2004 Readers Poll
2004 Critics Picks
Best Air Hockey

Ever find yourself wandering around Downtown on a Saturday night, dazed and perhaps confused, wondering where you might play a good ol’-fashioned game of "whack the puck"? The Ritz on Sixth has two tables, four paddles, and two sweet hovering discs just calling out yer name. Go on, let your killer instincts challenge your better half to a duel or show up your posse's show-off. That's it! Now all's you need is to lace up those high-tops and flip up that collar to send you right back to the Eighties.

Best Audio Production Go-To Guys

Hard to top Corey Roberts and Bob Kellough for perfectionism in the realm of audio recording, mastering, editing, producing, and performing. Whether for albums, radio, TV, or film projects. (Amazing what they can do with that ubiquitous low-budget DV film where the filmmaker was much too busy thinking about how it "looked" to worry about how it "sounded" and now wants to know what that hideous buzzing sound is, anyway?)

501 Audio
501 N. I-35

Best Coffeehouse Stage/Sound System

This ain't no bohemian, bebop, black beret, bongo-bangin', beat generation box in a basement. Ruta Maya’s stage is a coffeehouse colossus, a centerpiece for the self-centered, an Olympus for the onanist, a maniacally massive monolith fitted with top-notch lighting and a full throttle, ear-piercing, hair-throwing sound system. It’s finger clickin' good.

Best Dancing Elves

As if Lala's isn't already the stuff of urban legend: The venerable bar opened in '72 tucked into an innocuous strip mall, Christmas decorations adorning the joint year 'round, dusty pennants and hats lining the walls, a jukebox filled with real 45s. But have you ever noticed, Bloody Mary in hand, that the miniature stuffed elves hanging along the ceiling jump up and down when the door to the men's room opens? Not quite magical, but with the help of that hangover cure, it's close enough.

2207 Justin

Best DIY Venue

This Eastside haunt has transubstantiated itself from an abandoned house of worship to Austin's most diverse underground venue quicker than you can say Ray Parke Jr. Home to everything from proggy-free-form jazz and experimental fare to noisier no-wave and post-punk rock like the Nervous Exits (whose lead squealer John Yauchland calls the Ghost home and handles a bulk of the booking), this venue provides a viable alternative to the Sixth and Red River scenes, invites its neighbors to come out and play, and hosted a load of great SXSW day shows in 2004. We ain't 'fraid of no Ghost!

Church of the Friendly Ghost

Best F-ing Arena Band to Play an Empty Bar

They've got what it takes to fill the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater fit to bursting: the amps cranked, the hair flying, the smoke machines, the merch, the hot ladies in cut-offs showing their titties. Well, OK, not everything, but you can hear them from the parking lot; they do have wind-blown manes (courtesy of the electric fan on the floor); smoke does come out of Frankie's (that's the band's mascot) nostrils; and there are hot ladies in cut-offs – except they're leaning against the bar, shirts on, drinking cans of Pearl, and leisurely tossing their tresses to note-for-note covers of the Nuge, Motörhead, Sabbath, Maiden, and the like. Yeah, it's just another Friday night at the Poodle Dog Lounge, and Texecution are playing balls out until last call. Good news for available guitarists, bad news for the rest of us: The band recently announced that they are looking to replace their irreplaceable axeman David Garza, who has left the band. Later, Garza. You will be seriously missed.

Poodle Dog Lounge, 6507 Burnet Rd., 465-9468

Best Martinis and Manicures

Are your nails appearing a little rough around the edges? Looking to wash away the cares of the day with a little martini magic? Then hop over to Cuba Libre on any Thursday night between 5 and 10pm and put your name on the list for a $10 martini and manicure combo. It has the makings of a fabulous ladies night, an affordable and fashionable way to start the night out right.

Cuba Libre
409 Colorado

Best New Crooner

What do you get when you take a one-time Waterloo records employee, add a dash of Dwight Yokum and a sprinkle of Chris Isaak? Easy, you get the countrified crooning of nice guy D.B. Harris. A relative A-town newcomer (Harris moved from Alabama in 2000), the self-professed Nighttime Man has been performing since he was 16. His first Austin-released disc – the self-released Can I Return These Flowers? – sold 700 copies at Waterloo and has earned him an earnest and growing following. Although Harris had a stint of Monday night gigs at Ego's and, more recently, the every-so-often gig at the Continental Club, in the last year he's spent more time playing gigs in Europe than he has at home. We hope this will change in the coming year as his fan base continues to expand, and with the release of his most recent offering, Contagious Heartache – lest we end up in a similarly distressing state of mind.


