Making The Scene
What You’ll Need: Ironic T-shirt, bed head
Ten years ago a typical stroll along Austin’s South Congress Avenue involved sidestepping hookers and junkies on your way to a gun shop. Today an informal urban renewal has transformed it into the strip in Texas’s most self-aware city. When I was there one Saturday this spring, I saw Natalie Portman pet a Labrador puppy before blending into a daylong stream of the young and the stylish. Yet I still felt welcome, and that is the magic of SoCo: Even those whose hipness extends no further than the places they chauffeur the youngsters to—the latest High School Musical, Hannah, etc.—can know cultural relevance again, if just for one glorious weekend.
Only don’t call it SoCo. And don’t bring those kids. They’re actually not allowed at the Kimber Modern, a new B&B still flying under Austin’s radar despite two wide-eyed write-ups in the New York Times. The look is modern and minimal, all clean lines, stark whites, and pale grays, softened by Jacobsen eggs and Saarinen tulips in Starburst fruit chew colors. Since your only obligations will be browsing and lounging, draw the velvet curtain and sleep later than you have since the babies were born.
Once you awake, grab an organic quiche in the self-serve breakfast room, then walk across Congress to observe the natives at Jo’s coffee stand. Make note of their trendy attire, then head south to shop. Service menswear specializes in mid-century suburban iconic/ironic—picture your dad’s Gant and Penguin. Next door, By George is one of Lucky magazine’s top ten women’s boutiques in the country, carrying labels like Tracy Reese. To lower your price point, hunt vintage where the By George clerks do, at nearby feather’s and prototype. Or visit parts and labour, a consignment cooperative with clothing and accessories by more than one hundred area designers. (Insider’s tip: Invest $22 in a “luv ya blue” T-shirt reading “Remember the Oilers!”)
Then get reacquainted with your college-era slacker self. Can you recall the singular satisfaction of a cold beer in the afternoon with nothing else to do? You will with a dozen Kumamoto oysters and a Lone Star under the live oaks at Perla’s Seafood and Oyster Bar. Or with a pie and a pitcher of locally brewed Fireman’s #4 at Home Slice Pizza, Austin’s closest approximation of the fabled New York slice. Then take in a matinee set at the Continental Club, where honky-tonk guitarist Redd Volkaert—the backbone of Merle Haggard’s band—has a Saturday afternoon residency.
Go upscale for dinner with jet-set Italian at Vespaio, the local foodie choice for Austin’s best restaurant, then finish your day with a poolside nightcap at Hotel San José. Try to imagine the place as the hourly-rate motel it was before Lake/Flato architects turned it into a feng shui oasis.
Beat the noontime brunch rush at South Congress Cafe for eggs Benedict. Then hit the shops you couldn’t squeeze in on Saturday. Sift through estate-sale finds at Uncommon Objects and folk art at Yard Dog. Finally, make sure your children don’t think you forgot them entirely: Get them a present at Kid Genius toy store or the surreal Big Top Candy Shop, which stocks everything from the Wacky Packages of your youth to contemporary “treats” like fish-flavored mints called Chum Bucket. Then saunter back to the Kimber. As you pass your car in the B&B garage, realize you spent the whole weekend on foot. If that’s not cool enough for you, next time carry a skateboard.
Big Top Candy Shop 1706 S. Congress Ave., 512-462-2220 or myspace.com/bigtopcandyshop.
By George 1400 S. Congress Ave., 512-441-8600 or bygeorgeaustin.com.
Continental Club 1315 S. Congress Ave., 512-441-2444 or continentalclub.com.
Feather’s 1700B S. Congress Ave., 512-912-9779 or myspace.com/31622902.
Home Slice Pizza 1415 S. Congress Ave., 512-444-7437 or homeslicepizza.com.
Hotel San José 1316 S. Congress Ave., 512-852-2350 or sanjosehotel.com. Rates start at $160 a night.
Jo’s 1300 S. Congress Ave., 512-444-3800 or joscoffee.com.
Kid Genius 1400 S. Congress Ave., Ste. B150; 512-448-2200 or kidgenius.com.
Kimber Modern 110 the Circle, 512-912-1046 or kimbermodern.com. Rates start at $250 a night.
Parts And Labour 1117 S. Congress Ave., 512-326-1648 or partsandlabour.com.
Perla’s Seafood And Oyster Bar 1400 S. Congress Ave., 512-291-7300 or perlasaustin.com.
Prototype 1700â€ŠK S. Congress Ave. (at Milton), 512-447-7686 or prototypevintagedesign.com.
Service Menswear 1400 S. Congress Ave., Ste. A160; 512-447-7600 or servicemenswear.com.
South Congress Cafe 1600 S. Congress Ave., 512-447-3905 or southcongresscafe.com.
Uncommon Objects 1512 S. Congress Ave., 512-442-4000 or uncommonobjects.com.
Vespaio 1610 S. Congress Ave., 512-441-6100 or austinvespaio.com.
Yard Dog 1510 S. Congress Ave., 512-912-1613 or yarddog.com.