Art of the People

Words and Photography by Blair Waller

In this column, we approach the controversial topic of graffiti. There are a myriad of viewpoints to take on the act. At one end of the spectrum – the legal standpoint – we have that that graffiti of any kind is a crime punishable as a misdemeanor or felony. It makes the city look like a trashy slum. At the other end of that spectrum, there is the idea that graffiti is art, a pure form of expression. It is the artistry of the people, for the people. As is usually the case with supposed black-and-white scenarios, the truth is somewhere in between.

Let’s first take a look at the basic types of graffiti. There are murals performed legally at the request of the proprietor of a certain establishment. These are professionally done and used as a distinct function of marketing. This form includes work endorsed  by the city on public buildings. Then there are “tags” – signatures of a given artist, mainly self promotional and a rebel means of marking one’s territory. Lastly, we have true works of art that are performed illegally but require a great deal of skill. The first name that comes to mind is the infamous Banksy who is legendary in the field. His work is predominantly displayed as rebel political or social statements all over the globe.

It is this last group that catches my appreciation most profoundly. It is not self indulgent. It is not ugly. When done right, it is beautiful. It paints the city with character. It provides a unique form of identity. It is a city’s most public display of expression. The majority of photos that follow fall into this category. This is a photo adventure through Austin’s expression through public displays of art.

This initial shot was taken from the James D. Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge which runs alongside the Lamar Bridge. Trying to figure the logistics of painting such a piece is perplexing, assuming that the artist is not a rock climber with repelling gear. Who knows, maybe they are. In any event, this shows a few PacMan characters with the inscription, “Never Give Up.” It was a fitting title as I began the assignment.

DSC_0481

The proprietors of South Austin Music knew what they were doing when they opened their doors over 25 years ago. Not only do they have a great selection of instruments, they had the style to paint this wall full of classic musicians. It certainly forced me to pull over and shoot.

DSC_0488

Further down Lamar Boulevard, I came across a few sketches. The old-school Jordan shoe brought about nostalgia of childhood basketball games.

DSC_0495

Widely considered as the Mecca of graffiti art in Austin is the Baylor Street Art Wall. Flanked by a castle-like house at the summit, this park hosts folks of all kinds – people gathering for wedding photo shoots, kids hanging out being kids and performing artists practicing their lines or shooting short films. The acoustics in the area are magnificent which adds to the mystique of the spot. The apex provides one of the more visceral views of the Austin skyline (and yes, it should have been included in that article previously).

DSC_0500

DSC_0503

DSC_0507

DSC_0511

DSC_0515

DSC_0517

DSC_0520

DSC_0528

DSC_0534

DSC_0555

Inspiring messages from Gandhi are difficult to dislike or dismiss. This is an example of graffiti that has the ability to aid our process in our pursuit of humanity.

DSC_0560

DSC_0571

Serendipitously, I encountered a young man in the process. I asked him about the graffiti project and he was quick to correct me, saying it was a “mural.” He explained it as a casual hobby of his, this being one his firsts.

DSC_0578

Iggy of the Stooges, Mick Jones of the Clash, Willie and Dylan gaze at walkers-by on Guadalupe.

DSC_0580

A few surrealistic pieces just off the drag.

DSC_0588

DSC_0589

DSC_0590

DSC_0594 DSC_0602

Now, the album cover that brought worldwide fame to the live music scene in Austin – the “Hi, How Are You” logo of Daniel Johnston. Lauded by Kirk Cobain as one greatest songwriters of all time, Daniel Johnston’s music (and art) was shared with those around the world.

DSC_0605

The following day brought me to the Eastside which is home to the most eclectic collection of graffiti. Seemingly, a building is out of place without some form of wall art.

