Oil barons, ten-gallon hats and George W. Bush have all earned Texas a reputation that not all its cities are keen to embrace. Fostering a more liberal and artistic approach to life, Austin has evolved to become one of the most creative cities of the Southern United States. Coexisting happily with its thriving music scene – which has produced the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Willie Nelson and Janis Joplin – Austin’s creative milieu of food and design is earning a reputation as one of the USA’s most dynamic. Aside from its traditional Southern charm, the Texan city’s food trucks, cafes, artisans, honky-tonks and boutique abodes like the Hotel San Jose are just a few of the reasons why people of all creative bents are flocking to its reaches.
An immaculately coiffed girl works her fingers dexterously over the fat strings of a double bass, setting a solid twostep rhythm. One of her counterparts joins in with an upbeat three-chord progression on the guitar, tapping her heeled foot in time with the bass. The third member of the trio waits patiently, a fiddle cocked under her chin and her bow hovering in anticipation – before launching into a jubilant melody, sending feet tapping throughout the room.
The dance floor of The White Horse, a honky-tonk on Austin’s east side, is filled with couples – old and young, hipster and not-so – stepping in time. A cowboy-hatted gent approaches the table at which my friend and I sit, and tips his hat in my direction. I dart my eyes away, hoping he’ll find another target, but then I realise that it’s not often that I’m in a honky-tonk in Texas, being asked to dance by a cowboy.
He whirls me around the dance floor with the expert ease of someone used to controlling wayward dance partners. Having never danced the twostep, I try to follow his lead rather than simply hold on for dear life. Before long the song has ended and he leans me back into a dramatic dip. Escorting me back to my table, he tips his hat again and disappears into the crowd.
After a few hours of ‘honky-tonking’ at The White Horse, my friend and I head down East 6th Street in search of a taxi back to our hotel, hoping to find one before we reach the infamous stretch of shot bars nicknamed ’Dirty Sixth’ by the locals. Luckily we’d been advised to dedicate our evening to the more easterly end of East 6th, where the vibe is more laid-back, the alcohol more intelligently consumed, and the establishments more reputable.
The piquant aroma of street food sidles into the air as we reach a small trailer park occupied by a huddle of food trucks and hordes of people. Organic tacos, fresh pad Thai, funnel cakes and Philly cheesesteak are all on offer at the park – known as the East Side Fillin’ Station – to be devoured standing up or crammed in at picnic tables with other revellers. As late-night snacks go, this is heaven. But, as we soon discover, the Fillin’ Station is just one of countless food trailer parks throughout the city, just waiting to satiate you when hunger unexpectedly strikes.
Having gorged ourselves on a makeshift Mexican-Thai fusion (my friend tops it off with chocolate-covered bacon), we finally snag a taxi and head across the Colorado River to South Congress Avenue, home to our temporary abode, Hotel San Jose.
Discreetly squirrelled away behind a row of elegantly trimmed hedges in the heart of the fashionable ‘SoCo’ strip, Hotel San Jose is a chic sanctuary in the near-heart of the city. The hedgelined pathways leading to each room create a secret-garden-like feel, accented by bamboo, lime trees and other greenery. Our room is of relatively minimalist decor save for a few decidedly Texan touches, including a cow-skin rug. The walls play host to large photographic tributes to Austin’s music scene, with Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and The Gourds all holding court. Vibrant mismatched patterns (the bathrobes rival Joseph’s technicolour dreamcoat) and leather and wooden furnishings add a cosiness that makes it easy to feel at home.
Upon waking in the morning, our first thought is food. We head out to sample more of the food-truck fare in fear that our time in Austin will come to an end without us having sampled all the glorious street food on offer. Armed with ‘artisan’ grilled cheese sandwiches (cheddar, gruyere and balsamic apricot fig on beer bread), we set out to explore the SoCo shopping strip.
A few steps from Hotel San Jose, a crowd gathers in a beer garden, revelling in the sounds of a live band. The music echoes up the street, giving the neighbourhood a jovial vibe – for us a treat, but for the locals just any other Sunday in Austin. Along South Congress we burrow through endless boutiques – vintage, antiques, fashion, vinyl, books and requisite western attire – receiving a warm Southern welcome wherever we go.
As we near the end of the SoCo strip, an Airstream trailer glistens in the distance, beckoning us towards its open window. It’s a little early for lunch but we peruse the menu all the same – fried chicken, mac ‘n’ cheese, corn on the cob … I think we’ll stay.
Visit www.mrandmrssmith.com for further information or contact the Mr & Mrs Smith travel team on 1300 89 66 27.