2009 Readers Poll
2009 Critics Picks
Best Bar Name, 1997

"Honey, I'm at the Office. Yes, dear, I'll be a little late." Need we say more?

The Office
3526 E. Seventh

Best Bloody Mary

Rio Rita's all about multitasking – bar, coffee shop, eatery, hangout – so it's no surprise its beast of a Bloody Mary basically doubles as a meal. Pickled okra and green beans, green olives, pepperoncinis, celery, hot sauce, horseradish … what to eat first? Oh yeah, and there's tomato juice. And vodka. Good and good for you!

Rio Rita
1203 Chicon

Best Budget Wine Selector

Steve’s Picks are perhaps the trademark feature of the H-E-B in the Hancock Center and are an easily visible and trusted standard of excellence that covers all wine varietals and budgets. Put simply, his palate is impeccable. Steve’s the perfect go-to source for a cheap date night, as most of his selections are less than $10, and he offers accurate descriptions and complementary dining suggestions.

1000 E. 41st.

Best Bus Route for a Pub Crawl

The No. 3 bus route – winding down Burnet Road, through Downtown, and on to South Lamar – has an absurd number of fine watering holes: Billy's on Burnet, the Draught House, and Lala's, to name a few. Cap Metro's $1.50 24-hour pass will let you hit several of them. And since you would never, ever want to drive drunk, why not let the professionals do it for you? Who says drinkers can't also be morally upstanding citizens? (For a more complete run-down of the route's pub possibilities, see "The No. 3 Bus Pub Crawl," Food, Aug. 21.)

Capital Metro Route No. 3

Best Chicken 'Product', 2002

Every Sunday, 4-8pm, you'll find free live music, free monster chili dogs, and Dewey the Chicken holding court at Ginny’s Little Longhorn Saloon. For a “poultry” two-dollar donation, you draw numbers at random and wait for Dewey to do her business on a numbered board. Whichever numbered square Dewey hits with her, um, "product" is the winner. Did we mention the free monster chili dogs?

Little Longhorn Saloon
5434 Burnet Rd.

Best Cross to Bear

When Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1971, not only did the world lose a musician who (after Elmore James) did for slide guitar what electricity did for blues, the Allman Brothers Band lost its boss. At that moment, li'l brother Gregg Allman assumed a mantle he never intended. Susan Antone is that queen. When Clifford Antone died in 2006, the olive-cast blonde from East Texas, who had documented the siblings' namesake Austin live music landmark from day one with Texas-sized photographs of blues deities and whose name topped the venue's corporate charter beginning in the 1980s, was suddenly alone at the fore of another Lone Star mecca. Opened in 1975, the home of Clifton Chenier, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Stevie Ray Vaughan kept it in the family; if Clifford booked them, Susan cooked for 'em. She probably feeds Muddy's piano prodigy Pinetop Perkins now and then, but mostly she's too busy steering the ship to spend much time in the galley. "Help Clifford Help Kids," benefiting American YouthWorks, could be her favorite headliner these days, but when Southpaw blues empress Barbara Lynn gets onstage at Antone's, you'll find Susan, camera in hand. Kiss her when you see her.

Todd V. Wolfson

Best Cure for a Restless Sunday

Getting a ready-to-party crowd to groove on Friday night is easy work for a DJ. Getting the same reaction on Sunday is a whole different challenge, but DJ C-Rich knows how to turn his tables to get heads nodding and bodies bouncing. Supa Soul Sound System spins soul, break beats, funk, old-school jams, neo-soul, new jack swing, and hip-hop worth a respin. This late afternoon brunch is worth the Monday morning hurt. Catch it at Cantina Laredo the third Sunday of every month.

Best Expansion of Screen Real Estate

Long the only place in town to satisfy our desires for big-screen nature fixes, the local IMAX venue has expanded its repertoire of late to include the presentation of selected Hollywood spectacles. Now when we’re lured by the call of the wild in addition to dolphins and canyon adventures, we can also discover tribes of Transformers or a wizardly Harry Potter.

