January 3, 2010

"But Austin isn’t really Texas. It is the People’s Republic of Austin."

"In the seventies, it was a cheap and groovy little town, much smaller and less commercial than it is now. There was no Dell or Intel or AMD. Its particular countercultural contribution was the cosmic cowboy, the dope-smoking redneck, so perhaps it was fitting that, amid a burgeoning natural-foods scene (there were a dozen or so spots: the Hobbit Hole, the Juice Factory, Wheatsville, etc.), a kind of complement took root: the brown-rice capitalist."

From a long article in The New Yorker about John Mackey (of Whole Foods). I'm focusing on the Austin part, because we're going to Austin pretty soon. (Feel free to make Austin suggestions, preferably SoCo focused.)

The cosmic cowboy, the dope-smoking redneck... Austinites, is that Austin? Well, that's how The New Yorker — with its famous perspective — sees you.


rhhardin said...

long article in the New Yorker

They have that tendency.

Nobody ever says "informative" or "terse" about the articles.

"The Mysterious East" was always my favorite column filler as a child, but they're surely gone by now.

Tex said...

I think The New Yorker is pretty much right on with this characterization. In the 70s Willie Nelson moved to Austin from Nashville. (I’m not an Austinite; I only lived there for a brief time in the 80s.)

Peter S. said...

"The cosmic cowboy, the dope-smoking redneck... Austinites ... that's how The New Yorker sees you."

Oh! The eastern elitism! The stereotyping! The bigotry! Those types of insults -- characterizing a whole population of Americans -- would never, NEVER be allowed in. . .

Oh, wait.

This is a picture of Austin 30-40 years in the past. And not even all of Austin, which is described as cheap and groovy -- but just one particular "countercultural" subset.

I guess it would have been less exciting to ask the Austinites, "Hmm, was the city substantially like this two generations ago, or is this baby-boom nostalgia?" You were smart to go with the culture-war option.

traditionalguy said...

Texas is still a state of mind that no amount of revolutionary fervor can change. The Bushies are Texas, and the trendy socialist Austinocrats will remain a curiosity like Quebec is to Canada.

Ari Tai said...

Things to do:

Try the steak enchiladas w/ green chile at Ninfa's.

Ninfa's Mexican Restaurant
214 E Anderson Ln, Austin, TX 78752
(512) 832-1833

Find a Texas oilfield expert (perhaps one of the Austin planners managing the State's royalties) and get their read on the energy situation. Fact and fancy. Free market and not. What it could be if we-the-people got out of the way.

Robt C said...

Been in the Austin area for 10 years now, and love it. Yes, it leans more left than the rest of TX, but for Pete's sake, Houston just elected a lesbian mayor. Ft. Worth and Houston have world-class museums, etc. Time to knock off the TX stereotypes.

Re what to do when you're in Austin: I read the SoCo link and it pretty much covered it. If you want a nice meal, check out the Warehouse District. I especially recommend Truluck's for fish. The Four Seasons Sunday brunch is still great. (I introduced myself to you there last year.) And if you haven't been, the Blanton Museum is worth a look.

Steve said...

The city's unofficial motto is still "Keep Austin Weird", though there's a point to that. It's not the little town we loved in the 70s. It's a growing city with over crowded freeways and all the problems of other cities. You can find pockets of what was, but the old Austin is slowly dying to make way for the new one, fast, high tech, and impersonal.

Even the "People's Republic" thing is changing. There's a nice big Red doughnut of suburbs surrounding that Blue hole in the middle.

Skyler said...

My wife and I had dinner at the south congress cafe on new years eve. That's the place I go when I want something a little fancier than the omnipresent tex mex. From what I've seen on this blog, that would be to your liking.

If you want tex mex, Guerdos is poplular, but not objectively very good.

And welcome to Austin, we love it here.

bearbee said...

Has the hysteria and calls for boycott over his health-care reform stance, subsided?

Annual revenues - $8 billion. Entrepreneurialism: capitalism at its best. Kiss it good-bye with insidious government intrusion.

The irony, then, was that Whole Foods, in lifting one veil from the food industry, was complicit in replacing it with another. Whole Foods was, in Pollan’s account, kind of a phony.

Years ago I stopped believing the bullshit, having-to parse-every-word-too-good-to-be-true statements made by the health food industry.

paul a'barge said...

Virtually none of us say SoCo down here ... just sayin'

J.M.K. said...

Long article?

Hahahaha. That article is NOT long. But to a professor who hasn't read a book in years, it seems that any magazine article longer than a tweet looks "long."

Deirdre Mundy said...

