As I mentioned in my previous post, Sheila and I ventured to Austin, TX last week to visit some friends and get the fuck out of Dodge (that is to say, Bloomington) for a while. A good time was had by all, and as is the case with vacations, it wasn’t nearly long enough. Big thanks to our homeboy Sal for putting us up for the week, and for driving us all over town and entertaining my nostalgic whims. I still plan to write more about my time living in Austin at some point, hopefully sooner than later, but for now, a brief debriefing of our trip.
We landed in ATX more or less right on time, and were quickly carted away for lunch through some terrifying traffic at a really great vegetarian/vegan spot called Bouldin Creek Cafe, located on the south side of the sprawling city. After lunch, we went on a brief driving tour of some southside landmarks (I was pleased to see Peter Pan Mini-Golf appeared unchanged in my 13+ year absence) and found ourselves at the Broken Spoke for a mid-afternoon vacation libation.
I went to the Broken Spoke once during my time living in Austin, and it was like walking into a time capsule then. I recall very few buildings in the immediate vicinity of the gravel parking lot when I visited in early 2006, but the mostly paved parking lot now sits in the midst of 3-4 towering high rise buildings that I assume are condos, but what they are is irrelevant; they’re an eyesore no matter who spends time in them, and for what reason. Progress is often such a regression.
An abundance of cars in the parking lot hinted that they were open for business, and we walked in to find the bartender cutting limes at a table, with a few other people (and a couple of dogs) sitting together on the left side of the room. She asked if she could help us, Sal said we were hoping to get a beer, and she got up and walked behind the bar (where an older gentleman who we soon realized was the owner) was already standing, previously unnoticed by us. We perused the beer list for a moment before he said “if you’re drinkin in Texas, you gotta have a Shiner or a Lone Star”, and considering the other best options were Budweiser and Dos Equis, we obliged.
We wandered around and checked out the impressive collection of memorabilia placed all around the legendary honky-tonk (which is how we figured out the nice older fella was the owner), and it made me happy to see that in spite of all the “progress” surrounding it, the Broken Spoke, like Peter Pan Mini-Golf, hasn’t changed either (except for the beer prices). And by that, I mean that I don’t think they’ve even dusted since I was last in there, sometime in early 2006. It was truly a beautiful thing.
The group sitting on the left side of the main room seemed to be shooting a music video, or perhaps a promotional spot – a lady was wearing a fancy flowered dress with bow on her head, playing an upright bass, and she sang a little, and someone took pictures and video inside as well as out in front of the building. No idea what was going on, but it was an interesting thing to accidentally be a part of.
As we were finishing our beers, a guy came in and stood at the bar, where the bartender was nowhere to be found. He wandered around briefly before asking us if anyone was working. We told him someone was, but we didn’t know where she’d gone. I heard a sound from the direction of the kitchen and told him as much. He went to the kitchen and asked about getting a beer only to be told that they didn’t open until 5:00. I’m really not sure why they didn’t tell us the same (or why there were so many cars in the parking lot) but if they had, I suppose I wouldn’t have a story, however boring, to relate. At any rate, I’m pleased to announce that walking into the Broken Spoke is still like walking into a time capsule.
Next we headed up “The Drag”, which is the portion of Guadalupe Street that runs along the western edge of the University of Texas campus. The biggest change I noticed there is that the signage on the front of the Church of Scientology building is covered by black trash bags, which is where that shitty, ridiculous fraud of a “religion” belongs – in the trash. I don’t know if they’re closed forever (I’ve since read that they’re renovating), but a girl can dream, right? We stopped at the Amy’s Ice Cream on Guadalupe, which I’m pretty sure is the first Amy’s I ever ate ice cream in, and where I promply got my fix of their unbelievably good coffee ice cream. Seriously, I’ve been thinking about that coffee ice cream since I moved away from Austin, and it was every bit as good as I remembered.
Dinner that night was at a place called Licha’s Cantina (they refer to their cuisine as “Mexico City Soul Food”, whatever that means), located a bit east of I-35, on the eastern edge of downtown; that whole area is way more fancypants than it was when I lived there. The restaurant was packed to the rafters with shitty hipsters, but the service staff was top notch, and the food was good. We went for drinks after at Yellow Jacket Social Club, where a bunch of guys did a bunch of cocaine in the men’s room. It was a cool place other than those douchers – top notch country music playing, (relatively) cheap drink prices, and lots of entertaining graffiti on the picnic tables outside, as well as in the men’s room.
