Architecture & Lodging
1999 Readers Poll
1999 Critics Picks
Best Architectural Transformation

You wouldn't know it from the front door. Neither does the inside reveal the structure's previous incarnation. Peering through the giant glass-faced wedge, the facade of the superb vegetarian restaurant looks more like the architectural love child of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Jetsons than a local filling station. Only from the building's side and back can you really tell that the spot used to hold a pre-self-serve service station. No weeping for history here, though. The world would be a better place if more gas pumps were turned into such fine shrines of food delight.

Best Architectural/Gardenscape Metal Artist

Lars Stanley is to architectural and landscape metalwork what Bob Marley is to reggae. Lars is a trained architect ('75 Texas A&M, UT, and Pratt for graduate studies) as well as a master of the forge, creating artwork that stuns the senses in a beautiful and organic manner. The man has vision. Check out his gates at the Zilker Botanical Gardens, the Possum Point Gazebo on the hike & bike trail, the handrails at the new airport, the memorial gazebo at the butterfly garden in Zilker, or the new, nearly invisible, stainless safety railing around the UT Tower observation deck for proof.

Lars Stanley
Stanley Architects
2007 Kinney

Best Architectural/Gardenscape Stonemason Artist

Dylan is a self-taught stone mason (and a university-trained philosopher), but to look at his work, you'd think he had apprenticed for decades in the rolling hills of Tuscany. He talks to the stone, but more importantly, he listens when the stone talks to him. This ain't no dry-stacking stoner; the man is an artiste, and his work proves it. Drive by 1200 Claire Street for a good example of his assemblage style, a blending of carved and cut limestone, brick, and flagstone - classical inspiration, contemporary influence.

Dylan "Rocky" Robertson
Big Red Sun
1102 E. Cesar Chavez

Best Diner Decor Redux

When we bolt outta the sack with the shakes and a bad hankerin' for a 3am tortilla soup fix, it steadies our nerves to remember that Jim has what we need. Jim is Our Man. We'll turn you on to him. He can set you up. This popular Texas chain diner can take care of your vittle cravings 24 hours a day. Our favorite location in Austin is the very angular Jim's on 183. So when we heard that they were closing for "renovations" this summer, we freaked. Would they dare sacrifice the gleaming silver fixtures, the bright blue chairs, and the electric orange walls? Would they flatten the roof?! Will it lose its fabulously cheesy late-Sixties, Brady Bunch charm? The voices taunted us in our sleep. We awoke in July, relieved to learn that, while updated and modified a bit to suit these stylish Nineties, Jim's still has a stainless-steel heart. The redesign is more service-friendly (to keep the waitstaff sane) and a bit more calm - more conducive to soothing during those 3am soup crises.

Jim's Restaurant
9091 Research, 512/837-1119
7101 Hwy. 71 W., 512/288-2408
12832 Research, 512/250-9881

Best Eye On Central Austin

South Austin's got its Blue Genie on South First to keep it safe and sound. Now Hyde Park has something more than Mr. Potatohead to ward off evil spirits and watch over things. This totem has the head of an eagle, just like the elegant Griffin for whom the school is named. The body, however, is not that of a lion: It is all heart - a big red heart - and a big eye. Last spring, substitute art teacher Chuck Weaver initiated the project with the students, who were, quite frankly, not thrilled with the idea. The fact that they never named the noble beast might be some sort of silent protest. But whaddya expect from a bunch of kids at a nontraditional high school? Hopefully they won't hate us for giving it a temporary name and for showing our love for their work. It's a fine addition to the center-city landscape.

Griffin School
5001 Evans

Best Flying Fish

A few years ago, without sacrificing their trademarked "quality," Eaves Bros. decided to expand on their "quantity." Seating at the popular afternoon fish market/cafe is no longer a crap shoot. There are plenty of tables to accommodate, and with the expanded cafe came special design touches and character. A seemingly endless hallway mural leads to the public restrooms. The "60-mile" long (according to the sign), electric-hued wonder, painted by Straw from Shout About It Sign Studio, features all manner of fish and seafaring creature partying down like there's maybe something more back there than the loo. Our favorite design touch, however is in the form of two giant hanging fish: the shark over the market coolers, and the dolphin over the cafe. Both were procured (rescued?) from the old tropical fish store in Hyde Park.