Make sure you hit the Lyndon Johnson museum.... They have an animatronic, Joke-telling Johnson on the second floor... you can get your picture taken with it! It's really..... compelling.

The day we were there, the docent was a little old man who said he'd been Ladybird's personal secretary for years... lots of great stories....

Actually, even in the off-season, the Lady Bird Johnson wildflower preserve is AWESOME. Especially in the rain--they have a fountain/cistern system to collect it, and it makes a WONDERFUL sound (and is neat to watch, too) Plus, as far as I can tell, Texans are afraid they'll melt in the rain-- so you'll have the place to yourself!

ricpic said...

Cowboy boots and Stetson hats sitting next to berets and Birkenstocks -- that's Austin.

Skyler said...

I'm with Paul. I never heard the term SoCo before.

SteveR said...

Lived in Texas 20 years, neverheard SoCo either. Austin is great to visit and was much different 30 years ago, "dope smoking cowboy" is about right.

Expat(ish) said...

Call RackSpace and ask for a tour of their facility and ask to meet with the CEO - he's a great guy and very open to "the press." Yes, this sounds geeky, but if you want to understand "the pipes" then it'll be fun.

I also like to sit by the ditch and drink beer and eat nacho's. The dish and the ditch are both fake, but it's still fun.

There is also a very cool "local" flea market where you can buy all sorts of stuff from Mexico that did NOT come through customs or the FDA. No, silly, I'm talking about prepared meat products - sausage, dried porks, etc. Yum.


AllenS said...

Here's a list of breweries in Austin:

Live Oak Brewing Co.

Independence Brewing Co

Celis Brewery

512 Brewing Company

Hideout Pub

Black Star Co-Op

Wisconsin it ain't, but that's not bad.

Robt C said...

Funny, I heard it for the first time a few days ago. Had to think a minute. Don't like it--seems a bit big-city wanna-be - ish.

emccabe said...

Want a genuine, first-rate, Parisian dining experience in unlikely Austin? Check out Chez Nous, which we found be accident last year.

technogypsy said...

Never heard SoCo or any district name applied to Austin before. Houston has them: Meyerland, New Town, etc, but not Austin.

Try the Ironworks BBQ near 35 on what used to be First Street. One of the few places still doing beef ribs, which is what you should order.

And holler if you want a cup of Joe when you drive thru Denton

VW: pastu - contraction of past due used in banking.

Skyler said...

Chez Nous is not south Congress, it's downtown, right off of 5th Street.

john doe said...

Whoever said Ninfas is an idiot for Texas much less Austin Mexican food.

Top places to eat that are "Austin": Trudys (mex), Chuys (mex), Shady Grove (southern), Kirby Lane (cafe), Magnolia (cafe and eclectic), Sandy's (burgers), County Line (BBQ), and Rudys (BBQ).

Coffee shops: Spider house, Halcyon (they serve smores which you 'cook' on an open flame. all the girls who I took there loved it), austn java (meh), Quacks (in hyde park), and Mozarts (good desert and on the water).

I'd take a walk down congress as it is an eclectic group of shops. I tend to write these for friends who come down from the NE so fee free to ask any questions.

Skyler said...

I love Trudy's. I used to eat there several times a week. Sadly, my wife doesn't like it anymore.

By coincidence, South Congress Cafe is owned by the same lady that owns Trudy's. Nothing similar except some of the staff I recognize from Trudys from years ago.

Hula Hut is way off of South Congress, but if you want to eat a neat place in the summer . . .

My other fav is Iguana Grill but that's a long way away.

Austin isn't like many other cities. There are no great restaurants that really stand out as special, they're all pretty good.

That's my view of all of Austin. I can't think of any specific reason to live there but there are so many little reasons to.

Richard Fagin said...

Psst: You won't find too many oilfield experts in Austin, although as far as government bureaucracies go, the Texas Railroad Commission is pretty competent. The experts are mostly in the Houston metro area.

That and it's a bit difficult to run successful businesses like AMD, Intel, Dell, IBM, even Whole Foods, if your whole labor force is dope smoking cowboys.

somefeller said...

The cosmic cowboy stereotype may have fit Austin around 30 years ago, and there are a lot of people in that city that still want that to be Austin's image, but that's pretty outdated. It had its time, but like all things (including, Waylon and Willie and the boys), that time passed.

I like Austin, but think it's overrated. It likes to think of itself as a liberal oasis in conservative Texas, but it's liberalism is basically the same sort of thing one can find in any predominantly white college town. Like a law professor of mine used to say, "every Texas has its Austin". I'll take the aggressive, multiethnic, big-city culture of Houston (where we'll be inaugurating the first gay mayor of a major US city tomorrow) over Austin any day.

somefeller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
somefeller said...