Best New In-Store Store

Not only does Sound on Sound carry Austin’s best stock of metal, hardcore, and punk vinyl, but in its mere half-year's existence it has earned a reputation for throwing some of Austin's best live shows in a record store. SoS's in-store showcases are the perfect ticket for those not willing to face-down the traffic nightmare of the Sixth & Lamar juggernaut – or for those who prefer an edge over Waterloo's fairly placid lineup. Featuring such touring hardcore bands as Sleeper Cell and Damage Deposit, as well as local Texas outfits like BSA, Cold Era, the Krum-Bums, and Sound on Sound’s own founder/owner/sole employee Jason Costanzo’s band Storm the Tower, Sound on Sound's in-stores are creating a welcome stir in the ever-evolving North Loop district. We are certainly looking forward to what's "in store."

Sound on Sound
106 E. North Loop

Best Place to Art Trip

We weren't sure what we might find here – the Guacamole Queen's old peasant blouse? Doug Sahm's cowboy hat? Stevie Ray Vaughan's bell-bottoms? Surprise! It's a wonderfully curated display of art that featured underground comic pioneer Jack Jackson this summer and, more recently, poster artist Jim Franklin, plus a seldom-seen Ken Featherston wall mural. It's also the de facto hangout for younger as well as more established poster artists – a recent day saw both Bill Narum and Billy Perkins on the premises.

Best Place to Catch a Buzz and Download Porn

At Lovejoy's, "Celebrate your vices," whether it be drinking or surfing the Web for barely legal hotties in bondage doing interesting things to each other. Not being your typical Sixth street bar, this beer hall offers Wi-Fi and attracts people from every crowd and creed. If you're a purist, solely there for the brew, Lovejoy's has a large selection of liquor and beer, including ones of their own making. Drinking one of every brew they have makes you one of the elite, a member of the Order of the Fez. This honor bestows upon thee a special T-shirt, snags you invites to special beer tastings and discounts, and gets thy name engraved in gold on the wall.

Best Place to Discover the Historic Punk Scene in Austin, Texas

A trip to Idle Time is both a personal journey for Dixon Coulbourne and an Austin history lesson for those unaware of the fabulous punk scene that graced the streets and stages of River City from 1977-1985. Browse through the pages and learn that the Texas Showdown was a Tejano-cum-punk club, that Jon Dee Graham used to be a punk rocker, and that poster art wasn't something that only the hippies did. Scads of photos and really excellent links round out the experience. Really expert researchers will discover that the Chronicle's own Nick Barbaro was once arrested at one of these shows.


Best Place to Watch Funny Little Movies

Here to rescue us from the run-of-the-mill online movie is TheLateTrain.com, making live-action shorts nothing like the office-humor animation so prevalent on the Web. Combining AtomFilms.com’s technology with RedVsBlue.com’s DIY approach, this local group of filmmakers applies its talents equally to spoofs – including such gems as "Sock Full of Bees" and “Two Guys & a Robot” – and to more free-form, bizarre shorts like “The Mime.” Also notable for their 30-Day Film Fest, in which they completed a film a day for 30 days, the Late Train has found a way to bring non-office-humor humor to your office.

The Late Train Productions
800 Scott

Best Region-Free, Ginseng-Fueled Neighborhood Hangout/Video Store Expansion

Worried that your unslakable code-free DVD habit is ruining your social life? No time for other humans when you still haven't listened to Peter Bogdanovich's Targets director's commentary? Lusting after bizarre Asian candies but not sure how to score your fix without mainlining it over to the Pacific Basin? Buddy, this is your lucky day. Owners Dannie Knowles and Jose Ramirez over at the all-new-and-greatly-improved Pedazo Chunk have increased their size by 2,500 square feet (the store, not the owners), added a professional screening room, a microlibrary, a nifty kid's play-dungeon, a killer back deck suitable for parties and bar mitzvah receptions, and – yes! – ice cream! There are also thousands of impossible-to-find imported international movies, from J-horror to Bollywood to Chuck Jones and the Ramones, with a free block party on their open back deck overlooking lovely Bouldin Creek every first Friday. Friendly, helpful, and Manchester United fans to the core, this is a the ne plus ultra of je ne sais quoi and then some.

Pedazo Chunk International HQ
2009 S. First

Best Spicy Margarita

Austin is "loaded" with great margaritas! They are so ubiquitous and have become such a staple in our local cuisine that even fairly pedestrian versions can at least hit the spot on a hot summer night. But don't you ever wish for one with a bit more pizzazz? Aaahhhh, then whip out the lime and kosher salt, amigas, because your dreams to step outside the margarita box can come true at El Chile Cafe y Cantina! This San Antonio take on Tex-Mex cuisine came to Manor Rd. just last year. Now not only are the exotics of "puffy taco"-speak invading our victual vernacular, but the restaurant's cocktail concoctions have taken on a status of their own. Their “chilango” marg presents a seductive blend of the house frozen, orange juice, chili powder, with a dash of Tabasco to keep your taste buds yelping and begging for more. Within this last short year, El Chile has garnered quite a rep for slinging one of the finest gosh-darn spicy margaritas this side of the border. (You know... the one that crosses I-35 just south of New Braunfels.)

Critics: Arts & Culture
Critics: Food

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