Quality Seafood Market
5621 Airport

John Anderson

Best Juicy Neon

Multitalented husband and wife team Greg and Sharon Keshishian of Ion Art - designers of so many glowing Austin landmarks - created this three dimensional figurative sign, a radiant, voluptuous bunch of grapes, for the new specialty wine superstore. The detailed work and craftsmanship on these these beauties is so realistic, it should entice potential wine buyers to exit MoPac and drive directly to the store.

Ion Art

Best Last Chance No-tell Motel In City Limits

Through all the changes in South Austin, there's only one motel between Oltorf and Oak Hill still standing. Opened since 1966, the Heart of Texas Motel has seen the widening of Hwy. 290 into a freeway, the extension of MoPac, and the creation of new mega-shopping stores like Target and Garden Ridge. Brenda and Jim Osbon, present owners since 1981, manage the 30 units, which include microwaves and refrigerators. This hidden South Austin motel ranks with the big chains with rates that range from $50-65.

The Heart of Texas Motel
5303 Hwy. 290 W.

Best Lodging For Visiting Friends

We've all been there: friends, or friends of friends, or not-so-close relatives are in town, and for whatever reason, they can't stay with you. But you can't leave them out in the cold. Or in Texas' patented 100 degree July heat. Centrally located, with clean, comfortable rooms, the Austin Motel is your best option, from the lovely Jacuzzi suite for your uncle to the bargain space for your old college crony. Odds are you'll want to hang out there as well. It has a cool pool and the superfine El Sol y La Luna Cafe next door.

Austin Motel
1220 S. Congress

Best Minimal Building With Maximum Usage

It's a tiny building, not much larger than a studio apartment really, but this small green structure built on the blacktop of a former used tire lot can really serve up a big taste. From coffee regular to foamy cappuccinos, from loose meat sandwiches to the sweetest of cinnamon rolls and best goldarned peanut butter cookies on the planet - this place can really satisfy your cravings. It's right on Congress Avenue with sidewalk seating, which really helps make for a fine morning, afternoon, or evening of good old-fashioned people-watching.

Jo's Coffee
1300 S. Congress, 512/444-3800
242 W. Second, 512/469-9003

Best New Amidst Old

When the plans went in, no doubt there were more than a few raised eyebrows around the South Austin neighborhood, but the finished building stands as a testament to how contemporary and classic can coexist peacefully. Richard Vargas, the architect of this grand design, went for what he refers to as "modern Victorian" - a term and concept one can only understand by viewing it for oneself. And if ever you've doubted that steel, stone, and glass could seem warm and inviting, you only need to drive by this structure to erase all doubt.

Richard Vargas Architecture

Best New Public Building

The new ACC complex in the heart of East Austin manages to be a grand gesture without crushing the surrounding neighborhood under its great political and symbolic weight. It's a (surprisingly) attractive campus, but more importantly, it doesn't look like it was beamed in from a distant planet, which is often what happens with projects like this. It instead shows that "changing the character of a neighborhood" isn't always something to be feared.

Austin Community College
Austin Community College Eastview Campus, 3401 Webberville Rd., 512/223-5100
Austin Community College Bookstore, 817 W. 12th, 512/474-7528
Austin Community College Rio Grande Campus, 1212 Rio Grande, 512/223-3000
817 W. 12th, 512/474-7528
Austin Community College Riverside Campus, 1020 Grove, 512/223-6000

Best New Public Building (small)

When you think about it, libraries and movie theatres are terribly different places. But this renovation of the old Americana Theatre completely reprograms the building into a first-class neighborhood library without losing the advantages of the original design. The big open space, the screen (now a mural), and the outdoor marquee all make going to the library into an event, and Austin Public continues the winning streak it started last year with the Cepeda Branch.

