For Newcomers who want to be Oldtimers.
Oh, here's some old Austin stuff that isn't around any longer.
And here's my pal Anne's take on some Austin icons I mention here.
Everyone who moves here expects to be instantly transformed into an oldtimer so they can then scoff at people who arrived after them. So help me, I've heard guys who have been here two years act like they've got a right to say "Traffic sure is bad these days! Wasn't this way when IIIIIIIIIII moved here!" Yeah, dude--like you're not part of the problem.
All that aside, as a 63-year old, fifth generation Austin native, I thought I should tell you about some of the places that you won't see on most tourist guides. Then you guys can really act like you're oldtimers. So here goes.
Avenue B Grocery
4403 Ave. B, Austin, TX 78751 (Just south of 45th) / 453-3921
I went in today and Ross was by himself, keeping store. You walk through the swinging screen door and it's like a Faulkner novel come to life. Well, maybe that's too strong, but you do feel like you've landed in a part of the old south. It's a memory trip that spans back to a sunny childhood afternoon in your life when getting a Coke and thinking about which library book you were going to read next were the only things on your mind. You can come in here and Ross and a helper will be putting sandwiches together, from scratch, right in front of your very eyes. Now OK, you can go to certain franchise places and get this process done, too, but these are old fashioned sandwiches like the King Bee and the Queen Bee that somehow have more soul--even if you get them on white bread.
Two aisles stacked with goods. The Chronicles and other papers outside, cash register up front, drugs and sundries behind the cashier, sandwich shop in back with the menu above it. Yep, that's about it. Austin's oldest continuously running grocery store. Way beyond slackerhood. Way too much going on here that matters.
National TV commercial outfits have actually used Ross' place for spot settings before. Can't blame them. Where else are you going to find a store like this where you've got hardwood floor, an ice cream freezer you reach down into, little plastic bins full of vegetables, four different kinds of root beer and all kinds of student food? When I drove over there, I passed a guy sauntering west on 45th who weighed about 300 pounds, had a bright flower-print shirt and cutoffs on and was sporting a Santa Claus do with a headband. Just somehow sets the tone, know what I mean? Well, if you haven't eaten a King or Queen Bee (I recommend the Queen with jalapenos on a French roll) whilst sitting on one of the picnic tables outside, you haven't been to Austin. Heck, I felt better just from buying a bag of Chili Cheese Fritos and gobbling the contents on the way home.
Dirty Martin's Kum-Bak Burgers
Just south of 29th Street on Guadalupe/477-3173
To paraphrase Sheryl Crow, "This ain't no franchise place, this ain't no fru-fru-bar, this is Dirty Martin's Kum-Bak." No doubt, the patties are irregular, the buns are greasy, and the chairs are vinyl, in that orange shade not found in nature. What more could you want on a day that had presented you with little to cheer about? One thing about Dirty's--you don't have to think too hard--the menu isn't all that extensive. Burgers, one variety of chicken fried steak, and FFs, ORs, and TTs. But everything on it is reliable. And in a world of liars and backstabbers, thank your lucky stars something this honest exists. Way off the Zone Diet System. Atkins? Are you kidding? It is to laugh.
See how in the picture upstairs, the grease permeates the wax paper you get in your food basket? Do you observe how the buns implode in the middle? To me, that is the guarantee that the cooking is authentic. And note the salad. (Or as my ex-boss from Dallas aristocracy would have said, "SaLAHd.") Those are dill pickles at the top of the plate. Not gherkins. Dills. Iceberg lettuce. Not Romaine. A slice of real tomato. Not sundried. The real stuff. And no Pita bread, either. Saltines. Fresh in the cellophane. Have a beer. Get an extra patty. Enjoy.
Ah, the tales these walls could tell. The romances engendered by glances across the tile-floored room. The first brush of hands as they reached for tater-tots. The accidental bump as two people head for the restroom.
As we tuck into our food, I hear the lady at the counter talking about a party she's going to. A self-important yuppie daddy comes in with his kids. He gives them some quarters to go play the video games. They're back in about two minutes and he wants to know how they spent them all so fast. Then a soccer mom comes in with three team members. Somehow, the sheer force of Dirty's atmosphere makes everyone seem more likable. And isn't that what a great eatery is all about?
12th at West Lynn/477-8888
"There are places I remember. . ." Yeah, well, I don't just remember Nau's, sometimes I'm inclined to kiss the sidewalk in front of it. On a morning in 1969, my life turned on a dime in this place. That hot summer, I was working at the University Co-op in the mornings and for Graphic Designs, a local ad agency, during the afternoons. One day at my lunch break in the Co-op, one of my tablemates mentioned to me that he and his dad ate breakfast every morning at Nau's with John Nuhn. Back then, John Nuhn was a big deal in Austin advertising. He was the number two man at Beaman-Nuhn, the second biggest agency in town, someone I really needed to meet. You'd better believe that the next morning at 7:15, I was parked a half block down the street from Nau's, waiting for the players in this drama to go inside. As soon as I saw that the other people were in place, I sauntered in and sat down with them. For the next month or so, I made it a point to show up there about every other day. And when, as I suspected, the job at Graphic Designs petered out because their biggest client started doing a bunch of stuff in-house, I was able to grease the job at Beaman-Nuhn.
