Summer Fun: Cold, Dark Holes to Crawl Into
Escape the Texas sun in these underground getaways
By Tucker Whatley,
7:00AM, Sat. May 20, 2017
From the long days of blast furnace-like heat and thick, sticky humidity to the unrelenting assault of mosquitoes and fire ants, the curse of summer falls upon Texas as an annual cosmic punishment for our collective sins. Our only respite is to crawl deep into the bosom of Mother Earth, away from the sun’s hateful gaze, where summer holds no sway.
These cold, dark holes in the ground shall be your refuge from the coming inferno.
Longhorn Caverns and Inner Space Cavernwww.longhorncaverns.com
The most obvious holes to crawl into are the ones that have been around for millions of years. Underground rivers flowing through Central Texas’ solid limestone interior have carved a Swiss cheese-like network of caves and caverns, many of which are available for public tours. The most prominent of these is Longhorn Cavern State Park in Burnet, a 60-mile drive from Austin. For something a little closer to home, there’s also Inner Space Cavern, a privately owned cave system in nearby Georgetown. Both feature stunning rock formations, an approximately 80-minute guided tour, and a climate consistently at a merciful 70 degrees.
One surefire way to escape from the harsh glare of summer is to find a place where the sun don’t shine, and then drink until you forget the sun was there to begin with. Unfortunately, this is too dangerous of a proposition for a natural cave or cavern (too many pits), which is why some enterprising Texans have set up underground venues specifically tailored for imbibing. For beer lovers, there’s the Root Cellar, a quaint cafe and restaurant located in the basement of the historic Donalson Building in downtown San Marcos. Besides the well-regarded food options, the Cellar features a barrel room where their own in-house, seasonal microbrews are produced, perfect for sitting and drinking in the shadows.
La Condesa’s Flour Housewww.lacondesa.com
For those in the mood for cocktails with friends in a dungeon-chic atmosphere, seek out the Flour House below La Condesa Mexican Restaurant. Originally created in 1860 by a German immigrant hoping to open Austin’s first brewery, the underground space was paved over and forgotten until it was rediscovered in 1999. Nowadays, the old basement can be reserved for private and group dining and drinking.
If you’re willing to go a little bit farther off the beaten path, the tiny Hill Country town of Hye is home to Calais Winery, boasting a wine cellar dug into the side of a hill. The narrow, windowless, wood-paneled chamber full of oaken barrels serves as a tasting room for Calais’ French-inspired wines. As you swirl, waft, and sip the afternoon away, you can rest easy knowing that summer’s scorching tendrils cannot ensnare you here.
Texas Union Bowling Alleywww.universityunions.utexas.edu/texas-union/scene/underground/facilities-and-rates
The bowling alley in the basement of the Texas Student Union on campus has long been a haven for bored and restless UT students, but many are not aware that the general public can join in on the subterranean action. Lit only by the cool, neon glow of black lights and subjected to the full blast of the AC, it’s the type of place where empty beer glasses can quickly multiply as minutes melt into hours. Just make sure you keep some sense of what time it is, as the alley has recently started closing to non-students after midnight.
On Congress Avenue, the aorta in the sweltering heart of Austin, there is a neon sign and an unassuming flight of stairs leading down. This is a portal to another world – a hipper, mellower world, where trumpets and saxophones groove through the heat of the night, and the beer and wine never stop flowing. It’s like going back in time to the cooler parts of the first half of the 20th century, but without all the social repression and obligatory hats. Actually, this is a jazz club, so you should count on some hats.
The Austin Chronicle’s Summer Fun issue is on stands now.