Bullock Texas State History Museum
1800 Congress

Sandy Carson

Best Free Bagpipe Music

When the marketing guys dubbed Austin the “live music capital of the world,” they probably weren’t thinking about the Capitol City Highlanders, but these skirted fellows are in fact deeply entrenched in the local music scene, with a sound so big, jubilant, and mournful at the same time, it's like a caber toss right through the heart of Texas. No offense to those singing Celtic ladies of PBS pledge-drive fame, but here in Austin, we do Scottish right. Minus the haggis. Monday nights, 6-8:30pm.

First Presbyterian Church
8001 Mesa

Best Karaoke

It's the end of the night, and all you want to do is belt Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U" into a microphone. We understand, and so does the solid crew at Ego's Bar. Yeah, it's in a parking garage. Yeah, it's small. These oddities are more than appreciated by the lighthearted crowd, often consisting of local co-ed sports teams and cats just wanting to hear a classic or two. Everyone claps no matter how ear-shattering a performance, and if you're lucky, you might get to cap the night off with the whole bar united under Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," glasses swinging, arms embracing, and everyone singing as gleefully and loudly as possible – a truly spiritual karaoke moment to behold.

510 S. Congress

Best New Internet Radio Hostess

She simmers. She sparkles. She coos the words into the microphone, and radioland takes a step back in time to the early 2000s when trance and electronica ruled Austin. Jen "Miss Kitty" Garrison has been and is the continuing force behind promoting dance music and the club scene here in Austin. Returning to us via the Internet, she's gone viral … and we're going there with her.


Best of the Fests

With a lot of ambition and heart, Pachanga Fest '08 showed a lot of promise to annually showcase Latino musicians in a fun festival setting. In '09, however, Pachanga Fest truly lived up to its potential with a dazzling array of acts that included the edgy Mexican Institute of Sound, the all-female Mariachi Las Alteñas, the eclectic Los Bad Apples, and hot hot hot singer/accordionist A.J. Castillo. That's what founders Rich Garza and A.J. Vallejo were hoping for, and it's a good indicator that for the 2010 Pachanga Fest, the sky's the limit.

Pachanga Latino Music Festival

Best Place to Discover Latino Music

From such old-school promoters as Jerry Avila on Primetime Tejano and Isidoro Lopez on KOOP Radio's Fiesta Musical and the Premios Texas awards hosted by Austin's Univisión affiliate to longtime Horizontes host Michael Crockett on KUT, to Johnny Ramirez's Indie Live Austin, to Paul Saucido over on ME TV (and beyond), to youngblood promoters like Brandon Badillo, to Alba Peña's Conexion Rockera website, to new festivals like Pachanga Fest, and the monthlong events of Latino Music Month — there's no reason, no way, no how for anyone in Austin to say they don't know what's going on in Latino music. And let's not forget Alicia Zertuche's work pumping up the Latino music presence at South by Southwest. Old, new, cutting edge, folky, funky, and fabulous, Austin is quickly becoming the city to watch for what's happening in Latino music outside the usual places of New York, Miami, and Los Angeles. Pachanga Fest, which had its second successful festival earlier this year, promises to be the next must-hit Latino music festival in the nation. Yeah, that’s right. You read it here first.

Rose Reyes, Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau, 301 Congress, Ste. 200, 583-7230, www.austintexas.org

Best Place to See the Past at Work

Ever wonder what a computer built by Michael Dell in his garage looked like? Wonder no more; at the Goodwill Computer Museum, you can see stuff like this – and much, much more. It wasn't long after the folks at Goodwill Industries of Central Texas began taking donations of electronics in 1997 that they discovered they were taking in some great artifacts of technology. So Goodwill has collected and restored them and opened a free museum at its North Austin campus where the public can capture a glimpse of technological history. And, as if that weren't enough, it's got a collection of vintage games and gaming systems that are hooked up for the public to play. It is certainly true that at the Computer Museum, you can "experience the high-tech revolution all over again."

Goodwill Dell Computer Museum
1015 Norwood Park Blvd.

