When playing tour guide, there's no place like home.
SOMETIMES, THE MOST INVITING PLACE to visit is right in your own back yard, so to speak. I found this out recently after hosting a few out-of-town guests over a short period of time. At first, the very thought of entertaining seemed taxing, but once I realized why I like Austin, showing friends a good time proved fun and easy.
In the Capital City there really is something for everyone. What I find so funny about Austinites (myself included), is how we think we live in a big city. “Oh, the traffic is horrendous. The crime rate is really high.” The list goes on. In reality, Austin is more like a small town—only it is just big enough so that you don’t have to worry about running into someone you know everywhere you go. The small-town feel applies to attitude too. Most folks are laid-back here; the vibe is friendly. Of course, I’m not saying anything that hasn’t already been said before. I’m just validating a few of the reasons why I live here—and why people like to visit.
Amusing three very different houseguests is not as difficult as it sounds, especially when Austin is the locale of choice. Our first visitor, Linda, went to school at the University of Texas at Austin, so she was familiar with the city. Linda came down for a UT Longhorn football game, which is a great way to spend part of a Saturday in Austin. There is nothing quite like tailgating before kickoff with a bunch of friends—hanging out, eating, drinking, and reveling. Linda’s plane arrived late Friday evening, so to avoid the crowds (in case you didn’t know, most restaurants are packed on game weekends), we went to a neighborhood Italian spot called Cipollina. The food was good, and we didn’t have to wait for a table. Saturday morning we got up early and headed for the Drag before the thousands of other UT fans did the same. Linda wanted to buy some Longhorn paraphernalia for her three young nieces. At ten in the morning, Guadalupe Street was hopping with folks wearing burnt orange shirts, shorts, caps, you name it. While we were near campus, I realized I should have booked us a tour of the UT Tower. I went with some friends about a year ago, and it was amazing. On the observation deck, there are bullet holes in the walls where officers tried to shoot sniper Charles Whitman, who killed ten people from his perch on August 1, 1966.
After shopping for a while, we headed to the El Dorado Bar—yes, somehow it is associated with the restaurant of the same name in Nuevo Laredo—on Lake Austin to grab a quick snack. The Longhorns won the game, thank goodness, so everyone was in high spirits, but it was late, so we called it a night. After all those beef fajitas, beans, and tortillas we ate at our tailgating party, we didn’t have room for dinner. Sunday was a lazy day, and we didn’t get out of the house until lunch. Linda and I went to the new Maudie’s at the Davenport Village shopping center. I was surprised to find that everyone else in town had decided to go there for lunch too. The wait was 45 minutes, but worth it. Linda caught an early flight back to Dallas, and I made my way back home.
One of my husband’s longtime pals, Jimmy, came a few weekends later. Jimmy had recently moved from Austin to Fort Worth. (We’re still not sure why.) At any rate, he was in town for a UT football game too. Friday night for dinner we ate at Maudie’s (hmmm)—but the one in our neighborhood, off Lake Austin Boulevard. We like this location much better than the new upscale eatery in Davenport Village. There’s something charming about waiting for a table outside on the sidewalk of a strip center featuring a washateria and a Goodwill store. Naturally, our meal proved satisfying. In the old days, we might have gone down to the Warehouse district to check out the scene and grab a cocktail, but who wants to deal with parking? It was a familiar topic of conversation as we drove around looking for a spot near the Clay Pit, an Indian restaurant where a friend was having a birthday party. We ended up parking about three blocks away and walking through the mist, but we made it. Of course, after all that Mexican food, we didn’t last long. Saturday morning I ran errands while my husband, Kit, and Jimmy and some other friends made preparations for the game. I didn’t go—sitting in the rain for a couple of hours didn’t sound that appealing—but the rest of the gang spent the day cheering on the Horns. Maudie’s for dinner again. (I’m beginning to see a clear pattern here, but we were all in the mood for Mexican, honest!) Kit and Jimmy went for a ride Sunday afternoon, cycling around downtown, the greenbelt, and the campus area (“the city loop,” as my husband likes to call it) before it began to drizzle. If the weather would have been nice, the guys would have been up for some sculling on Town Lake, but Mother Nature wasn’t cooperating. Jimmy decided he would have to come back to get in his “outdoor-Austin” fix.
Another guest, Andrea, hadn’t spent much time in Austin. We grew up together down in the Valley, but she ended up going to rival A&M while I went to UT. During our college days, she visited maybe twice. Because she lives in Missouri now, Andrea was basically thrilled to be back in Texas—period. She didn’t care where she was. Even so, I thought she should have a pleasant time here, especially since I had been trying to get her to move to Austin. Our first stop was Cipollina for lunch (uh-oh) before heading out to the Arboretum area to do some shopping. We stopped in Saks for makeup, Harold’s, Coach (Andrea was looking for a wallet), and a handful of other high-end retail stores. Sure, Austin isn’t a shopping mecca like Dallas or Houston or even San Antonio, but we manage quite well with what we have. Despite the onslaught of suburban sameness, Austin still has its fun, quirky mom-and-pop operations; you just have to know where to find them. (Hint: They aren’t around the Arboretum.) After a little freshening up, we met some old friends for dinner at Jaime’s Spanish Village on Red River. I hadn’t been to this Tex-Mex institution in years, but the enchiladas were as good as I remembered. Saturday morning we had brunch at Z’Tejas, which is always lively, and then did some window shopping along West Sixth Street. I showed Andrea Clarksville, the neighborhood where one of our friends from the first grade used to live, and Tarrytown, where there are some high-dollar houses, while we were out running errands—always a good way to see a place. We stopped in to check on Kit, who had been out cycling with a neighbor, before making our way across town to see my brother. Even though there is more traffic than, say, five years ago, it still doesn’t take more than thirty minutes to get anywhere in Austin (unless there is a jam somewhere). You simply can’t get across town that quickly in Dallas or Houston. For dinner, we loaded up two vehicles and made our way to Driftwood to eat delicious barbecue at the Salt Lick. This place out in the middle of nowhere—well, there are some subdivisions going up near there—offers some of the best brisket and ribs in the area. The restaurant was packed, as usual, but we didn’t have to wait for a table since we decided to eat alfresco. This spot is bring your own, so we got out the coolers, passed around the wine, and enjoyed ourselves. Andrea’s flight left bright and early Sunday morning, so I spent the rest of the day relaxing at home with Kit. He even did some work out in the back yard.