Monday, September 24, 2012

Austin and All Points Beyond, Part Three

Texas Capitol. I've been to Austin at least 10 times, and have yet to actually walk inside and take a look.
Sunday morning. I had everything packed up and in the rental, and we elected to grab brekky before heading to SoCo for more shopping and such. Finding brekky involved a lot of walking until we found a cool spot.
It was going to get hot, but at least there was lots of cool parts of the city to check out before we fried.
We did eventually find a cool spot that was recommended to one of us. And it totally worked for us. In fact, it was a fantastic idea. I was sold after seeing the sign.
"Happy Hour ALL DAY"? Sold.
Malaga Tapas & Bar. This place hit the spot. Our little quartet feasted. And when I mean feasted...we basically went all out and ate like kings and queens.
Feasting like a king. Two eggs scrambled with sauteed shrimp and garlic sauce, along with potatoes. On the bottom right of the plate was this paprika based sauce that I dipped the potatoes in. It was excellent.
There there was decent coffee. Endless cuppa Joe, for the wicked and hung over. And all was good.
I so wanted to swipe one of these comically small spoons. It was for the coffee.
We spent a lot of the time talking about the night before and what happened to me when I vanished with the ladies. Then there was talk about work, which I totally decided to forget about with a couple of mimosas.
Mimosas in the morning fix nearly everything in the universe.
We were full and happy, and that meant we needed to find out where we parked our cars. I volunteered to drive, since the other car was in a car park in the shade. And it was nearly 100 degrees, or would be shortly. Middle of the summer in Texas, and that's how it is.
And there was more walking. At least it wasn't 100 degrees. Yet.
Next stop was the South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery which was fun to try and find while the GPS got us lost. Two u-turns later and we arrived. Finally.
The GPS may have been a bit kooky, but we eventually got to where we needed to be.
The place was pretty cool and one of our number really wanted to try out the cake balls at Holy Cacao. I tried out their shakes, which were brilliant. It was like drinking a cake. But being lactose intolerant, I was probably going to pay for it later. We cooled off with some drinks from Torchy's Tacos, then dropped off two of my coworkers at the downtown car park (so they could head back to Killeen early). Then it was just Paula and I, off to SoCo.
There were a lot of people out, but they were further down the street. Plus, 100 degrees.
I showed her Service Menswear, where she ended up getting something for her hubby and I picked up a pretty cool t shirt. We also headed to Tesoros Trading Company, along with a slew of other cool shops. Then the heat really got to us, and we headed back to the car, past this strange...guy/thing.
Not what it appears to be...
Paula thought it was a statue. Because, logically, who in their right mind would be wearing that in 100 degree Texas heat? But this is Austin where they love to keep it weird. Suffice to say, once he moved, a slightly startled Paula knew what I had suspected--that the guy wearing that is nuts, funny, and that Austin is indeed weird. Love this city.
Heading north on Congress and hitting the road.
Alas, it was time to head back to Killeen. And back to work for one more week. Boo. The rest of the week was quite uneventful, aside from a cool trip in Killeen to Cheddar's Casual Cafe (which they seriously need to open in Orlando--this place rocked, on the food side and the drinks side...their happy hour is perfect).
Inside of Cheddar's...wicked skylight. It was brighter inside, but my phone's camera was...temperamental.
Cheddar's had a really cool fish tank...but I was too interested in the properly poured Jack & Coke to snap a photo off. And the dinner distracted me as well. Hit the spot and all that.

Friday night rolled around again, and I'd be home sometime Saturday evening after a non-stop flight from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to Orlando International Airport. I hopped in another rental car and headed out from Killeen to Austin for one more night at Barbarella.
This was somewhere after Barbarella, probably at Elysium, which rocked. And yes, you should probably check Elysium out as well. The shot? Straight-up Jagermeister. Because sometimes a Jager goes a long way.
After a night of catching up with my old transplanted friends from Orlando to Austin--Holly and Jacob--I headed to The Jackalope, and then back to the hotel and set my alarm to head back to the airport on time. Let's just say I've got a history of running late to airports. Besides, sometimes it's enough to make sure.