DSC_0614

DSC_0617

DSC_0620

DSC_0631

DSC_0633

DSC_0639

DSC_0654

DSC_0661

DSC_0666

DSC_0670

DSC_0674

DSC_0675

DSC_0678

DSC_0686

DSC_0688

DSC_0691

DSC_0694

DSC_0696

DSC_0699

Like all freedoms granted, there is the range of responsibility and taste. In other words, there are those who will enjoy the liberty without impeding on others and those that will abuse it, disrupting the harmony that that same liberty is designed to instill and protect. Graffiti might be the epitome of this concept mainly because the work is public, in plain sight for all, and because of our disparity in taste. I suppose if I had a request for the graffiti artists of Austin, it would be this: Before you paint or spray, think of your direct neighbors primarily and your city as a whole secondarily. While it is far more difficult to unite than it is divide with art, we will all benefit from the conscious and concerted effort.

Advertisements

The Most Austin Celebrities

Words by Blair Waller

It takes all kinds.

I was engaged in a family reunion this past weekend. As I reflect upon the occasion, I realized that with any group – whether it be family, friends, classmates, coworkers, teammates or citizens – there is the necessity for diversity. The greater the diversity, the stronger the unit. Each member assumes their role and brings to the table their unique assortment of talents and shortcomings, pros and cons, fortunes and misfortunes. The aggregate of each adds to the mix at various entry points, forming a constantly evolving final product. It takes all kinds.

This idea was reinforced by an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” I watched this afternoon. In order to solve the gas crisis, the gang assumes their respective roles, following the paradigm set by all successful units in history – the Ghostbusters, the A-Team and Scooby Doo for example. In their pursuit, they assume the roles as The Brains, The Looks, The Muscle, The Useless Chick and of course, The Wildcard. Needless to say, they fail miserably. But the end result is inconsequential in this particular point. It even takes all kinds to fail miserably.

Austin, like all other cities or towns in the world, has its unique identity. While most would agree it’s the common citizens that form the fabric of the respective society, it’s interesting to explore the level of the more known and recognized around the country – the rich, the famous, the celebrities. After all, most people have never been to Austin and do not know anyone from Austin. Thus, their sole insight into the people of Austin is the people they read about in the headlines. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, these are our global representatives, our ambassadors, of the city of Austin.

LIVIN Austin taps the shoulders of our city’s celebrity fabric. We look to view each through an objective lens, as unbiased as possible, in an attempt to see our own as the general public view them. Remember Austinites, it takes all kinds.

The Godfather – Willie Nelson (Musician) – Born during the Great Depression, Nelson has seen a lot in his 80 years. He moved to Austin in 1972 and subsequently changed not only country music (he actually helped form its very own brand called “Outlaw Country”) but had an impact in rock, blues and pop. Sporting one of the most globally recognized voices, you’d be hard pressed to find a movement in Austin without his voice somewhere in the mix.

earl

The Rose – Earl Campbell (Athlete) – OK, so his nickname refers to his hometown of Tyler but after leaving a trail of battered bodies in the Southwest Conference at UT, then doing the same across the nation in the NFL, Campbell returned back to Austin to make it his permanent home. He’s hung up his cleats in favor of making sausage these days but still embodies the character of Austin – soft spoken, a man of character and style. There aren’t many folks I’d rather share a Budweiser with.

The Oscar Winner – Renee Zellweger (Actress) – She was nominated for 2 Oscars (for her roles in Bridget Jones’ Diary and Chicago) before locking one down with Cold Mountain. Her career gained traction while attending UT, working as a waitress around Austin, before landing a bit part in the film My Boyfriend’s Back. Besides the aforementioned Oscar winning roles, Zellweger weaved her way into the A-list with classic roles in Empire Records, Me Myself and Irene, Dazed and Confused, 8 Seconds and my personal favorite, Jerry Maguire.

