Find Us

Central Texas neighbors Austin and San Antonio Are Well Worth a Visit.

Cary Pollak for Whisk and Quill
July 31, 2013 

A recent business trip to Austin, Texas provided an opportunity to do a quick Texas Two Step to a couple of the Lone Star state’s most intriguing cities.  I had heard nothing but good things about the Austin scene over the years, and I could take a short drive to nearby San Antonio’s famed Alamo and River Walk.

If you want to check out San Antonio from the airport in Austin, you can hightail it by car and arrive in San Antonio in just over an hour.  And despite the basketball playoffs in San Antonio that night, we made good time.  Legend has it Spurs fans on their way to a playoffs game are more fearsome than Santa Anna’s troops when they stormed The Alamo, but we managed to sneak through their lines safely.

It was a picture perfect day to visit to The Alamo. Though the 18th century Spanish mission is a relatively small and simple edifice, once you get up close you notice it is dwarfed by the thriving modern city that grew up around it.

The Alamo

The Alamo

The sight of the Alamo can conjure up feelings of reverence for the men who fought and died in a battle critical to the shaping of the United States.  It was Sam Houston’s Texas Army that drew on the incident for inspiration during a successful campaign to gain independence from Mexico.  Now a lovely and peaceful garden graces the iconic structure, and a small museum portrays daily life in March of 1836 when the Alamo fell.  A beautifully elaborate vest worn by Tennessee frontiersman Davey Crockett and a Bowie knife from the 1830’s are among the displays.  Both Crockett and Jim Bowie were killed in the legendary battle.

Davey Crockett’s vest -  Bowie knife

Davey Crockett’s vest – Bowie knife

Across the street from the Alamo is the entryway to the San Antonio River Walk.  Billed as “The Number One Tourist Attraction in Texas”, it is a long, winding path along the San Antonio River lined with charming restaurants, shops and hotels on both sides.  We chose an outdoor table at Rita’s on the River, and enjoyed fabulous Tex-Mex cuisine in a lovely setting.  The fajitas arrived sizzling on a cast iron skillet hot as a branding iron.  Rita’s menu prepares you for “Texas-sized portions,” and accordingly, fajita platters feature an astonishing three quarters of a pound of meat along with onions, peppers, rice, refried beans, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, and cheese.  You might want to take an extra-long stroll down the River Walk to work off one of Rita’s generous meals.

San Antonio River Walk -  Rita’s on the River

San Antonio River Walk – Rita’s on the River

First time visitors to Austin might be surprised to learn that the town’s informal slogan is “Keep Austin Weird,” which can be seen on t-shirts and in store windows around town.  The more traditional moniker for the capital city, chosen by community leaders in 1991, is “Live Music Capital of the World.”  A good argument can be made for both descriptions.

Reliable sources such as the Travel Channel reckon that the town is home to over 200 live music venues and more than 1900 musicians.  As you stroll down popular 6th Street, where bars and restaurants often keep doors open and live bands in view, don’t be surprised if the cadence of your walk shifts to the musical strains of blues, jazz and country.  On Briscoe Street, step into The Driskill Hotel to view an elegant showplace reminiscent of early Texas.  The Driskill is a beautifully restored Romanesque-style hotel built in 1886 by a rich cattleman who seemed to want to best his neighbors to the north.

Interior of the Driskill Grill

Lobby of The Driskill Hotel

The 1869 Café and Bakery occupies a light and airy room with high ceilings and a display of house made pastries that will have you craving dessert at any time of day.  Try the glistening cherry Danish.  The elegant and highly rated Driskill Grill features local Texas beef and game in a clubby 1920’s décor.

Interior of the Driskill Grill

Interior of the Driskill Grill

Stubb’s Bar-B-Q at 801 Red River bills itself as “the heart of an explosive music scene,” with good reason.  It offers about four or five live performances a week, usually ticketed, on both indoor and outdoor stages.  Barbequed meats get a coating of house made dry rub before being slow smoked over Texas Post Oak.  Side dishes are made from scratch.  The place is so busy that some of the meats can be left on the slow smoker a bit too long.  On one visit the turkey breast was tasty but too dry.  But the sweet potato fries were timed just right, crispy on the outside, hot and tender on the inside.

Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden on Rainey Street boasts the largest selection of sausages in Austin and has 100 beers on tap to wash it all down.  The restaurant claims to be named for fictional character Olaf Banger, whose legend can be enhanced by anyone who goes on to the website and makes up a new story.  The menu draws on sausage making traditions from all over the world.  The signature bangers and mash is house made Irish style pork sausage with onion gravy and skin-on mashed potatoes.  The Cajun Boudin Plate features the famous Louisiana sausage with saltine Crackers, Tabasco Sauce, red beans & rice.  Bratwurst is mild and flavorful, just like in the old country.  It is made of pork, but the menu correctly explains that any combination of veal, beef or pork is authentic.  The most creative menu item is the “Veggie BLT,” actually a sausage made of crushed sun dried tomatoes and cheese curds and topped with shiitake mushroom “bacon”, field greens, and onion aioli.  Fabulous!  Diners are frequently treated to live music in the beer garden .

Live band next to the Banger’s sign

Live band next to the Banger’s sign

If you think that Banger’s provides an unusual dining experience, you should pay a visit to Threadgill’s, a food and music establishment that holds itself out as the reason why “Keep Austin Weird” became a popular expression.  Threadgill’s now has two charming and homey locations, on North Lamar Street and on West Riverside Drive.  They feature a southern style menu that appears not to have been changed for decades.  One minor concession to modern tastes might be that the menu offers their “world famous” chicken-fried steak with cream gravy on top or on the side.  Those in favor of lighter fare have some options too.  Grilled or broiled chicken is well prepared and the Rio Grande veggie burger packs a lot of flavor.  The West Riverside Drive location has on display a piano that was played by rock star Jerry Lee Lewis and that accompanied a young Janis Joplin when she developed her early folk singing style.

Piano at Thrreadgill’s

Piano at Thrreadgill’s

There are a number of reasons why many Austinites think their hometown is unique.  Austin is known for being socially and politically progressive in predominantly conservative Texas, and residents usually vote Democratic.  And one of the most unusual attractions in the country is a nightly celebration.  Here people of every political stripe gather under the Congress Avenue Bridge throughout the summer to watch the nightly outpouring of the world’s largest urban colony of bats. To top it off, The Museum of The Weird on 6th Street houses a collection of creepy attractions, some in the form of display items from horror movie sets, and some live bugs and reptiles.  There’s an entertaining live show by sword swallower Juan Martinez.  After the sword is fully inserted down his gullet, he takes a deep bow.  He explains that this is a rare and dangerous move, even among the 100 or so sword swallowers currently practicing in the U.S.  This performer clearly is a cut above.

Bats flying from Congress Avenue Bridge - Sword swallower at Museum of the Weird

Bats flying from Congress Avenue Bridge – Sword swallower at Museum of the Weird

Austin and San Antonio deliver some of the most interesting experiences Texas has to offer.  Austin is alive with the sounds of music and is full of surprises, some weird and some just wonderful.  San Antonio’s River Walk is a joy to explore.  Long after you leave that historic city, you will always “Remember the Alamo.”

All photo credit to Cary Pollak

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.