Once I turned in my rental and went through the security theater (after dealing with some TSA worker with a little too vivid an imagination and on a power trip after I forgot that I had a bottle of water in my bag), I ran into another coworker with whom I shared the same flight home. We'll call him Bucky, after Captain America's sidekick--because they look alike, only my Bucky is like 15 years older and has a family. Anyhow, we ended up at Earl Campbell's Sports Bar on the main concourse. And that's where I decided to dive into a couple of things, namely dinner.
I ordered a shot and this is the result. Don't know what it was, but it was the best the lovely bartender could pull together without any top shelf. Surprisingly, it was good. She McGyver'ed it out of random stuff, and vodka.
The first shot I had after lunch was decent, and a good primer to do what I like doing before a flight, getting a buzz--because in reality I've never been a fan of flying, and I checked the motion sickness pills that I usually carry with the luggage. Bad move. Or good, depending on your point of view.
First beer I tried out? Hamm's. Bucky recommended it after trying it first himself. Cheap, but good. But I got bored and wanted to try out something that I missed during the whole trip.
The National Beer of Texas.
Next up was Lone Star Beer. Very ubiquitous during my two and a half weeks in Texas, and what I would best describe as the PBR of Texas. And somehow it was light years better than actual PBR.

A quick two hour flight and I was back in humid Orlando. Definitely a different kind of heat.
Having a quick cig.
I headed outside to have a quick smoke, as the carousels at OIA were and always are notoriously slow. 20 minutes later, I had my luggage, and my cousin swung on by to pick me up.

Overall it was a fantastic trip, aside from the work part. Actually the work part was good as well, since my team accomplished a lot of what needed accomplishing. The fun parts in Austin were a well-deserved bonus. I ran into old friends, met new potential friends, and had a ball just being out of Orlando for a while.

A lot of things went through my mind in the days following the trip. Could I move to Austin? Would it be a good idea? Would what I need be a fresh start in a city that had my name all over it? Perhaps...but those were questions for another day. And last time I checked, we had plenty of those.

Next: A change of pace! I review a couple of bars that I call my usual haunts in Orlando, along with a few off the beaten path. Allons-y!

Once again, a big thanks to Paula at Eat: Watch: Run for hooking me up with a few of the pics in this post. And peruse her blog for insights on running, pop culture, and her interesting experiences along the way. And bunnies. You can find her here:

Austin and All Points Beyond, Part Two

While I was partying it up in Austin, I spent my time in Killeen, TX...about a good hour and some change north on I-35 and U.S. 190 or off of State Road 195--the faster way, even though there is one obvious speed trap somewhere in some town called Florence (population around 1,200...seriously). At the good old Residence Inn.
The room was actually nice, and the food served in the evenings was edible. Just sayin'.
I worked at Fort Hood during the week, and spent my evenings trying to figure out what the channel lineup was. And eating a lot of Ferro Rocher chocolates in my hotel room.
Best chocolates on the planet. Bar none.
Fortunately, the week wasn't that long, even though the work was tough in places. We were at another weekend, and I convinced some of my coworkers to join in the fun. Only they were going to pop in on Saturday, leaving me to head off to Austin and get my dance on at Barbarella. It was, as usual, an epic night.

I'm not even sure how the pedicab dude found my hotel, this time I was staying at the Extended Stay in downtown. It was cheaper than the Super 8 that I spent last weekend at, however the walking distance situation left a lot to be desired. A lot of the places that I wanted to head to were on Red River. But I survived the night and the walk back, thanks to some helpful folks.
Saturday morning came around and I was basically in recovery mode for much of the day, and spent a lot of it watching television, and walking around downtown. My coworkers eventually showed up and it was time to play tour guide.

We ended up having a late lunch at tenOak, where I had another steak (just because), and where we ran into a colorful group of characters. One of them totally ate it at the bar, bumped her head on a table, and got right back up. Sort of. The fact that she was pretty drunk made her practically invulnerable. Sure she'd have a nice bump on the noggin, but at the moment it was nothing.

They were serving some pretty cool drinks, which we tried out. And I totally got hit on by one of the guys in their group. Found that to be amusing. 
This was whiskey, lemonade, with blueberries in it. And it was awesome.
Suffice to say, we had a blast there, and hit up Starbucks on Congress & Fifth. Cappuccino for the win, that's all I'm saying. We split up and opted to get dolled up for a good old Saturday night in Austin. Because that's how we roll.
What was on television while I was ironing a shirt (read: trying not to burn my shirt with the iron).

