Architecture & Lodging
2000 Readers Poll
2000 Critics Picks
Best Balcony

After several years of renovation, the old Stephen F. Austin Hotel has finally reopened under the Intercontinental flag. The lobby is majestic, the rooms are first class. But the coolest thing about the new hotel is its balcony. Located on the second floor off the Stephen F. Bar, the balcony was a part of the original, historic, design, but had to be altered to bring it up to current building code standards. We're happy they decided to use it. There's no better place in town to sit outside, get a gander of Austin's main avenue, and watch the world go by.

InterContinental Stephen F. Austin
701 Congress

Best Bathroom Graffiti

The walls get painted over a lot, but the Texas Chili Parlor's clientele is irrepressible when it comes to unleashing their creativity. The potty-goers' words of wisdom run the gamut from Mae West quotes like "My left leg is Thanksgiving. My right leg is Christmas. Why don't you visit me between the holidays?" to poems about pigs.

Texas Chili Parlor
1409 Lavaca

Best Building That Inspires Perfect Harmony

In the 10 years that the ALO has been in town (a mere nanosecond in the world of opera), the company has engendered such enthusiasm that it has become a driving force in the revamping of the Palmer Auditorium into the Long Center for the Performing Arts. But while that structure is still a few years from being a reality, the Lyric Opera has opened the doors of its very own space with offices, rehearsal halls, and classrooms for musicians throughout the community. The incorporation of theatrical elements - the use of rich, dramatic colors (muted perhaps but still striking), set pieces in the foyer and theatrically inspired artwork in the first-floor hallway, the sidewalk nod to building patrons in bricks resembling ticket stubs - by building designers Lake|Flato also add to the appeal of the space and make it cause for celebration.

Austin Lyric Opera
901 Barton Springs Rd.

Best Candidate For A Statue

When Doug Sahm died last November, he not only took a piece of Austin's heart with him, he carried off a big chunk of Texas Soul. Fortunately, there's plenty of the Great State to go around, like say some of that prime real estate down on Town Lake - over there by Stevie Ray. Plant a row of redwoods, build a waterfront of benches, sculpt some twisting Texas Tornados. Doug Sahm, State Musician of Texas.

Best Dan Quayle Impersonation

Picture of McDonald's sign on South Airport reading "99¢ Breakfast Burritoes".

303 E. Oltorf, 512/442-7717
1143 1/2 Airport, 512/926-1234
Capital Plaza, 5355 N. I-35, 512/452-7473

Best Drive-by Strangeness Phenomenon

Whether you think it's an eyesore or art, this statue of a bubblegum-pink primate with clown lips, a porno-style arched back, and a disturbingly human-looking ass is nothing if not strange. The fact that it sits isolated on the corner with no further explanation (we think it's supposed to promote the nearby bingo parlor) only adds to the joyous dissonance.

Best Fusion Of Arts & Industry

Artists. Warehouse. Old news. Right? We thought so until we entered the squat blue block of a building at 2832 E. MLK. Katherine Brimberry and Mark L. Smith, the founders of Flatbed Press, co-owner Gerald Manson, and architect Samantha Randall transformed this vast, bland concrete bunker into a spacious and surprisingly warm arts space that buzzes with the sound and feel of industrious creativity. Art exhibitions, studios, arts company administrative offices, and the huge printmaking shop in the back offer a glimpse at art made and in the making. Given that it's home to a variety of visual artists and performing arts groups, Flatbed World Headquarters is both a center for Austin's arts community and an invigorating culture factory.

Flatbed Press
3701 Drossett #190

Best Historic Bed & Breakfast

Built in 1911 as a one-story, L-shaped bungalow with wraparound porches, the Adams House in Hyde Park was elevated to a two-story colonial revival home in 1931. Architect Gregory Free rescued the house from renters and returned it to its glory days with polished pine floors, sash windows, slate flooring, and 12-foot ceilings. Hosts Sidney and John Lock offer pampered service in three guest rooms that are as comfortable as they are attractive. Two minutes from downtown, tucked away across the bridge and off Congress, the old Miller Crockett House is a grand alternative to conventional accommodations. Built in 1888 in New Orleans architectural style, the stately parlor, dining rooms, spacious verandas, and uniquely appointed bedrooms are a dream realm. Would you like a six-foot clawfoot tub with your room, ma'am? Mahogany or brass bed? And did we mention the spectacular view of the downtown skyline?