Oh yeah and a few other things: (i) Austin is Texas, as much as Dallas, Laredo or Marfa are, this is a big state that contains multitudes; (ii) I've never heard anyone use the term SoCo to refer to a part of Austin and (iii) Central Market is a better store than Whole Foods.

Albatross said...

Robt C said: Time to knock off the TX stereotypes.

I agree. I've lived in Texas all my life, and I've never owned a cowboy hat, roped a calf, or even said "Yee-haw" except in jest (a grito doesn't count). People even say my accent sounds like I come from the North. Nope. Just a South Texas boy.

Oh, and Willie Nelson is way past his sell-by date. He's the past, but no one's told him that yet.

Jimmy said...

"Austin isn't like many other cities. There are no great restaurants that really stand out as special, they're all pretty good."

Agree with comment with exception of Uchi. And Vespaio. And Vivo too. So I guess I don't totally agree with comment, but understand. We moved to Austin from Houston and miss having a large number of "special" dining options.

Rialby said...

It makes me shake when I hear people say, "Oh, I heard Austin is wonderful and NOT like the rest of Texas" or people who move to Austin from elsewhere who say, "I decided when I left San Francisco/Chicago/NY/DC that I could move to Austin but I could never live anywhere else in Texas".

john doe said...

Having lived in Houston, Austin, and now Dallas, Austin is light years ahead.

It is the livability of the city. It is still Texas so low taxes but does not have the congestion or sprawl of Dallas or Houston. It has public parks (zilker and others) and slowly becoming accessible via bike and metro.

Austin is liberal by Texas standards but nothing like the NE. Also, it has a highly educated workforce it is an attractive place to start a business or place a branch.

I am going to guess that most of the commentators lived in the burbs of Austin and not the actual city.

Rialby said...

Austin can only be the way it is because Texas is the way it is. Mind your own business, don't violate the law and good luck.

Tom said...

Day trip to the Padernales. Beautiful area.

Tari said...

Make a pilgrimage to Lockhart, down 183 - the BBQ capital of the world. There are 3 excellent choices: Smitty's, Black's and Kruez Market. We worship at Smitty's when we visit, but all are unblievably good.

Also, the new Texas State History Museum is excellent. Worth a trip just to stand on the steps and gaze up at the enormous star.

judith said...

I used to live in SoCo for 10 years before I moved to NYC. Still own a house there.

The weather varies greatly in winter. It might be 40 one day, and 70 the next, also the rainy season. But spring starts in Feb!

Speaking of spring, you really should go in March, wildflower season. They are planted all over the highway median strips and are amazing.

Stay in a historic bldg B&B, or the beautifully restored 19th c Driskill Hotel, which also has excellent grill restaurant. At least tour the Driskill, it's a few block from the Capitol.

The Capitol Bldg (2 hours at most)
Barton Springs is a huge natural spring swimming hole, always cold water. if you're a "polar bear" you can chance it in winter, some people do. But definitely worth seeing, & hike Barton Creek a bit. Limestone formations, lots of slacker rock-climbers & mountain bikers, most of em with large water-loving dogs.

Day trip (start early) to Enchanted Rock.
Pedernales Falls is about 1 hr drive away.
on the way to either, you can drive through beautiful scenic drives right outside Austin, or do those by themselves.
Mount Bonnell is the 800-ft highest pt in Austin. Easy to walk to the top and beautiful view of Town Lake.
if you like local architecture walk around Travis Heights, the only preserved Austin neighborhood since the 30s. many now have great xeriscaped front lawns.
You're too late for the bats. :-(

Music music music, of course clubs galore but these are historic:
In SoCo is the Continental Club, mostly rockabilly, inc swing dancing. (Incidentally former hangout of Iowahawk when he lived there.)
Farther south is the Broken Spoke, country music & dance.

Texas BBQ! The Salt Lick is ok, but the most authentic are several joints in Lockhart and Elgin, only 45 min drive away. Stay away from the County Line.
Drive out to Hudson's on the Bend, which specializes in game. Famous for rattlesnake cake appetizer (it's good!), also antelope, crocodile, bear, emu - you name it.
Threadgills is a small old joint with good Southern Food, known as the place Janis Joplin got her start.
Mother's. great vegetarian restaurant with chili rellenos to die for, also best salsa I've ever had.
Fonda San Miguel is the venerable gourmet Mexican restaurant in town.

Tari said...

More ...

Perla's on South Congress for oysters.

Magnolia Cafe for breakfast (24 hours a day), on Lake Austin Blvd.