Getting ready for Saturday night was easy. Find a shirt, find my jeans, find a sports coat, find my new Chucks. Easy peasy. I met up with half of the crew at a place called Fado Irish Pub & Restaurant. Excellent place, really. But the drinks were much more excellent.
Excellence in a pint glass.
Next part of the plan was to meet up with another coworker of ours Paula, who was hanging out with her runner friend at the Cedar Street Courtyard to catch an 80's hair metal tribute band called Metal Shop.
Metal Shop onstage and hamming it up.
They were rocking the tight pants, big hair, headbands, belt buckles, and wildly colored outfits. It was an excellent show, and we had a blast. Some of the ladies in our group even went onstage and danced it up a bit--but I'm not asking for the pics to post here. They sang everything from Bon Jovi to Warrant. It was a good mix of stuff that I honestly hadn't heard in a long while along with some old classic favorites. And they had a really great sound, to boot. Worth the $10 we spent.

Paula and I during the blur.
Somewhere along the line, shots happened. And lots of running around. Trying to find out which club was next on the list. Yes, it was a blur, that time of the evening where you're not even sure what time it is anymore, only that it's time to get to the next place on the list before last call. You always want to be in front of last call. It's like an unwritten rule out there.
Shots that I'm pretty sure occurred during the blur. In retrospect, not a good idea--but it was Saturday night...and who was I to argue?
Blurs can be fun. We all ended up on a pedicab ride to Barbarella. That much I can remember. Then there was something about going to the place next door, and then there was dancing, and we all went our separate ways before I ended up escorting a group of women back to their hotel and heading back to my own hotel in the end. And that was Saturday night. Great night.

Next: The Sunday Morning after...which means brekky and food trucks! And the trip winds down as I find out about the PBR of Austin. Allons-y!

Also, too! A big ups to Paula for the pics in Part Two and the upcoming Part Three. She learned that I can't take pics and walk at the same time. Check out her blog! It's called Eat: Watch: Run. It's a great read. Cheers!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Austin and All Points Beyond, Part One

Downtown Austin, with the Capitol in the backdrop.
Austin, Texas. It's the most non-Texas city in all of Texas--and I've been to Dallas, El Paso, Houston, San Antonio, and San Angelo. It's a bohemian bastion--rightfully earning their unofficial motto of "Keep Austin Weird". It was on a lot of the t shirts that I spotted (and nearly bought) at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. I landed there in early August for a bit of fun and work. Mostly work, but I made the weekends my own.

Spent the first weekend at a not-so-dodgy Super 8 Hotel off of 12th Street. Right at the edge of the downtown core. Not really sure you could call it a "hotel" though. But that's neither here nor there so let's move on. 
Stay thirsty, my friends.
I had dinner at Mexitas Mexican Restaurant, a halfway decent joint for a beer and an affordable dinner--and curiously in the same plaza as a bingo hall, which I thought was brilliant and funny. I had enchiladas and a Dos Equis. Good combo.

Sixth Street is not quite ready for me, or is it the other way around?
But enough of dinner, it was time for a trip to 6th Street--cornucopia of drinking, dancing and debauchery--along with being a center of culture, music, and everything in between. Being a Friday night, I sauntered over to my usual haunt, Barbarella, sister nightclub of Independent Bar in Orlando and Barbarella Tampa in Tampa's Ybor City District. Unfortunately overslept due to exhaustion from hanging out the night before (I'm not a fan of being awake, alert, or sober on flights--and I'm not a fan of flying in general), so I didn't get out till a bit after midnight. I did run into one of my old friends--Holly--now the general manager over there, and had a few drinks before the dreaded 2am closing time rolled around.

Saturday morning came along and it was time to hit up  on South Congress Ave--or SoCo for short--full of antiquing, an eclectically savory assortment of food trailers, art, and great shopping in general. I wish I had taken photos, but it was tough walking around in 100 degree heat with not a cloud in the sky. Austin's summer has a different kind of heat. Half oven heat, half humid. Something like that. Hot is hot. That's all that matters. So instead of photos, lots of links coming.

