The Austin Chronicle

Crawl No. 3

East Side Show Room, Cheer Up's, Papi Tino's, Hotel Vegas, the Volstead, Gypsy Lounge, the Grackle, St. Roch's Bar

By Kate Thornberry and Jessi Cape, August 10, 2012, Food

Kate: First of all, let me say: There is such a creative, homegrown feel to it all; it reminded me of the best parts of Austin's Eighties music scene (great bands, lots of energy, plenty of parking), with some significant improvements such as relatively stellar food options and fresh juice cocktails. East Side Show Room has both, featuring local royalty chefs and bartenders. The atmosphere is like a silent movie house turned speakeasy, with upscale food and bar menus based on seasonal, local ingredients. Even though ESSR is in its third year, it manages to feel like a discovery.

Jessi: Despite my experience in the neighborhood, this was my first visit to Cheer Up Charlie's, and it was the discovery of the night for me.

KT: This vegan bar could be described as a colorful cabin, with a large outdoor music venue behind it. The staff is friendly and fun (I'd even go so far as to say laid-back), and in addition to kombucha on tap, they serve amazing organic juice blend cocktails, local beers, biodynamic wines, and organic cold teas. There is definitely some hippie in these hipsters. It's a great place to have a drink and talk in the afternoon under the parachute-shaded patio, but also a serious music venue on the weekends, and often has movie screenings other nights.

KT: Papi Tino's can best be described as an Austin-style Mexican cantina, offering full dinner and brunch menus of rather pricey Mexican dishes. The ramshackle Victorian cottage it inhabits has a slightly "goth" feel, and the live acoustic cantina music and extensive tequila and mescal selections add authenticity. I couldn't help feeling that Morticia and Gomez might tango through the room at any moment.

JC: Next up, we hit sister bars Hotel Vegas and the Volstead Lounge. The Volstead, with its vintage funeral-parlor-meets-antique-taxidermy-museum vibe, appears to pride itself on dirty cool, which is fine, if well executed. Our first visit to its dimly lit interior provided slow service despite a small number of patrons, an empty patio, and a simple draft beer order. Walking through the attached outdoor areas toward Hotel Veg­as revealed a huge space, albeit bare bones and simple, that is partitioned or not, depending on shows and cover charges. If the Volstead is the rather aloof and unfriendly sister, Hotel Vegas is her live music-inclined and more socially adept counterpart.

KT: Chris Catalena was Hotel Vegas' resident early evening act that night. Listening to him play to a handful of adoring fans brought back nostalgic memories of being a young musician with a loyal following.

JC: We headed next door to the Gypsy Lounge only to discover that, just like its sisters on the block, early evening is just not the forte here, though the very friendly staff blasting Joy Division on the jukebox made for an enjoyable reprieve. A second visit to this trio of bars on a busy Friday night revealed their true essence. Friday night regulars the Break In spun old soul, and the entire Volstead was alive and dancing, except for the once-again surly bar staff. At the Gypsy, the bouncers were tremendously friendly and helpful, providing musical insight into Brazilian dance party masters Gente Boa, and talking up the burger trailer: mental note to return here.

KT: The Grackle is a far less theatrical place, and comes across as a regular, air-conditioned hangout, with ample seating inside, a pool table, darts, and picnic tables on the patio. The jukebox features everything from Townes Van Zandt to hip-hop, and the bar covers all bases with beer, wine, and cocktails. The new Go Bites trailer out front serves up pita-wrap Rockets ($7) that are fabulous, and we're told a brand spanking new East Side King food truck is headed this way very soon.

JC: Our last stop was St. Roch's Bar, a small neighborhood bar named for the patron saint of dogs and those who love them. Off the busy main-drag mayhem that is East Sixth, this no-frills watering hole provides a tiny urban patio with sparse seating, a graffiti art mural, and a stand-alone grill. Inside, the fantastically frigid AC, pool table, and Black Sabbath on the jukebox set St. Roch's apart from most of the other bars – likely a relief for service industry folks just released from duty. A perfectly named shot, Leftover Cereal Milk, was another simple but memorable St. Roch's experience. Outside, the All-City Subs trailer iced the loyalty cake with a revved-up Cuban sub named for a fallen local food industry comrade: the Orestes.

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