If you thought you'd open this issue and sidestep the lecture about the good old days, just stop reading now and slap this sucker down into the birdcage. The "good old days" are relative, of course. What's good and old to me, for example, is positively just yesterday to old geezers like my bosses. But in Austin, 2009, I think many of us can relate to this sense of the ground shifting under us and the light being blocked by so much that now scrapes the sky.
Austin, Texas, lured me here in the early Nineties with the promise of house parties, garage bands (that practiced in real garages), backyard barbecues, and the opportunity to do what one loves as a living, not just as a hobby. I also figured it to be full of open-minded types and a helluva place to raise a kid. Austin, it was clear, values her character, her history. That's very appealing and a very big deal to a Florida girl who witnessed her state turn into one big walled-off planned community. Austin treasures her culture, her music, her food traditions – often carried on by the same family in the same ramshackle dive for generations. Fresh off a long drive from the East Coast, across I-10, the very first Austin place I set foot in was Tamale House #3. Need I say more?
It's shocking to me, as I pause to consider this, that Tamale House #3 is not even featured in this particular issue. But there's a point to be made: Tamale House has made a number of appearances in "Best of Austin" throughout the years (my personal favorite, from 1995: Best Place to Run Into Everyone You Know & Figure Out Who They Took Home Friday Night), as have a number of your favorites and mine. If they don't run this year, they'll probably run next. Year after year, you, dear readers, through your votes and suggestions, contribute to this snappy snapshot of our beloved violet town.
But ... (Good Old Days Alert!) when I think about what lured me here, I wonder what brings so many new folks to our city limits these days. Do canyons of condos and no more free parking and miles of repetitive rooftops cutting into the sides of vistas and chain stores on every corner truly inspire a move to Austin? Is this Austin? What brings people here in 2009? Apparently, there is still plenty. And we hope we've captured some of the best in this issue.
When I want to escape the feeling that my town is getting too big for its britches, I go to:
From the big stone pillar that welcomes as you cross the bridge over Barton Creek to the imposing yet comforting Rock Island at the soccer fields, from Philosopher's Rock at Barton Springs to the Rock Gardens near the Zilker Botanical Garden and hundreds of thousands of Austin City Limits festivalgoers rocking out, making a dusty, noisy mess, Zilker, if you'll pardon the obvious, rocks. It's still the Best Place for a Picnic (2004-2008), the Best Place to Commune With Nature (2002-2006), the Best Inexpensive Date (1996), the Best Place to Read a Book (1993), and the Best Place to Spin Around and Get Dizzy (1992), among so many other honors and distinctions throughout the years.
Zilker Park is also our No. 1 Readers Poll vote-getter for the 20 years we have been publishing "Best of Austin." (Oh, did we mention this is our 20th poll?) And if you combine it with the No. 3 vote-getter, Barton Springs, well, we smell landslide (like when you lose your footing trying to feed the ducks and turtles at Lou Neff Point).
Best Public Space, 2007-2008
Best Outdoor Public Space, 2005-2006
Best Place for a Picnic, 2004-2008
Best Park, 2003
Best Participatory Sport (TIE: Soccer, Disc Golf), 2002
Best Place to Commune With Nature, 2002-2006
Best Public Sports Facility, 1997
Best Inexpensive Date (TIE: Bats), 1996
Best Playground/Park, 1996-2001
Best Neighborhood Park, 1994-1995 & 1997-1998
Best Playscape, 1994-1995
Best Way to Spend a Lazy Afternoon, 1994-1995
Best Place to Read a Book (TIE: Home), 1993
Best Amusement Park/Attraction, 1991, 1993
Best Garden or Park, 1990-1991
Best Place for Kids, 1990-1991 & 1993
Best Place to Take the Whole Family, 1990-1991 & 1993
Welcome to the 20th annual "Best of Austin," friends. Welcome home.
Enjoy! Kate X Messer
The people behind this year's "BOA": Assistant Editors Richard Whittaker and Meghan Ruth Speakerman. Personal editorial support: Mr. MCK III, without whom .... Database/Web gurus Brian Barry and Adam Theriault. Our proofreaders: Sarah Jean Billeiter, Lei-Leen Choo, Mark Fagan, Monica Riese, and Kristine Tofte. Front-desk staffers: Samantha Jenkins, Fernando Martinez, and Cassandra Pearce. Creative Director Jason Stout and all of the design team. Promotions and marketing mavens: Erin Collier, Dan Hardick, and Logan Youree. Shout-out to the diligent production crew, ad staff, and editors on call.
Thank you, writers: Belinda Acosta, Nora Ankrum, Nick Barbaro, Marjorie Baumgarten, Sarah Jean Billeiter, Wayne Alan Brenner, Andy Campbell, Lei-Leen Choo, Wells Dunbar, Mark Fagan, Robert Faires, Katherine Gregor, Anne Harris, Raoul Hernandez, Kimberley Jones, Michael King, Kathy McCarty, Gerald McLeod, Kate X Messer, Margaret Moser, Stephen MacMillan Moser, Lee Nichols, Terry Ornelas, Austin Powell, James Renovitch, Monica Riese, Mark Savlov, Audra Schroeder, Amy Smith, Jordan Smith, Meghan Ruth Speakerman, R.U. Steinberg, Kristine Tofte, Richard Whittaker, Cindy Widner, and Virginia B. Wood.
To celebrate two decades of taking the pulse of our readers, we've changed up the format of "Best of Austin" just a bit for 2009. In our Readers Poll sections, we decided to honor some All-Time Winners with short tributes. Under each of these essays, you'll find a summation of the winner's Readers awards throughout the years. In our Critics Picks sections, we chose to simply run some of our favorite old awards, essentially reawarding these faves from the past.
Zilker Park 42 Awards
KUT 90.5FM 38 Awards
Barton Springs 37 Awards
BookPeople 31 Awards
Central Market 28 Awards
Waterloo Records & Video 26 Awards
'The Austin Chronicle' 26 Awards
Mount Bonnell 25 Awards
KGSR 107.1FM 25 Awards
Texas Capitol 24 Awards
KVUE 24 Awards
Zilker Botanical Garden 22 Awards
The Driskill Hotel 22 Awards
Enchanted Rock 22 Awards
Barton Creek Greenbelt 22 Awards
Vulcan Video 21 Awards
Casino el Camino 21 Awards
University of Texas at Austin 19 Awards
Trudy's 19 Awards
Bicycle Sport Shop 17 Awards