On to the shopping. I browsed through Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds, Service Menswear (where I picked a wicked pair of Chuck Taylor Double Zip High-Tops by John Varvatos), Tesoros Trading Company (and picked up some stuff for my mum), Allens Boots (just to check out the cowboy boots, not actually buy any), New Bohemia (an awesome retro store where I picked up the world's ugliest shirt--you'll see it later in this post), Uncommon Objects (where I found a sextant that folded into a case, but was too pricey), and Yard Dog Folk Art. I also stopped over at Stag (where I got my brother a pretty spiffy wallet), and had a quick bite to eat at the SoCo Trailer Eateries (too hot to have anything hot, so I went with shaved ice).

After that I headed back north on Congress to downtown. Next stop? tenOak Bourbon House & Lounge for a late lunch. I ordered the typical Jack & Coke and had this for a meal: 
I cannot express to all of you the joy of eating  all of this.
tenOak Steak! 6 oz of steak happiness with chimichurri sauce and roasted garlic mashed potatoes. Had mine cooked medium rare. Heaven in my mouth. Seriously. It was excellent. But either way, this lunch was on point.

I was full and happy, and headed to Wild About Music on 6th Street. Ended up buying a guitar pick. Never know when you'll need one. After a quick stop at Buffalo Billiards, I headed back to the hotel for a much needed nap. This time, I set the alarm. Then I decided to put on the ugly shirt that I got at New Bohemia.
Maybe not ugly, but sure as sin different. I thought it worked.
First stop on 6th Street? It was time to run the gauntlet, Texas style. Lots of shots. Lots of random beers. I stopped at The 512 Bar on 6th and Shakespeare's Pub
The first volley--a proper shot! 
There was lots of Summer 2012 Olympics on pretty much every television, so that was cool. I think it was the swimming finals with Michael Phelps and the US Team dominating.

I wandered about some more, but ended up at old reliable, Barbarella. I had a blast there. Had some random English girl buy me a shot, ended up dancing a lot. I also got a tarot card reading. 
Got a reading at Barbarella's courtyard. I have no idea what this meant, but his reading was actually on point. I tipped him well.
And somehow I got back to the hotel in one piece after the pedicab ride. One epic Saturday night. Totally epic. Sleepy time. Or actually, passing out time. Story of my life.

Unfortunately, I had to meet up with some coworkers the next day for the work part of the trip. Can't win 'em all. But next weekend gets better.

Next: The second weekend is even more awesome. I convince my coworkers to take the plunge into Austin for a crazy night involving spandex tights, big hair, Irish pubs, something about walking around a whole lot, and everyone kind of getting lost--but really not. Blame it on the shots. It's always about the shots. Allons-y!

Handle the Friday, Embrace the Saturday

Thank goodness it's Friday. Second best day of the week, by all rights. This is just the intro to the greatness that is Saturday. My favorite day of the week. Why? Saturday has it all--you can wake up when you feel like it, do what you want in between, and pretty much sleep at whatever hour you please. If you're a 9-to-5 type like yours truly, no other day offers such versatility.

Let's get to the waking up part. Sure, there's probably a hangover that needs shaking off from. Or maybe you're not a partyer and can simply sleep in till the sun gets all the way up. Or perhaps it's something in between. It doesn't matter. You can literally lie in bed all day if that's the thing. Point is, there's no need for an alarm clock. Hell, my phone's alarm never goes off on a Saturday--if the phone's even on.

As for whenever it is you do decide to get up and get around to sorting the day's activities (or inactivities) out, it's an open book. Fishing? Sure. Golf? Why not, if the weather permits. Sleeping in on the couch while watching College Football or College Hoops? Hell, that's something. Or maybe you want to and do all the chores that needed doing during the week and you weren't feeling it. And when the sun sets, you can party to your heart's content (which is my thing) and not worry about whenever it ends.

Speaking of the end, that's Saturday night. Here in Orlando, the end usually begins after leaving whatever club or bar I was in and getting a pedi-cab ride to Five Guys Burgers & Fries or Gringos Locos. Late night cuisine, and getting home in one piece. That's how I roll. And that can be around 03:00. Or later. You can basically take Saturday night and make it whatever it is you wish. A quiet day, a wild night on the town, or you could catch a show.

In the end, Saturday's about versatility. It's a pound of clay that can be molded into whatever pleases you at the moment. It could be planned or played by ear along the way. Or you could ignore all of that and nap it all away. It doesn't matter. It's Saturday, it's tomorrow, and it's the best day of the week. Go out there and enjoy it, world.