Best New Restaurant Sign - Downtown

Neon Jungle genius Evan Voyles took a pencil sketch by local artist Bob "Daddio" Wade and turned it into one of the biggest, most ferocious rattlesnakes we've ever seen. Not to worry, though. The neon rattle and pitchfork tongue on this giant reptile are just for show and seem to be attracting plenty of folks to downtown's newest see-and-be-seen scene.

Ranch 616
616 Nueces

Best Obscure Animal Statue

The Arboretum cows and the Congress Avenue bat aren't Austin's only animal sculptures. Our favorite obscure statue is the knee-high beige squirrel of UT's Scottish Rite Dorm. Slightly larger than life, the nameless squirrel has been snugly situated since SRD's 1922 opening. Why is it there? Well, perhaps "SRD" stands for "Squirrels' Rampant Dormitory," as these sweet, furry critters run wild when no one is looking - just like we did when we lived there.

Scottish Rite
207 W. 18th

Best Outhouse

You can take the girl out of the trailer park, but you can't take the trailer park out of the girl. And whenever we are feeling especially root-bound we head over to the Grove's outdoor seating area, throw back a few longnecks, and wait for the Molson to work its magic. Once we gotta "go," we head to the mobile home bathroom out back. There's somethin' about walking under those shade trees at sunset to the giant tin toilet that keeps long-gone summer evenings of fireflies and Sloppy Joes alive.

Best Public Art Trend 1999

Sure, Austin is loaded with clever Trevors in the business community who tart up their facades in an attempt to out-lure the competition. But, this year, especially, there has been an explosion of public art, and it has a common theme: people sticking out of buildings. We don't pretend to know what this particular brand of idol worship says about our town. Taco Xpress' Loco Maria by Michael Peschka, The Lightbulb Shop's "bright idea guy" (our name) by Rory Skagen, Garb-a-Go-Go's kiss-blowing lady by Carol Bosselman and Rory Skagen, and the stunningly gorgeous Anissa "the Assassin" Zamaron by Rich Canter lording over Richard Lord's Boxing Gym join local veterans like Dale Whistler's giant Mangia-zilla and Skagen and Brakhage's Fran of Fran's Hamburgers and Blue Genie atop Todd's Studio on South First.

Best Quick Historic Tryst

Wanna woo your honey with your vast and uncanny knack for modern Texas history? And rack up the points as a savvy feminist? How about a late-night romantic rendezvous at Barbara's Studio in the Summit House? This huge, groovy room in the South Austin B&B is named for the late congresswoman Barbara Jordan. For the less historically inclined, there are the Garden Suite and the Blue Room, equally classy numbers. David Rubin (who folks might remember from S. Congress' Common Market) has been working on his dream house since March 1997. A huge part of Summit House's appeal is its funky coziness, but the gourmet breakfasts and personal service make it a place you'll want to visit again and again - maybe next time with your latest squeeze (not to imply that your last one didn't work out -).

Summit House

Best Reason To Visit The Stevie Statue

Okay, so some of us are trying to do something good for ourselves. That means walking along Town Lake and, of course, paying homage to the statue of the hometown hero. But just west of Stevie Ray Vaughan, where the path takes a bend, sits the Walter Hyatt bench, with a small patch of flowers beside it. We stopped and sat there, sweaty from walking, and talked about the late musician who died in the ValuJet crash in 1997. A bench doesn't sound like much to some people, but sitting there on a warm summer morning, the river made us remember the gentle lyricism of Walter Hyatt, and we think he'd like that.

Best Reuse Of A Building

Well, wouldn't you know it, Madalyn's old office is now an intake room for clients of AIDS Services of Austin. Couldn't think of a better use for the place than as a branch of Austin's nonprofit dedicated to providing an important service to the community. The small altars, candles, and other physical displays of spiritual connection in this office of caring individuals has transformed the whole place - from a building with no faith to one dedicated to hope.

