You want fries with that? Indeed.

Best Street To Drive Down & Check Out The Murals In South Austin

The murals on South Congress emerged from a need to advertise all the general oddities for sale in that area combined with a creative urge to paint by all the artists that live there. The result has made the Congress drag from Academy Drive to Mary Street a lively, colorful, and perfectly quirky part of town. For starters, check out the Eighties' style Zebra stripes at Electric Ladyland, Ian Shultz's Rastas at Shaggys, and Skagen-Brakhage's pink and green dinosaurs at Dragonsnaps.

Best-looking Dance Club

This dance club just off Sixth Street, not even a year old, starts with the very Nineties, Urban Outfitters approach of exposing the guts of the building. But rather than give it a crumbling-mortar facade, Twist gleams brightly, all chrome and smooth cement and shiny balcony railings and arty couches, while keeping its historic exterior intact. It's an architectural marvel, and the deejays inside the club aren't bad either.

505 Neches

Most Elegant Parking Lot

Italian restaurant mogul Carmelo Mauro went all out when he created this new parking lot adjacent to his eatery housed in an historic old Austin railroad hotel. Diners are met by the valet attendant as they pull under the white limestone porte-cochere. Cars are then whisked away to a perfectly paved lot enclosed by limestone pillars topped with globe lights and separated by delicate lacy metal scrollwork. The designers even saved the large live oak tree in the lot and landscaped around it. As parking lots go, this one leaves some of the paradise in its rightful place.

504 E. Fifth, 477-7497

Most Glorious Renovation Potential

Liz Lambert thought she had seen everything as prosecuting attorney for the DA in Manhattan. That is, until she bought and began managing the San Jose Motel on South Congress. The venerable flea-bag has been home to many a rent-by-the-hour tryst and contraband run - traditions banned when ths new manager took over the joint in 1996. During this interim period - to amass the necessary capital to realize her dream of turning the Saint Joe into a fully renovated and expanded boutique motel - Lambert admits to developing quite an affection for her current clientele. So it is with a fond farewell that she closes the motel to prepare it for its "retrofitting," into what she describes as a "little more Chateau Marmont- a little more Chelsea." And with Texas architectual darlings Flato & Lake at the helm, the new San Jose will honor the tourist court glory of the original enough to have folks singing that catchy Burt Bacharach tune by this time next year. Do you know the way-?

Hotel San José
1316 S. Congress

Most Riveran Mural

Diego Rivera, the Granddaddy of muralists everywhere, would be proud to see this one. The two 25-foot tall murals inside the Rec. Center were painted around the rear and front entranceways and tell the story of the three men who organized the Diez y Seis de Septiembre celebrations (Mexican Independence Day) at Zaragoza Park in 1929. With his attention to detail and a craftsmanship that brings to mind Rivera himself, Duran also managed to paint a potent narration of the Mexican Revolution and its vital influence on the Zaragoza neighborhood.

Parque Zaragoza Recreation Center
2608 Gonzales

Most Self-serving Structure

We were just checking to see if the latest issue of Girlfriends was in stock, when lo and behold we happened upon it. Now, we here at The Austin Chronicle's crack team of "Best of Austin" compilers and tabulation experts frown mightily upon ballot stuffers, vote crammers, and public opinion influencers alike. But when we saw BookWoman's ode to our annual Readers Poll and attempt to get out the vote, we couldn't help but smile.

5501 N. Lamar #105

Readers: Shopping
Critics: Arts & Culture

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