Miller Crockett Bed & Breakfast
112 Academy

Adams House Bed & Breakfast
4300 Ave. G

Best Jetsons-Style Taqueria

Perhaps this is how architects in the 1960s envisioned the taqueria of the 21st century - a domelike structure with cement wings arching out in four directions. Even a regular taco under the fluted ceiling of El Rancho Grande #2 becomes an excursion into an art deco future.

Best Ladies Room At UT

Stylish and scrupulously clean, this oasis features natural light, bright colors, inventive use of mosaic tile, and lots of the color teal. It far outclasses other entrants, such as the dank UGL basement and the worn and ugly horrors of the first floors of the PCL and CMA. Yet for exclusivity and swank, we suspect little surpasses the locked potty paradise shared by the 10 women in the Tower's second-floor executive offices. Alas, we'll never know.

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 Men's Restroom In A Live Music Venue

Nightclubs are not commonly known for their immaculate restrooms, but Red Eyed Fly's male facilities are inviting to all but the most terminally pee-shy guys. The self-flushing urinals festooned with plastic insects add an extra element of cleanliness, while sparkling hep metal sink basins encourage frequent hand-washing in an arena where it ain't exactly de rigueur. There's also a sizable stall for more serious business, but you'll have to bring your own reading material.

Best Place To Catch People Sleeping Between Classes

Since the Texas Union became the de facto food court of the West Mall, there's little space for slumber. But the Teaching Center is a different story altogether. We doubt that the architects of this very 1970s building planned its darkened halls with sleeping students in mind. Nevertheless, it seems tailor-made for scholars slouching on couches. Like weary soldiers, students heed not where they fall and leave backpacks in their wake as they steal a few blissful Zzzs before the next bell. The modular sofa scheme shimmers in the hazy light, in velvety hues of orange, blue, and crimson, and conveniently breaks into many smaller pieces; if one isn't pleased with her next-door neighbor, she can always move. But this would never happen. The students are so tired and stressed from books, papers, and tests that they all make good neighbors.

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 Puppets On A Pulley

Christmas decorations are up all year round at Lala's, where a jukebox of old standards keeps the place frozen in the past as well as in the holiday season. Our favorite part of the décor, though, is the collection of elves that hover over the bar and raise and lower as the door to the men's bathroom swings open and shut.

2207 Justin

Best Reason To Stay Off The Interstate Overnight

Got guests? In the early days of motor car traveling, major thoroughfares offered all kinds of roadside motels from which to choose. Nowadays, these options mostly exist on access roads of interstate highways in the form of chains. Sure, they're affordable options, but Austin is blessed to have two alternatives, both on South Congress and within spitting distance of the Capitol. With its kidney-shaped pool and Southwestern architecture, the Austin Motel is a nostalgic home away from home, and you know you're away from home in the lovely décor, with unique themes in each room. Plus, the Austin is attached to the scrumptious El Sol y La Luna restaurant. The Hotel San Jose is a zen oasis from the hustle and bustle of South Austin's busy boulevard. The radically modernized motor court exudes comfort, with its stucco and barrel-tiled roof having achieved the sought-after look of a perfectly broken-into favorite pair of jeans. With options like the Austin and the St. Jo, there is no reason to stay on the highway to hell.

Hotel San José
1316 S. Congress

Austin Motel
1220 S. Congress

photo by John Anderson

Best Restaurant Décor Design

Though we appreciate the work that turned the inside of the Treehouse Italian Grill into a rustic Italian trattoria and the truly hilarious scenes he painted in the bathrooms at Round Rock's New York Deli, the most definitive examples of muralist Michael Peschka's work can be found inside, outside, and on top of Taco X-press. This adorable work-in-progress began with kitschy décor on the interior walls, progressed to the larger-than-life statue of taco queen Maria Corbalan on the roof, and rambled out to the charming village scenes on the comfortable patio, turning the whole place into a cozy Mexican village. Part of the fun of going to Maria's is just to see what Peschka will do next.

Best Roof For Lounging

Okay, so there are other rooftops in town for people to gather upon, and those places might have decks and seating as comfortable as this one, not to mention views equally as edifying. But this top-o'-the-building getaway is the zenith of the Artplex, which means that the folks relaxing up there are among the more interesting, creative fringe of downtown society. We wouldn't dream of indulging our acrophilia with anyone else.

