We knew the military had a critical shortage of troops, so when we saw this sign, we couldn't help but wonder to what lengths the government was going for their latest batch of recruits. Though our active imaginations tell us otherwise, don't expect to see black-clad, silver-haired spies and ninjas stealthily creeping around any time soon. Far from a training school for the next, err, last generation in Special Ops, Elder Special Forces actually serves families exploring assisted-living options – kind of like reconnaissance for those seeking a little peace and quiet.
Okay, we all know that there are tons of apartment complexes with great locations. So why name the Waters the best? Well, the Waters conveniently sits just off of South I-35 at Slaughter in a little valley surrounded by natural wetlands – that's a plus. And it's not uncommon to see a deer or two wondering along the property – that's pretty cool. But drive 30 seconds in either direction on the access road, and you'll find yourself smack dab in the middle of the parking lot of one of Austin's two largest XXX stores. Do you know of any other apartment complex that's sandwiched between two mega porno palaces? Now that's convenience.
The Waters at Bluff Springs
7707 S. I-35
This is a ballsy title to claim, but Beerland is a ballsy club. You can talk about your Emo's, your Holes, and your Chili Parlors, but Beerland's men's room hasn't been around as long as those others, and the walls and stalls are nearly full. That means it's fresh – at least artistically.
There are no commercial buildings in Austin more than 200 years old and not too many that are more than 100 years. America’s history is short, and Austin’s even shorter, so a structure with character that is even a half-century old and in a condition aching for pre-emptive preservation is worthy of note. The Trafton & Son Tile building, with its mosaic south wall, slanted roof, and subtly elegant font use, oozes with midcentury industrial potential. And that For Sale sign's been there forever! Personally, we are entertaining serious offers for partnership in our thrift-store/interior-design-by-day/coffee-klatch-by-night concept. Duh. Why didn't you think of that?
Trafton and Son Inc.
The quest of the ages is where to find Love. Sometimes desires run along the lines of something a bit more base and a simple Tryst will do. And then there are those down-and-dirty times when what one seeks is simply a good Shag, baby. City of Austin road crews accommodated motorists with explicit directions ("Access to Love," "Access to Tryst," "Access to Shag") during the seemingly endless road work along South First street. Motorists seeking each of these three cunningly named businesses were directed to the locales with prominently placed blue signs announcing true intentions. If only ...
Space is the place. Austin's public spaces are precious. When we think of public space, natural and architectural wonders like Zilker Park, the UT Tower, the Barton Springs bathhouse, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and the LBJ Library all come to mind as places to gather and celebrate our home. Through Austin's Nineties tech boom, new architectural landscapes began adding to that map: White granite edifices typified by the Whole Food/BookPeople complex became as much a part of our design sensibilities as the state Capitol building or a grove of live oak. A more contemporary style has emerged, melding form, function, and Austin's sense of space. Adaptive reuse projects like the Penn Field complex – home of Ruta Maya, the Design Center, and Clear Channel radio – or the transformation of the old Mrs. Baird's bread factory into ALLGO's Tillery Street Theater, have given Austin a well-deserved face lift. The firm responsible for, or somehow involved in, these and other of Austin's finest facades: the lofty Zen location on the Drag, University Federal Credit Union's jarringly elegant Brodie branch, and the nostalgic Davenport Market is Antenora Architects, championing a new era for Austin, forging an aesthetic that is quickly becoming Austin's new signature, carving a space for our sense of place.
Perhaps this masterpiece, this soul-sending work of art should also be given an award for Best Mural That You Really Have to Look For. Sankofa is the name of this two-paneled complement that resides behind John Yancey's now well-known mural that has become synonymous with – almost a logo for – Austin's re-emergent "East End." Yancey, a UT studio art professor was awarded an Art in Public Places grant to create a focal point for the Charles Urdy Plaza at East 11th and Waller and came up with a vibrant, colorful ode to old East Austin. A smaller grant was awarded to legendary glass artisan and social activist Reji Thomas to create a meditative piece that would face the park benches, essentially to the rear of the park. Rugged shards of glass, brick, tile, "found" (though we suspect quite intentional and jammed with meaning) objects poke out of white plaster like Watts and Gaudi, and come together in this poignant Eastside story. Elements. Slices of sunlight. Hye Won Hye. That which does not burn. The massive church and cross. Testaments of faith. A tree that holds the spiral of history. Odo Nnyew Fie Kwan. Love never loses its way home. The rail car made from jagged industrial parts. Ese Ne Tekrema. The teeth in the tongue. To sit and face this important statement is to bear witness to the pages of history. To look out through the tiled mosaic fingers, leafing through time, we see ourselves, our past, our future, right now. A mystery. Sesa Woruban. I transform my life. Sankofa: Learn from the past. Return and get it.