Zilker Park on a nice day, just to walk and relax. Go see Barton Springs pool in the park (don't swim in it this time of year, for heaven's sake!). It's a neat, 1930's era pool built on a natural spring.

Umlauf Sculpture Garden - right by the pool.

Take a drive up Mount Bonnell, especially for sunset.

I think that's all I got.

JAL said...

First thing that came to mind:

Robert Earl Keen

judith said...

SoCo was what they started calling the South Congress area about 2001, when it began to be an artsy destination with cute boutique hotels. Residents dont call it that, tourist sites call it that.

See the movie "Slacker" first. Austin still has that flavor. Lots of 60s action at the huge UT campus, then people didnt want to move away. Sort of like Berkeley but with a TX twist. "Keep Austin weird." "78704: not so much a zipcode, more a way of life." IIRC Alex Jones lives there. The Electronic Frontier Foundation started there, early computer game companies, lots of boutique multimedia firms in the 90s. Several chip fabs, huge IBM site as well as Dell of course.

I thought the Celis brewery closed. Oh yeah, the hometown brew is Shiner Bock.
There's the Alamo Drafthouse, a big 2nd-run movie theater which serves burgers, salads, beer, wine, and desserts DURING the movie.

Wow, I could go on and on ...

judith said...

Is Spider House still there? Enchanting UT campus hangout, with Xmas tree lights and stone paving outdoors and many rooms with dark wood booths - food is campus coffeehouse fare, nothing to write home about, but it was a great place to break out the laptop for few hrs with a cappucino or hot chocolate.

More scenic drives in town:
Rt 2222 east to west, from Mopac to past 360 a few miles, beautiful view of Austin in rear mirror, theater building on the left with neat architecture & view (forgot the name)
360 itself used to be a really pretty drive, I dont know about now with all the buildings. But there is an official turnout there with a great view of Austin. And there's a pretty view as the Rainbow Bridge on 360 crosses Town Lake.
Anyway go to Mt Bonnell via southward turn from 2222 to Mt Bonnell Rd, very pretty drive, also nature preserve there.
Spicewood Springs Rd from Mopac to 360, crosses the creek several times, small horse farms. My favorite nature preserve is off that road, has a nice waterfall and hiking trail to the top of the ridge with a pretty view.
Austin has many tiny nature preserves within 10 miles of downtown, most of them shielded from the street or houses, most have burbling creeks and views. I would skip Zilker (except for Barton Spring), and check out a few of these as you drive around.

Also any museum except a historical one about the area, is nothing to write home about.

Beth said...

Lived in Austin for 10 years - we still vacation there for the food and for Zilker Park and the art...

Rudy's is must have bbq!

Try Hoover's in East Austin for some fantastic soul food.

Try Magnolia Cafe in South Congress for good food and even better atmosphere.

Art on 5th St. is a really nice little shop.

Bruce Hayden said...

Ok, now we have the source of SoCo, and no wonder why I hadn't known it. I lived and worked south of the river/lake for maybe 5 years in the middle 1990s. My office was where the Armadillo World Headquarters had been (there is now a Threadgill's downstairs there).

And, no, IBM never did have much in fabs there. Motorola had the most - 5 or so fabs in two locations, and I remember an AMD fab down south. IBM had bits and pieces, but not that much strategic. They did have the joint Moto-IBM Sumerset design facility for the PowerPC when I was there. Intel even had a small facility there (and, I think still does - a friend from then jumped there almost a decade ago). And, of course, Dell up in Round Rock, plus many other small high tech companies.

I greatly enjoyed my time there, but being from the west, was never truly comfortable there. Too much humidity and too much of the southern good-old-boy culture for me.

It really was unique though. As pointed out, it has a lot of great small restaurants. Music is great. Plenty of things to do, esp. if they involve beer (loved the Shiner), BBQ, etc. And we had a lot of epic nights slumming on east 6th street.

Jimmy said...

If not staying with family/friends during your Austin visit recommend St. Cecilia


it is in SoCo area and among its many fine attributes is that it has fancy Hansen beds, which are easy to make fun of (I did) until you try them.

Skyler said...

Magnolia Cafe is popular, but despite the popularity there is no real reason to go there. It's dirty, it's average food (pancakes, breakfast food, migas, etc.), it's often crowded. Sure, it's an Austin place but objectively speaking the food and the atmosphere really aren't that interesting or even good. (but you can get real, as in squeezed out of the lemon on site real lemonade, and that might make it worth it in the summer time).

Kirby Lane Cafe is better than Magnolia, but even Kirby Lane isn't really that special.

Erik said...