The bottom line is that if I hadn't been such an aggressive person at that point, I never would have gotten that position.. And if I hadn't snared that job, I wouldn't have been in place to hear a media rep say that an outfit called MRI Systems Corporation was looking for an ad agency. And if I hadn't gotten that account and then the spot at MRI, I never would have met Linda. Lord help me, I am a lucky man.
Now. Aside from all that, Nau's is still one of the only fully-functioning local drug stores on the face of the Austin planet. They even have a soda fountain. I promise that I'll make it a point to go back over there and eat to tell you how it rates. But is is an Austin treasure, still serving as a societal meeting ground for the Clarksville area. (I wonder if they still have the Christmas gingerbread cookies wrapped in cellophane. But that's another story.)
1818 West 35th/451-5490
Move over, Martha! In a world of sameness where even the so-called antiques are all manufactured at the same place, it's nice to find a store that has so many one of a kind things. The plants are just as unusual as the items inside. The other day, I got an ornamental artichoke which is gorgeous. The deep red-orange abutulon plants I have are really looking good as they get bigger. And the yellow tecomas I planted last year are just getting ready to come back. Soap bars for $28? You bet--but they produce lather that feels like creamery butter. The finest fragrances from France. Italian cologne that is unlike anything you'll find at uhmmm. . . yeah, well.. Incense for outdoors. Big candles. Unusual vases. Furniture pieces you wouldn't see anywhere else. The only way to really find out is to go there and check what's in this week. That's something I often do, just to feel civilized. Of course, when I see the VISA bills, my conscience feels uncivilized.
SORRY-- SHAMROCK CLOSED down on MARCH 31, 2007.
Another victim of "progress."
Here is what I had written about it.
3301 Hancock Drive/458-4181
If there were a hierarchy of dry cleaners like in hotels, Shamrock would be the Four Seasons. OK, so it's in a kind of out the way little shopping center and you have to know about it to find it. And back during the eighties boom, you had to get on a waiting list to be one of their customers. (True.) I guess that's the only reason I'm glad we had a bust. It got me into Shamrock. Fact is, now I wouldn't trust my clothes to anyone else. Some of the chains actually do three times as many shirts in an hour as Donny's place. (He's the owner.) Have you ever looked at the placket of a shirt that comes back from the chain places? How it curves instead of being straight? Donny would fire somebody if they turned out a shirt like that and let a customer see the thing.
So what is it that keeps me coming back? Why do I have such a compulsion to look fresh-pressed? Basically, I have had to make my image one big advertisement for myself for the last twenty-eight years. If I don't look better than the jerks from the big agencies, then I would never get any business. At least that's how I look at it. So I always wear a custom tailored shirt and a nice tie. And if the shirt isn't laundered right, I know that my day is just going to be off-kilter. "Why do you wear a tie if you're working out of your house?" "That's exactly why I wear one, you nincompoop!"
You go here and you see bigtime bankers and developers, failed gubernatorial candidates, soccer moms and assorted socialites. All dumping their clothes on Donny for the good treatment. Kind of a nice place to do business with.
Two stores north of Shamrock Cleaners./323-5745
"Of all the groomers in town, I like this name the best, dad!" the late Miss Chalow, another satisfied dog, recommended Pampered Pets to anyone who will listen.
We certainly like Pampered Pets--we've been coming here for years--even when we had Lucky and Oscar, the scroungy mutt and our gorgeous Old English Sheepdog. Now that I think about it, that means we've been taking our dogs here for over twenty years or so. It's very handy, having both Pampered and Shamrock so close. I can throw the cleaning in the back seat and cart the dog along at the same time. Kind of gives me a small town feeling, to be able to go there in morning, have everyone know my name, and just feel like there's something beyond the chain stores. Chalow likes coming here, too. She always brightens up when we arrive and they do a great job on her. They have a nice array of treats that she enjoys picking from, as well. Toys? Naaahhh--Chalow doesn't like them, but maybe your dog would.
(By the way, this isn't Chalow, but for a clip photo, it's pretty close.)
Austin Flower CO.
1612 West 35th/451-6447
Want to know who's having the best parties in town? Then come on by this place on a Saturday morning. You'll see the finest caterers and party planners elbowing each other for the Birds of Paradise, Tulips, Roses, Daisies, Hydrangeas, Larkspur, Stock, Baby's Breath, Dianthus, and heck, you name it. It's all here in bulk and ready to rock. Definitely a place where most people come in happy and leave happier. My ideal Saturday morning consists of going by here for cut flowers and then dropping by Gardens down the street for something to plant. This place is a converted gas station and isn't high on formality. Just good service, excellent selection, and a friendly ambience. Concrete floors, chilled back section, lots of potted plants, too. Hang out for a while. Get some new ideas just by listening. You could do worse with your time!