Best Place to Spend That Dollar

Make that dolla holla! The beautiful bartender with her rhinestone implants and perfect smile never stops moving on dollar beer nights, nor do her cocktail companions. The saloon's three-day-long special turns the beginning-of-the-week frown upside-down and transforms the formerly vacant gas station into a huge, sexy crowd that nearly spills onto Lamar. The privileged feeling of legal loitering in the concrete yard makes the experience all the more homey. You can even bring your dog. Now you have no excuse not to offer that sexy someone a beer. Mondays, $1 Lone Star. Tuesdays, $1 Miller High Life. Wednesdays, $1 Natural Light. Write it down, then drink it up.

Barton Springs Saloon
424 S. Lamar

Best Place to Zone Out on a Friend

For the times when you want to be around people but don't really want to engage with any of them, Bender Bar is a ray of 24-frames-per-second sunshine, screening hand-picked movies behind the bar. When you just really want a beer and some good sliders (and not to assess your comrade's issues or validate complaints about the ex), you can nod and throw out a few uh-huhs, pretending to listen but surreptitiously immersed in 300, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, or Barfly, or any other way more captivating film on rotation. Of course, sports are played right alongside the movies, but who cares? You might miss Jessica Alba.

Bender Bar & Grill
321 W. Ben White

Best Roll With the Development Punches

In 2004, when Chris Marsh left behind his job waiting tables at the popular Maudie's Tex-Mex Cafe on Lake Austin Boulevard, it was bittersweet for his faithful customers – they were sad he was leaving the enchiladas behind, but excited about his new venture: opening a small Johnny Cash shrine/bar in the old Cut-Rite chainsaw shack on West Fifth. When he opened, there was just the 300-year-old tree on one side and train tracks on the other (leaving plenty of room for a stage for a popular Mean-Eyed SXSW day party venue). Now, just five years later, the tree and tracks are still there, but the land has all developed around him. Real estate and a commercial plaza dwarf what used to be open space for Mean-Eyed fans. But Marsh is a roll-with-the-punches guy – the space may be shrinking, but with the good beer and music (now on a strategically placed patio stage) Marsh has been able to evolve the funky homage to Cash into a comfortable and popular neighborhood hot spot.

Mean Eyed Cat
1621 W. Fifth

Best Soulful Smackdown

It's a purr. It's a punch. It's a sigh. It's a holla. Spoken word = spoken intention, spoken sparks, poetry come to life. So much chakra-shakin' goodness and sweet sultry yumminess, it's easy to forget when it's a competition. Every Thursday night, South Flavas Entertainment presents this slam-style poetry gig at Pflugerville's haven of hip-hop. The stakes are high: cash prizes and the chance to rep Austin at the National Poetry Slam.

Club Illusion
2700 W. Pecan

South Flavas Entertainment
PO Box 80217

Jana Birchum

Friendliest Haunt for Weird Noise

Since first appearing in 2003 and floating into new digs at Salvage Vanguard Theater in 2007, Church of the Friendly Ghost has channeled a wealth of creative energy into Austin. Organizer Aaron Mace and associates are tireless champions of the outsider and outré: From bringing in international and national jazz and noise artists to providing asylum for homegrown experimental strains, they've cut a nice right angle in our scene.

Church of the Friendly Ghost

Greatest Virtuoso of the Ivories

We suspect that the digits on Anton Nel's hands are actually 10 tiny sorcerers, for when he sits down at the piano, they conjure music that enchants as potently as Prospero's charms. Whether the piece is majestic Beethoven, sprightly Mozart, or tempestuous Schubert, the Butler School of Music professor of piano can hold an audience spellbound, as seen at his Dell Hall solo recital this spring, when thousands sat rapt as those magic fingers danced masterfully across the ivories. In demand as a guest artist, the South Africa native plays everywhere and could live anywhere, but he chooses to make his home here. So as long as Nel stays under Austin's spell, we'll remain under his.

Anton Nel

Critics: Arts & Culture
Critics: Food

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle