The Austin Chronicle

How the One Percent Lives

Exclusivity has its perks – and its price – at ACL's VIP Grove

By Claudia Alarcón, October 4, 2013, Food

If you have a cool $1,050 burning a hole in your pocket, being a guest at the VIP Grove has lots of perks. VIP passholders don't get to rub elbows with stars and luminaries (that requires the coveted All-Access pass), but the Grove offers enough amenities to distinguish VIPs from the sweaty general festival population. Numbers one and two on the list of perks would be access to the clean, deluxe, air-conditioned restrooms and an unlimited supply of life-saving, ice-cold water. There are chairs in which to relax and rest your feet from the long walks between stages, and you may even get a chair massage or spa treatment to rejuvenate from continued partying. There is also some coverage protection when and if it rains, and misters for relief from the heat. All those things sure can make you feel special.

However, the Grove's secluded, über-exclusive area does not include visual access to any of the stages, although you might catch a bit of muddy sound from whatever artist may be playing the nearby BMI stage. So when VIPs actually want to watch a favorite band, they must be willing to pass through a couple of airport-style security checkpoints again whenever they're ready to return to the VIP lifestyle.

But many are willing to forgo the music in the afternoon, choosing to stick around for the gourmet happy hours sponsored by the Austin Food & Wine Festival, which go on daily from 3:30-5:30pm. They include a stellar lineup of chefs, restaurants, and food trucks to provide high-end snacks to the roughly 1,500 VIPs that visit the area each day. While the food at ACL Eats is generally pretty good, it does not compare to what's available to the VIPs. Menu items at Austin Eats are designed to be eaten out of hand and on the go, while the AFWF's happy hour plates are definitely more "chef-inspired." People actually stand in long lines to enjoy items from the likes of El Alma, Foreign & Domestic, Lenoir, Sway, Épicerie, and the Carillon.

Contigo's Andrew Wiseheart says that last year they had six staffers putting food out, and they still couldn't do it fast enough. "We served 1,000 five-spiced pork tacos in one and a half hours. It was crazy. Thankfully, we also brought 500 cookies, and were glad, because when we ran out of tacos, people were happy to see the cookies, for the munchies, you know," he said chuckling. "It's still a good time for us. We share our food, rub elbows with other chefs, and it gets us out of the kitchen to enjoy the festival." After gaining more insight from last year, he plans to bring plenty of things to share this time. "We'll have roasted shishito peppers with pears compressed in carrot juice, which is something fresh, and also crispy chicken-skin sliders with peanut butter and jelly. For the munchies!"

Chef James Holmes will also be on hand serving Lucy's Fried Chicken. And AFWF is even bringing in some heavy hitters from San Antonio: superstar restaurateur chef Jason Dady (who never fails to amaze) and chef Jesse T. Perez, who just opened his Arcade Midtown Kitchen at the Pearl complex last February.

Of course, VIPs can't live on food alone: All manner of libations flow freely throughout the day, and the lines are all but nonexistent. In fact, one of the main challenges for VIPs every year is how to surreptitiously get that free-flowing beer and booze past the checkpoints and onto the festival grounds – many have tried and a few even succeed. I am told Tito's will have their own dedicated bar, serving cocktails made with festival staples like Topo Chico, Sweet Leaf Tea, and Maine Root sodas. They will also host a "poptail" hour with GoodPop frozen treats from 6-7pm. And just in case VIPs enjoy a few too many of Mr. Beveridge's beverages the night before, they can revive themselves with a daily Bloody Mary bar, open from 11am to 1pm, for some haute hair of the dog.

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