I second the recommendation for Ribs (or brisket) at the Ironworks. We had their meats & sauce shipped to California on more than one occasion after we stopped going to Austin:-(.

Don't let them talk you into the County Line. It's not bad, but it's where they send all the tourists.

Jimmy said...

Two other Austin restaurants we've recently enjoyed but haven't been to enough times yet to comment on their consistency are:

Paggi House


Both had excellent food in a charming atmosphere.

elHombre said...

If you are meat eaters, Fogo de Chao, at 309 E 3rd St, is pricey but unusual and worth every penny. If you don't like meat so much, the salad bar there is unparalleled. Rudy's BBQ, as mentioned, is a treat. Also, try the Oasis on Lake Travis. The food isn't much, but the sunsets are spectacular.

I can't agree with others about Kirbey Lane. It's lost its charm since moving.

We are leaving Austin to return to Oregon. Although Oregon is run by lunatics, it is beautiful. Texas by comparison, including Austin, is butt ugly.

We will miss Texas politics, the Texas economy and Austin Tea Parties.

elHombre said...

Don't let them talk you into the County Line. It's not bad, but it's where they send all the tourists.

This is overly generous. The County Line is poor value and the BBQ below average.

Skyler said...

The food at the Oasis has improved since the fire, but it's still a distant second to the Iguana Grill, which has just as good a view of the lake at sunset. And without the tourist trap feel that has been magnified at the post-conflagration Oasis.

I didn't realize Kirbey Lane had moved. It's got several locations. When I lived north I liked the one off of Research.

Cecile said...

Welcome to Austin. I've lived in Austin since the mid-80s and this is definitely the way many old Austinites think of themselves. I love it here. My husband and I used to live in Travis Heights (we were the only Republicans in our precinct ) but when we had a baby we had to leave our 800 sq.ft. house for the burbs.

I highly recommend Chez Nous, excellent food and very romantic. For Italian, I would skip the wait at Vespaio and go a few blocks north on Congress to La Traviata. I think the food is much better and would recommend the Spaghetti alla Carbonara and crispy polenta. My favorite TexMex is El Azteca on East 7th. It's family owned and has great salsa - I recommend the number 6 with the beef enchilada. (Sorry, Ari, I can't stand Ninfa's). I have to agree that you need to go to Lockart for great BBQ but if you can't get to Lockart, Ben's Longbranch is good. Don't fall for Rudy's or County Line. Magnolia and Kirby Lane are good for breakfast.

Hope you have a great time here. Some of your Austin fans would love to have a round of margaritas with you guys at Vivo.

judith said...

IBM didnt have a fab but it had a large facility. For a few years in the late 90s, IBM was the largest private employer in Austin besides Dell.

I agree about Kirby Lane and Magnolia, the food is nothing special but (when I lived there) they were the only eateries open all night (maybe still). But at 3 am Magnolia is good for people-watching.

WDOR said...

Our favorite restaurant in Austin during my law school years was Eastside Cafe on Manor Road. A converted old house with a garden that provides the fresh ingredients for many things on the menu.

The prices are incredible and artichoke manicotti is to die for. It also has an "Austin" feel to it.

Nichevo said...

County Line (BBQ),...for tourists

Busted! That's where they sent me when I was going for wireless certification at Tantau Software. OTOH I was sent by a girl with a bosom you could serve a Thanksgiving turkey on, so ...

oh, we were discussing BBQ. Well, where should I have gone then?

Skyler said...

I think it's odd that in a post asking for places to eat on South Congress that I'm the only person that likes South Congress Cafe.

It's really quite nice if you've not been there.

Jimmy said...


My partner and I like South Congress Cafe too. We really enjoy the food, but it is SO loud (we are old, sorta) that we try to go early.

In fact we like most of the so-called SoCo places. Home Slice Pizza, Perla, Gueros, Vespaio/Enoteca, etc -all good.

Kev said...

I agree. I've lived in Texas all my life, and I've never owned a cowboy hat, roped a calf, or even said "Yee-haw" except in jest (a grito doesn't count). People even say my accent sounds like I come from the North. Nope. Just a South Texas boy.

I've been in Texas since the third grade, and I also never managed to acquire the accent. (This confused people when I went to out-of-state camps, but I just explained that I left my accent at home on trips, LOL.)

Althouse and Meade: Holler if your route will take you through Dallas when you go to Austin.

Also, if you're into a light Mexican meal and don't mind ordering from a counter, try Zuzu on Mopac between Far West and Northland.

And happy belated new year to all; I had to drive nearly six hours one-way to play my New Year's Eve gig this year, and I'm just now getting caught up on all my blog-reading (having a new HDTV doesn't help things, for that matter).