Austin Memorial Park
Hancock Dr. at Bull Creek Road
Not much to say here, except that a drive by this place keeps you honest. Or at least humble.
The Corner ShopPE Mall
5900 N. Lamar / 451-7633
So I guess you think that this is in the middle of West Texas on the way to New Mexico, right? Nope, it's in the geographic center of Austin on what has to be one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in town--just north of the intersection of Koenig Lane/2222 and North Lamar. Skulls, skins and garden pots outside. Skulls, stuffed rattlesnakes, bears, raccoons, and sunglasses inside. Plus, what else, flags from around the world. Didn't dream it, dude. I saw it myself yesterday. In fact, when one of my clients was getting their grand opening together, I came over here and bought about fifty little American flags for them to use.
What's more, the nicest lady inside is just thrilled for you to be there, checking her store out. Next time you need a stuffed lizard, drop on in. It is on a corner, it is a shoppe, but a "mall"? Hmmm. . . well, they do have a wide variety of merchandise. And you could put a food court in the parking lot, I suppose. Well, heck, why not? No place else but Austin!
The Frisco Shop
Has moved north to 6801 Burnet. http://www.frisconighthawk.com/ The original site got bought by national drug store chain. 459-6279
So listen, how about a Frisco burger? Gooey melted cheese, pungent pickle relish, kind of wilted lettuce, juicy meat and Thousand Island sauce. Want it traditional? Oh well, then how about a Down South? Buns toasted on the griddle just right, tomato, lettuce, and the meat done to a turn. Order of rings, fries on the side. Enchiladas--a big plate of them swimming in meat sauce with melted cheese. Yikes! Better ask them to save a piece of that icebox pie with the meringue piled mountain high and the filling river deep. If you want chocolate, banana, coconut, whatever, you'd shouldn't be left out.
Breakfast? What better way to start the day, indeed? Big biscuits floury and crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside. Eggs any way you want. How about a dish of apple butter to go with those biscuits? Bacon fried crisp, some creamy grits, stout coffee, and all kinds of "just plain folks" conversations going on around you. "Hey, did you see who the Horns just recruited?" "Can you believe what Minnie Laverne said in church the other day?" "What is this dot com stuff anyway?"
Yeah, it's the last of a legend. Get it while you can.
La VicT oria Bakery
5245 Burnet Road/458-1898
Now here's a real place for good pastry at a below market price. Unfortunately, I can't even look at most of the baked offerings in the glass cases here or I'll gain a pound. But if you're one of the lucky souls who would can eat these delights and you want to walk out with a sack full of sugary wonders for $2.95, then head on over. You'll find the lovely little sister up front and the brothers in the baking area out back. It always tickles me that the poseur types who frequent the ummm. . .politically correct bakery not far away are paying twice the La Vic price for their croissants. But hey, who am I to deny them their overpriced pleasures. I mean, one trip to the organic joint yields almost as much psychic stroking as sticking an SOS bumper sticker on your muffler-challenged 1982 Toyota. (However, I digress.)
And oh--breakfast tacos--most excellent. Any combo you want at a 1967 price. Beans, carne, potatoes, eggs, the whole gamut. They'll even throw in hot sauce and napkins.
Business was kind of light when I snapped this one.
The Austin Coliseum
(soon to be gone) (now it is)
I can honestly say that my most overriding memory of the place is sawdust. When the circus came to town, they put liberal coatings of sawdust on the floor and somehow, it never all got swept up off the cement. That distinctive feel underfoot and the musky odor permeate all my thoughts about that structure.
One thing in particular--how well I remember when, as a six year old first grader in 1952 (it might have been the spring of 1953), I went with my Rosedale Elementary class to one of those special afternoon Austin Symphony concerts at the Coliseum. I recall the awe I felt at the sight of Conductor Ezra Rachlin, the most distinguished looking man I had ever seen, stepping up in front of us to describe the pieces we were about to hear. Of course, we were all so jazzed that we started applauding every time they finished a movement, rather than waiting until the end of the piece. During one concert, Maestro Rachlin decided he had had enough of that, so he turned around and explained to us, in a patient, measured, but obviously exasperated way, "Now you're here to learn things. You should know that it isn't proper to applaud between movements of a symphony. You were even applauding while we were "winding up the clock"! You're supposed to wait until we are through with the whole symphony. At that point I will turn around and face you and you can applaud." (I'm guessing we were listening to Haydn's "Clock" Symphony. It's been fifty years, so forgive me if I'm not totally accurate.) Boy oh boy, I knew that I'd been talked to and now I was afraid to move. You'd better believe we didn't mess up again.
It's funny, I have attended many symphony concerts in my life and any time someone applauds between movements of a symphony, my mind jumps back to that 1952 time frame. And at that point, I start reliving the strange sawdusty smell of the Coliseum, its hard-edged metallic acoustics, and the sight of that incredibly self-assured, patrician man directing the orchestra.