I have been a re-Texas resident now for 3 weeks and I can say that I believe my decision to leave San Diego and come here is still the right one. One can never expect any person or any place to remain unchanged over the course of a decade. All that aside; I still can not believe how much Austin has changed!
Downtown has always been fairly vibrant. Normally a Texas town such as this would be a difficult sell on “downtown vibrancy” tip but Austin does have a few things up it’s sleeve that no other Texas cities have. For one, the seat of the Texas state government. You may not care for them (I think Texas “politicians” are mostly shit-eating boot-sporting fuck sticks with no marketable talents or skills. The obvious exception: The Texas Film Commission — they are all saints) but the fact of the matter is that the Capitol demands accommodations for government and wherever that demand is in play…you get a glut of public works and infrastructure. Just the state capitol complex alone grants the city a nice expanse of grounds (22 acres in all which includes numerous sculptures and monuments) to walk, run, and picnic on. In Texas, the fact of having an urban park is fairly foreign so the reality of its existence alone is a win for people; and no, it is still no Balboa Park.
7th largest building in the world!…at the time of construction…of course
The next boon to downtown; the central location of The University of Texas at Austin’s campus — the main campus in the UT system — is a mere four blocks North of the Capitol. Is there irony in having a major research university with the 5th largest single-campus enrollment sporting a fairly substantial liberal bias just 400m away from arguably the most strikingly conservative and mind-numbingly idiotic state government collectives assembled (hyperbole — there is always Mississippi) in the Union? Why yes. There is. An irony that, at times, is palpable and really entertaining. UT keeps pumping the young impressionable and brilliant minds onto campus despite the best efforts of the Texas government to dumb them down and indoctrinate them into stupidity in the grade school arena. Qualification: considering that the Texas legislature only meets EVERY OTHER FUCKING YEAR(!) they can do little to stop UT from there “liberal agenda”.
The third constant in the ATX downtown spirit awards is, and hopefully shall always be, the local music scene. It’s alive, it’s prolific, it’s fairly decent in quality, and San Diego has absolutely nothing like it whatsoever. One of the saddest days in my life was, upon moving to San Diego, realizing that it was pretty devoid of a music scene and what little could be claimed was so scattered and fragmented across the suburban landscape that you had to take a bus and a train to get to another venue. I am certainly thankful (at least until SXSW starts up in a month or so) that Austin has the centroid of venues that covers a square mile or so where one can see any type of music you choose. Stock the venues with co-eds from the 40 acres and you have enduring success.
Now, for the new:
You can live downtown now! Holy Christ on a stick! 10 years ago the only way you really got to live downtown was if you passed out in a side alley off 6th street. Now they have “urban” living. I say “urban” with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek because Austin’s fairly diminutive size, lack of a true public transit option, and the non-existence of a central grocery store make it still a bit more of a destination rather than a starting point*. Seriously, downtown Austin needs a viable option as far as acts of daily living are concerned. But; there are units. There are condos. I (assume) there are (a few) rental properties. There is downtown living and it seems to be growing.
You can eat downtown now! Not just BBQ and steakhouses! There are real interesting restaurants with real interesting menus! I have had the privilege of going to a few already and I must say the fare was delicious, the atmosphere engaging, and the experience fantastic. My advice: sit down for a meal and (more than) a few drinks at Peché and Parkside. The first Saturday I was here I had French 75s (a drink that I am betting not many places could make 10 years ago) at Peché, Swan Dive (even with the love-child of Sammy Hagar and Ron Jeremy telling us that they “were not serving premium cocktails” that night…well, we did not “premium tip”), Haddingtons (a place whose vibe and menu started whispering to my ego that I would like to be a regular) and The Mohawk. The next Friday 75s were had at: Mulberry, Bar Congress, Parkside, Ruth Chris’, and Vino Vino (love love love love this place). The second to last place was a necessity to see my good friend Sal. There are places on 2nd street that had only been abandoned building shells when I left. The best part? Downtown is accessible and relevant unlike San Diego’s downtown “entertainment” area, the Gaslamp District. There are, of course, stretches of 6th street that remind me of the entire expanse of Pacific Beach (whoreish, drunkenly depraved, and culturally benign) but at least they seem to have been segregated into a more manageable area for easier college student ambulation. Hell, I even took a little day-time drinking trip to South Congress and they have more stuff there than just The Continental Club now. Surprise surprise surprise. You can also add Jo’s downtown, Doc’s, and the Hotel San Jose (amazing patio ambiance) as fantastic places to get food and fare in the downtown area.
My main goal upon moving to Austin as a degreed professional and an “adult”, aside from gainful architectural employment, was to forget everything I know or knew about Austin and attempt to experience it all over again the right way — or at least in a way that is more congruent with my ideology. So far I think I have been doing well. I even some fantastic live music last Saturday from BK & Mr. E, Zeale (Legit Austin Hip-Hop with legit skills), and Zeale’s Spinner — DJ Rockwell 9000!
This company does not front
Next Up: The “urban” neighborhoods.
* No, I do not count Whole Fucking Foods as a grocery store (even if it is WF #1). Shopping at Whole Foods is the grocery store equivalent of buying a Mercedes: You insist on paying too much for something that is more of a status symbol and an empty ideology, but you wind up getting something that drives like a bricked piece of crap. I’m with Marc Maron on this one when he said that he tries to steal something from Whole Foods every time he goes in there just because he feels like it should be done. Fuck those guys.
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