AIDS Services of Austin
7215 Cameron

Best Riff On International Icons

There was no way in Heck that we were going to put hand over our heart at the home of so many derned Aggies (yup, Freebird's World Burritos comes out of College Station), but when we saw that gleaming lady liberty stradlin' that Harley, we weren't sure what to do: Salute? Drop and give her 20? Sing "The Star-Spangled Banner"? Now, when we line up for at Freebird's we just grin at another piece of wacky public art. - Which is exactly what we did the first time we spied the gorgeous mini-Eiffel Tower which graces the front of Dreyfus Antiques - that is, after we did a double-take and regained control of the car. This exact, certified replica of the Paris landmark was actually acquired in Auxerre, France. The iron work was done by Francois Valtat, who passed away before completing the project. His son finished the lovely monument. It was brought over by Dreyfus to herald their new location on MLK which opened last fall.

Dreyfus Antiques - Brocante
1901 N. Lamar

Freebirds World Burrito
1000 E. 41st #260

Best Secret Garden

Once lodged haphazardly in the urban beauty of weeds and railroad tracks, this apparently unplanned sculpture garden now hides in plain sight. Although now in a more congenial setting amid trimmed grasses, crepe myrtle, and the pleasant outdoor gardens of Cafe Mundi, these sandstone and concrete constructions still emanate whiffs of Easter Island mystery. The large heads and spirit houses invite close inspection. What they communicate varies with the viewer. We don't want to take away all the mystery so we won't identify the sculptor. However, if you check the Omni Hotel on San Jacinto you can view a more accessible example of his art, up-close and personal.

Best Secret Passage To Nowhere

By now everyone knows about Thundercloud - fine sandwiches, fresh ingredients, fresher employees, but Store #6 has something special going for it: a staircase to nowhere. If life is not surreal enough already, head over to Lake Austin, swing open the TV set, and check it out.

ThunderCloud Subs
ThunderCloud Subs #10, 903 W. 12th, 512/322-0154
ThunderCloud Subs #1, 1608 Lavaca, 512/478-3281
ThunderCloud Subs #3, 3200 Guadalupe, 512/452-5010
ThunderCloud Subs #2, 201 E. Riverside, 512/441-5331
ThunderCloud Subs #11, 2521 Rutland, 512/835-6458
ThunderCloud Subs #14, 3201 Bee Caves Rd., 512/328-2114
ThunderCloud Subs #151, 2300 Lohmans Spur, 512/263-1620
ThunderCloud Subs #17, 5401 Burnet Rd., 512/467-9438
ThunderCloud Subs #18, 13776 Hwy. 183 N. #152, 512/258-9145
ThunderCloud Subs #19, 1807 W. Slaughter, 512/282-2255
ThunderCloud Subs #21, 1010 S. Lamar, 512/443-0888
ThunderCloud Subs #5, 7930 Burnet Rd., 512/451-0027
ThunderCloud Subs #6, 2308 Lake Austin Blvd., 512/479-6504
ThunderCloud Subs #7, 10000 Research #137, 512/345-8186
ThunderCloud Subs #8, 2801-B S. Lamar, 512/443-0960
ThunderCloud Subs #9, 2021 E. Riverside, 512/445-4163
ThunderCloud Subs #20, 1110-D N. I-35, Round Rock, 512/244-2468
ThunderCloud Subs #28, 6920 FM 620 N., 512/335-3663
ThunderCloud Subs #31, 2500 W. Parmer #160, 512/255-2013
6501 Hwy. 290 E., 512/451-5830

Best Sidewalk Art

Perhaps this spray paint stencil is a reaction to the commerce-centric "clean-up" of South Austin, or a strategic move in the psychological battle for control of common spaces, or maybe just evidence of job dissatisfaction. In any case, its presence among the thriving shops of South Congress Avenue makes us pause and consider. Think of it as yet another contribution to the public, anonymous dialogue about work, production, and consumption that's been taking place on Austin's billboards, streets, and telephone poles of late.