Best Theatre Space Improvement

Those of us who remember the early sweltering days of this performance space are undyingly grateful for the new air-conditioning units installed, for thousands of dollars, by the resident Rude Mechanicals. The new cooling system generates 20 tons of BTUs to chillify an estimated 4,500 square feet of prime performance space. And the manufacturer? Ruud, of course.

The Off Center
2211-A Hidalgo

Best View From A Pew

When you're having trouble focusing on the more intangible aspects of the Holy One, enjoy the most ethereal panorama of creation - well, local creation, at least, available right here in Austin at Saint Luke's on the Lake Episcopal Church. Featuring ridiculously gorgeous sunsets in one of the few remaining parts of Austin not completely overdeveloped, St. Luke's is a bit of heaven on earth, but try not to covet thy neighbor's boat.

St. Luke's on the Lake Episcopal Church
5600 Ranch Road 620N

Coolest Place To Get Searched

In a state where you can legally carry concealed weapons by the armload, safety concerns are a fact of life. Airports, courtrooms, heck, even some schools have metal detectors. If you don't take issue with such searches, might we recommend another? After being closed in 1974 due to several suicides, the observation deck on the UT Tower reopened to the public last year. But don't think you can just stop by anytime the mood suits to enjoy the view. No, all visitors must pass through a metal detector and submit to a search. (Even UT employees in the tower after 5pm are subject!) A reservation is required, and all belongings must stay down below. That means no camera bags, purses, fanny packs, diaper bags, and especially nothing metal. You will be searched!

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

Finest Weekend Getaway On The Water

Hosts Judy and Vic Dwyer have created their own little paradise right on Lake Travis. With private balconies, stunning views of the sunset, a cozy pool, and tons of romantic touches, this B&B feels like a hideaway. You'll be bragging about your "vacation" for months to come.

Lake Travis Bed & Breakfast
4446 Eck Lane

Iciest Reception

There it stands, staunchly, quietly, and mysteriously, while everything around it burgeons with remodeling and music and thousands of young people arriving and laughing and drinking and leaving. If you had a time-lapse film reel that presented the last five or 10 or even 50 years of the strip of Red River that stretches north from Sixth Street, it would be the only fixed thing in the frame, all white noise and industrial glow. It is the old Reddy Ice building on the 900 block of Red River, and many a young drunk passerby has navigated around the unpeopled, idling diesels that abut the building in the wee hours. Entertainment seekers of late have tried to park in its periphery, and once, it seemed, the freeze compound welcomed them - or at least ignored them, like a rhinoceros would regard the birds making a lunch of the mites on his back. But somewhere in the third reel, the Reddy Ice logo was altered, decorated with two large almond-shaped eyes. Whether this was vandalism by a very mischievous passerby - or something, perhaps, not of this world - the logo's recent transformation into an alien head marked an end of the neighborhood behemoth's tolerance toward the youth and growth and change clamoring around it. Sometime since the Reddy Ice people vacated about a year ago, a vicious towing policy has been instituted. Now it seems that wreckers are a constant fixture during party prime time, circling slowly and closing in for the kill at every opportunity. The industrial rhino has stood and shook its parasites away, and we say it's best to respect its wishes, especially with that alien head's icy stare presiding over it all.

Reddy Ice
901 Red River

Most Interesting Transition

When the former porn theatre on South Congress was reconstructed, we were excited, thinking maybe an arthouse theatre would finally find its way to the south side. But something else has filled the void - communications technology company Future Protocol. Huge, shiny copper plates now cover the top floors of the building, making two sides of it look strangely like a fortress. Or maybe a spaceship. And there's even a rooftop deck for when employees need to see the light of day. Future Protocol did keep the old-timey marquee on which to display its name, but other than that, you'd hardly recognize the place - O what a difference a dot-com makes! As for lurid tales of debauchery about the previous tenants - we'll have to wait and see how much has really changed.

Most Long-awaited, Overdue Public Sculpture

After 12 years, the hard work of a group of UT students has finally paid off. Their effort to diversify the subjects of statuary on the UT campus has been realized with the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. statue, sculpted by husband-and-wife team Jeffrey and Anna Koh-Varilla, on the East Mall. Here's a symbol, at long last, wrought from material fit to suggest the strength of this great champion of peace and equal rights.

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

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Critics: Arts & Culture

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