We moseyed back to Sal’s place to finish off the night and slept the restless sleep that is slept by people who overindulged in food and drink. We awoke the next morning to varying intensities of rain, drank some coffee, and broke our fast at Torchy’s Tacos, where I had a really fucking good fried avocado taco and a really fucking good migas taco and some really fucking good (but strong!) coffee. Sal then drove us to see my last workplace (the building is still standing, but no longer houses the same business), my last residence, and my first residence, all of which are in the north-northwest part of town. It was pretty surreal to see places I used to live, and that I thought I’d likely never see again. Both apartments looked pretty much the same, like maybe they’d been powerwashed and had a fresh coat of paint at some point, but otherwise, if I hadn’t known better, I might think I was still living and working in all three places. I do wish it hadn’t been raining so hard at this point in the day, as I would’ve liked to’ve snapped some pictures of the places, but such is life. I’m pretty sure I have pictures of both apartments somewhere in my closet. Maybe I’ll share them here some day.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon checking out some local breweries, namely Austin Beerworks, Celis Brewery, and 4th Tap Brewing Co-op. I love visiting breweries, in part because I love beer, but also because it’s really cool to see how different they all are from one another while ostensibly offering the same product. Each location clearly reflects the vision of its owners and/or brewers, and I like that very much. From my journal: “AB was my fave, flava-wise, but Celis had the best “vibe” to me.” 4th Tap seemed very cool as well, but by the time we got there, I was too full to properly appreciate their beer. They’re worker-owned, which I love, and they had video and board games, so I imagine it’s a pretty fun place to hang out.
Our friend Adam met up with us at 4th Tap, and Sal and I disembarked to Sal’s house to drop off the car and get a Lyft to meet Sheila and Adam for dinner. Sal chose a place called Vivo, and it was mind-blowingly fucking good. The tortilla chips were clearly made with sorcery, all buttery and warm and just seriously the best tortilla chips I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat. The salsa and queso were top notch as well, and my spinach & mushroom enchiladas with poblano cream sauce were some of the finest enchiladas I’ve eaten, and I have eaten a lot of enchiladas. I also got a very good “puffy taco” with tofu and a bunch of other stuff in it, and from a strictly gastrointestinal standpoint, that was a mistake. I used to be able to eat an unholy amount of food (22 slices of pizza at a Mr. Gatti’s once, when I was in high school, but that’s a story for another time), but I just can’t eat Tex-Mex no more like I used to could. All in all, I’d easily rate that meal one of the 20 Best Meals I’ve Ever Eaten, Ever.
Karaoke followed at a place called The Common Interest, and it was fun. I sang “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath, which is one of my go-to karaoke jamz, and the crowd was very laid back and supportive. I also witnessed a guy sing a Slayer song,which was definitely a karaoke first for me.
Next morning we all awoke a bit rougher for the wear, and made the wise decision to eat homemade oatmeal for breakfast. We then ventured south, to visit Waterloo Records (where I scored some pretty sweet stuff), eat more Amy’s Ice Cream (a scoop each of coffee and Irish cream for me this time), lunch at Magnolia Cafe, dig Barton Springs, and check out SoCo, not necessarily in that order. We then paid a visit my old southside apartment (the one in the bougie ghetto), which, like the northside haunts, looks no different aside from the exterior paint. We then met up with our friend Luc, who Sheila and I hadn’t seen in a whole lot of years, and had dinner at Home Slice Pizza. New York style pizza is definitely not my preferred style, but Home Slice does it well. A little tip, though: if you think yourself and your dining partner should each get a house salad along with a medium pizza (which is the smallest whole pizza they offer), fuckin think again. That house salad is monstrously large for a 7 dollar salad.
We finished that evening off with beers at the Draught House Pub & Brewery, and it was a very cool place (aside from the restroom nearest us, which was maybe the hottest place on Earth). The bartender was playing the Supersuckers, which was extra fun considering they were playing in town that night. I didn’t bother to find out if they were playing the Supersuckers because they were sad they couldn’t go, or if it was a coincidence, but either way, I always dig the Supersuckers.
Our last day in town included a very good brunch with Sal and Adam at the original Kerby Lane Cafe, followed by a brief visit to the lovely and scenic Mt. Bonnell, sans Adam, who said “I’ve seen it”. I’d seen it once before, in 2002, at which time I left some graffiti that I’m 99% certain I managed to find, although I did not take a picture of it this time for some reason. Probably because I’m a dingus.
We followed this excursion with a terrible drive to the south side of town (every drive to or from the south side of Austin to or from the north side of Austin is terrible) to visit Luc again, this time at his place of employment, which is a small local coffee roaster. He gave us a glass of nitro cold brew coffee and a tour, and that was a very cool thing to get to do, plus we got to shoot the shit with Luc a bit longer. Also, if you like coffee and you’ve never had nitro cold brew, do yourself a favor and figure out a way to change that.
We left there and high-tailed it back to North Lamar Boulevard so I could finally set foot back inside Austin Books and Comics. I was able to fill a few holes in my G.I. Joe collection for a very reasonable price, and I got some good info about their back-issue program, which ships to out-of-towners. We dined at Vivo again, because I just couldn’t stop thinking about those cursed/blessed tortilla chips, and this time I got the calabacitas, and it was absolutely the right decision. We ended that day’s (mis)adventures with a punk show at the Sahara Lounge (first band who we missed, Utin Utin, Poizon, and The Ka-nives), and a good time was had by all, even if they were charging $8.25 for a pour of Bulleit.
Had one last pretty dang good breakfast taco at the airport, in a lounge area where live music apparently sometimes occurs (see above photo), then we were back in the air, eventually landing in cold, gray, shitty Indianapolis, where cold, gray, shitty real life awaited us the next day. But I kid; a vacation is never long enough, but then if it went on too long, it would no longer be a vacation.
Thanks for reading. See you next time.