Graphic Glass Studios Inc.
1101 E. Fifth
There's plenty to like about this Manor Road descendant of San Antonio's mom & pop La Fiesta Patio Cafe. This puffy taco palace is sort of La Fiesta 2.0, as the upgraded Vivo is definitely less "down-home" than its predecessor. While the vibe is still comfy, Vivo is graced with romantic low lighting, table linens, and a lively deck. We'd like to meditate for a moment on this deck ... literally. The deck is a great place to rejuvenate and feel the world drift away. The wall fountain provides the outdoor seating area's visual stimulation and dampering, concurrently. As the focal point of the deck, this gorgeous story-tall wonder blocks the view of the parking lot and its attendant noise. It adds as much as it takes away, substituting a soothing whoosh and trickle for the din outside. Visually, the lovely reflecting pool offers surfaces and depths to ponder and a great place to toss your wishes and hope for them to come true. Sometimes, the sun peeks in for a visit, beaming down on the flowing water. At this point, the entire day just begins to shimmer.
We're reserving judgment on City Hall and the Carver complex until we can actually go inside. But once again, the best tax-dollar contribution to the local built-scape is a library – a facility designed, and executed, to bring diverse people and interests together. At Ruiz, this is almost literal; the library is not just a hub for, but also a gateway to, Montopolis and Southeast Austin, and a place where patrons and citizens can both be at home and explore the world.
It would be easy to play the social-guilt card here, but the fact is Austin is blessed with not one but two Habitat for Humanity RE-store locations. More than just a thrift shop, the RE-store offers amazing selections of new and gently used doors, cabinets, lumber, flooring, drywall, electrical, and other items for refurbishing your digs. Their Web site offers an astounding array of items available at both stores, making it easy to browse the aisles without ever getting into traffic. And profits go right back into supporting affordable housing. How can you lose?
An event can transcend its setting, but when the event is that important, why settle for anything less than a true Texas best? Austin abounds with lovely event venues, but winter, spring, summer, or fall, it's hard to beat the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. So close, yet so secluded, the center offers indoor spaces with vaulted ceilings and entire walls of glass, as well as an outdoor patio and breezeway with beautiful stonework, a gurgling fountain, and koi pond – so romantic you'll wish the event went on forever. And let's not forget those magnificent wildflowers.
For many years Rowell's Shoe Repair was a most-beloved local business that did more than its fair share to keep Austin weird. Then, sadly, proprietor Steve Martin closed shop. For years the building sat unsold until recently, when local wedding photographer Lisa Shepherd and her handy husband, Don, took over. They're revamping the place, shooting for an October grand opening – a wonderful, new, as-of-yet unnamed boutique and new life on the old corner.
Standing sentry over her long-abandoned club, this classy reminder of the Eastside nights of yore has been around as long as we can remember. Around the corner, current spots like the White Swan and Aristocrat keep the 12th & Chicon nightlife bumping, but the nostalgic, ghostly quality of the Fresh Up makes us long for her return. Even though the Fresh Up Club moniker has been given new life by Peat Duggins and David Bryant of the Eastside art space, we still hope that, someday soon, this landmark of the old East Austin will reclaim her place in the community as well as her rightful glory.
Was it an Amish artist, ousted, perhaps, for contact with the high-tech world, who adorned the picket fence surrounding a tiny house on East 31st Street with compact discs? Or just a diligent homeowner, creatively keeping pesky birds at bay? Painted in a somewhat traditional and primitive folk art fashion, the colorful creation is reminiscent of Pennsylvania Dutch Hex Signs purported to bring abundance, love, and safety to the owners. Considering these discs' proximity (only a few blocks from the Chronicle!), we are hoping their power will encompass us, too! 1100 block, East 31st
Looking for the hot spot for your party to drop? Try the patio at Red's Scoot Inn. Recently, the kids of Austin have been flocking to this Eastside joint to satisfy their personal partying needs. It's all about freedom: Once booked, you are in control of the scene. Book your favorite bands, invite the local slam poets, throw in a magician or two; it's all up to you. Make sure and say "hey" to the regulars inside. DIY or die.
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