Best So-so Nickname For South Austin

- as in the SoCo Center of South Austin. So SoHo, so SOMA, so NoHo, so TriBeCa, so Nolita, so hand us one of those airline bags on our way outta here because a simple 78704 was quite enough, thank you.

Best Traffic Calming Decor

Long after it was made, this roundabout had an ugly dirt pile on it. City landscaping crews seemed to have passed it by. Then eight milk jugs filled with brightly colored liquids appeared on the circle's perimeter curb. Some thought they were weird-funny, some thought they were bizarre-tacky, no one knew where they came from. Were they an alien landing zone? A political statement? Were they the reason the city finally landscaped only days later?

Best Wallpaper

Taking a walk through the Texicalli Grille is like taking a walk through proprietor Danny Young's head: It's crowded, comic, and filled with local history. Put'near every inch of the joint is plastered over with some lost bit of Austin's past, from spare signage (Virginia's Cafe) to old concert posters (Willie!) to a bumper sticker collection par excellence (I'm Crazy Too Carl). You'll also find the front bumper from a '57 Chevy Nomad, an old Sun tabloid ("Girl Gives Birth to Chimpanzee in Tragic Sperm Bank Mishap"), a Chia Elmer Fudd, and plenty of Austin arcana to ogle while waiting on your muy mocha shake. "Texas' attic," one customer called it; "Austin's womb," said another. One thing's for sure: Walk into the Texicalli, and you'll know damn well where you are.

Greatest Addition To The Westlake View

Westlake residents pay big bucks for their great views. And the newest addition to their panorama, Jake's on Lake Austin, is quite a sight. The huge neon saxophone makes sure you know this restaurant is there, and its bright blue and red exterior makes its equally easy to find during the day. Jake's owners, who also own Mozart's and Sam Hill, have nabbed another piece of that prime lakefront action. Westlakers should understand that just fine when they look out their picture windows and see the glow from off the lake. And the rest of us will never have a problem finding Jake's when we're in the mood for fresh seafood and lakeside dining.

Juiciest Neon

Multitalented husband and wife team Greg and Sharon Keshishian of Ion Art - designers of so many glowing Austin landmarks - created this three dimensional figurative sign, a radiant, voluptuous bunch of grapes, for the new specialty wine superstore. The detailed work and craftsmanship on these these beauties is so realistic, it should entice potential wine buyers to exit MoPac and drive directly to the store.

Prettiest Recycling Project

Ah! The noble canoe: a sleek and simple mode of transportation. A connection to the past. A cool design element to have jutting out of your building? Waterloo Ice House owners Ted Karam and Scott Hentschel couldn't resist the offer to scarf up Zilker's retired fleet when those old canoes were put out to pasture. The purchase just happened to coincide with the guys' desire to redesign the look of their restaurants. Cornerstone Group Architects' Bob Wetmore envisioned and implemented the old-meets-new design, adding a rainbow of neon tubes for a touch of glowy modern-day backlighting - all to stunning effect.

Waterloo Ice House
8600 Burnet Rd., 512/458-6544
6203 Capital of TX Hwy. N., 512/418-9700
9600 Escarpment Blvd., 512/301-1007
9600 S. I-35 Ste. D-100, 512/292-7900

Twinkliest Holiday Faerieland

The biggest, brightest, and most brilliant seasonal light displays are homespun, homemade, hometown labors of love. The best lights from the heart this side of the world-renowned 37th Street annual extravaganza belongs to a hair salon on Red River and the adjoining rent house which shares its parking lot. Every type of light teeny and bright transforms this humble little hair haven into an awe-inspiring holiday heaven. Neighbors come from all over to sit in wonder under the glow. For the past four years, Ryan Green, grandson of salon owner Paul Green, has spent about a month preparing and stringing thousands of strands of lights in honor of the season. Proud grandpa Paul says that during that time of year, the electric meter on his shop "spins so darn fast you can hardly see it!" Home for the holidays? We can count on Paul and Ryan to leave the lights on!

Readers: Shopping
Critics: Arts & Culture

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