Austin, Texas: A 24 Hour Guide To The Barbecue City
Paris and Prague can argue over which is the world’s most beautiful city, but surely no town on Earth smells half as good as Austin, Texas. It’s as if every second house, and place of business, is barbecuing brisket and pulling pork at the same time.
So, as is often the case in American cities, eating is a major focus of any visit to Austin, but it’s actually most famous as a live-music venue (there are more than 250 of them in the city) and party town. It also has more bars, per head of population, than anywhere in the country, a fact that’s easy to believe when you take a stroll down the legendary 6th Street.
Once a year, Austin is also home to the South By Southwest festival of ideas, tech, music, film and much more, which has been running since 1987 and gets bigger every year. Held in early March, it is a fantastic time to visit the city, which swells with more than 500,000 visitors during its 10 days.
Frankly, though, any time is a good time to visit this quirky-cool city – one popular locals’ slogan is “Keep Austin Weird” – which seems to bear little resemblance to the rest of Texas. Happily, many local restaurants don’t even let people carry guns on the premises these days.
9am: Breakfast at Voodoo Doughnut
No, this probably isn’t the most healthy option to start your day, but it’s that kind of town, and we’re not here on a health kick. On my third night in Austin, I couldn’t sleep at all, kept awake by a fiery combination of heart burn and meat sweats. But it was worth it.
Voodoo Doughnut is a large and loudly decorated local institution, allegedly established to “return the lexicon to the correct spelling of D.O.U.G.H.N.U.T,” which has since become a “deep-fried revolution”.
Open 24 hours, and always busy, it’s worth stopping in here just to eyeball the staggering array of hugely unhealthy and spectacularly sugary treats on offer, and to fortify yourself with some “cawfee”.
Among a selection of 50 doughnuts there are bear claws the size of frying pans, a mad monstrosity called the Maple Bacon Bar – with actual bacon on top – another called The Loop, which is covered in sugary cereal, and an Old Dirty Bastard, with layers of chocolate frosting, Oreo cookies and peanut butter.
We tried the more simple Homer donut, dedicated to the great man himself, and a simple pink with sprinkles. It was decadently delicious, but felt like it may have contained a million calories.
212 E 6th Street, Austin
10am: Shopping, South Congress
The South Congress area, a pleasant (and necessary) walk from Downtown over the Congress Avenue Bridge (under which lurks the world’s largest urban bat colony, stroll past at sunset to see them take flight), is a vibrant, colourful and corn-fed stretch of cool shops, bravura boutiques and cowboy-boot shops.
If you feel the need to take home something Texan, the boot shops are definitely worth a visit, and will sort you out with cowboy hats and bet buckles as well.
But there’s plenty of other great stuff to see on South Congress, which combines homespun character with the kind of trendy vibe of inner Melbourne or Camden in London.
You could easily spend a whole day and night here, as the area also offers live-music venues – most notably the legendary Continental Club – some great bars and food offerings, including plenty of pizza-pie joints.
1pm: Lunch at Franklin Barbecue
Frankie’s, as it’s more commonly known, is the Mecca of barbecue, with even the world’s greatest chefs, and American presidents, making pilgrimage to try its smokey wonders.
Anthony Bourdain, for one, is in awe: “It is the best. It is the finest brisket I’ve ever had.”
That level of fame, of course, has made it hugely popular, with queues as long as five hours and people often lining up for half the day, only to miss out.
Making it harder is that the owners clearly realise they don’t need to work long days to get rich. Frankie’s only opens from 11am to 3pm, so dinner is not an option.
The pulled pork, sausages and brisket are all legendary, and everyone who’s got in says it’s worth the effort, but if you are beaten by the queue we recommend a similarly wondrous meat feast at Iron Works BBQ, 100 Red River Road, which has far shorter queues.
900 E. 11th Street, Austin
3pm: Bar crawl down 6th Street
Frankly, there’s so much to see on 6th Street that you really need to have a couple of goes at it.
The area in and around what’s known as “Ol’ Dirty 6th”, or zip code 78701, contains 88 bars, or one for every 67 Austin residents.
To say there is a bar on every corner of this jumping, pumping street would be selling it short, because between every corner there are three or four more.
No matter what you are looking for – sports bars, live music, Coyote Ugly-style bar-top dancing, country-music hoe-downing, duelling pianos – you will find it here. And, in some kind of mathematical miracle, every single venue seems to be packed, and more so as day turns to night.
This is the street that earned the city the title of Live Music Capital of the World, and is where such varied artists as Stevie Ray Vaughn and Willie Nelson plied their trade. Spoiled for choice simply does not cover it.
For a bit of afternoon fun, try Buffalo Billiards, which is filled with every game you can possibly imagine, from table football to darts to shuffleboard and, obviously, billiards.
With the friendly locals, you’ll never be short of conversation, either.
8pm: Dinner, Gus’s World Famous Hot & Spicy Fried Chicken
Just a short stagger from 6th Street, this hugely popular, homely chicken joint is as cheap as it is cheerful, with a selection of dark and white meat plus beans and bread for less than $10.
The chicken is just lightly spicy, but heavily fried, and is one of life’s great guilty pleasures.
The desserts, which include sweet potato, pecan or old-fashioned coconut pies, are also not to be missed. If you’d prefer to try another local specialty – Tex Mex – check out the super classy La Condesa, for some five-star taco action.
117 San Jacinto Avenue, Austin
10pm: Dance the night away
It’s time to head back to 6th Street to attempt to get through the three or four blocks you couldn’t get to in in the afternoon. Late-night revelry is always on offer at the legendary Maggie Mae’s, or check out Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar. Finish up the night with some hilarious stand-up at Esther’s Follies, right at the end of 6th.
Something AM, Stay: The Driskill Hotel
Even if you don’t stay at The Driskill, you really have to call in and see this Romanesque-style wonder, which feels like it’s wrapped in some kind of time vortex from not just last century, but the one before. Completed in 1886, it is the oldest operating hotel in town and has such an old-world aura that many people believe it is haunted.
What it definitely is is beautiful, from its grand exterior to its shining marble lobby. There are 189 guest rooms and suites, and – of course – even more fabulous places to eat.
604 Brazos St, Austin
Published 16 April, 2018