dell

The Mogul Magnate – Michael Dell (Businessman) – With a net worth reported at roughly $16 million, Dell is the one most responsible for the business landscape we enjoy today in Austin. Setting up shop in north Austin in 1984 with a staff “consisting of three guys with screwdrivers sitting at six-foot tables,” Dell has created a juggernaut in the global marketplace. Dell Inc. is the 3rd largest employer in Austin (behind AISD and The City of Austin) and in the process, paved the way for countless other IT based firms, making Austin the next generation of IT hubs after Palo Alto. It is difficult to imagine what the city would look like without Dell.

cronkite

The Headline Headliner – Walter Cronkite (Journalist and TV Anchor) – “Well I got news for you Walter Cronkite…,” you actually are one of the most respected men in your field in America’s history. Reporting on some of our nations most notable events – the bombings of World War II, Vietnam, Watergate, the Nuremburg Trials, the Iran Hostage Crisis, the assassination of JFK, the Moon landing and interviews witheveryone from MLK to the Beatles – Cronkite was the voice of America. He honed his reporting chops at UT beginning in 1933, and remained an integral figure in the university until his death in 2009. “And that’s the way it is,” as he famously said in closing.

The Reluctant Superstar – Owen Wilson (Actor) – Given the reference in the previous entry, it seemed natural to transition owento Hansel, as he is known in Zoolander. As he says in the film, “that’s how I live my life – I grip it and I rip it.” Now that I think about it, that entire segment at the Male Model Awards was an eerie foreshadow to the years that followed. In the majority of his roles, he seems to almost play himself, living by his own rules (apologies for the cliché). He attended UT where he met filmmaker Wes Anderson and subsequently starred in both their first films, Bottle Rocket. From there, the two went on to produce classics The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, The Darjeeling Limited and Fantastic Mr. Fox. Although I don’t know personally, he appears to be a likeable guy in an unlikeable place, thus representing Austin well.

The Groundbreaking Auteur – Wes Anderson (Director, Writer, Producer) – We basically ran down his resume in the previous entry, but Anderson undoubtedly deserves his own nod. He has received critical wesacclaim from The Academy, Bafta, and countless critics circles to become one of the preeminent filmmakers in the world. His style is unmistakable, combining deliberate cinematography with folky classic rock with “poignant portrayals of flawed characters.” His impact will surely yield many more brilliant filmmakers in this city.

The Fallen Icon – Lance Armstrong (Cyclist, Philanthropist) – Like we said at the start, it takes all kinds. It’s hard to know how to summarize this legend at this date and time. I suppose we could start with him being the most dominant athlete in history and leading one of the most successful fundraisers of all time. But then we have to mention the asterisks – the doping, the lying and the cheating. For now, let’s just say it’s been a wild ride, Lance. We’ll stay tuned for further rebounding because the spot on Oprah wasn’t impressive.

The Political Power Couple – Lyndon Baines and Lady Bird Johnson (President and First Lady) – LBJ is one of four lady birdpoliticians in history to serve in all 4 federal offices – Representative, Senator, Vice President and President. Inheriting the presidency at a tumultuous time in American history, LBJ is remembered favorably due to his leadership in areas that include civil rights, Medicare, public broadcasting, aid to education and his “War on Poverty.” His style is one to be admired in Texas, with his domineering cowboy-like personality (his “bathroom meetings” come to mind most profoundly). His legacy began with the help of his wife, Lady Bird, who helped bankroll his congressional campaign, running his office while he served in the Navy. Then she bootstrapped a radio and TV station that would eventually yield millions. She was also an integral part of the Lady Bird Bill, an effort to beautify the nation’s highways. Her name can be found all over Austin, most notably at Lady Bird / Town Lake.

Austin’s Sweetheart – Sandra Bullock (Actress) – Another Oscar-winning actress is America’s sweetheart, Sandra Bullock. She’ll always have a special place in my heart after appearing in thrillers during my formative years. These include Demolition Man, Speed, The Net and A Time To Kill. Ever since those days, Bullock has sewn roots here in Austin with multiple houses, a restaurant (Bess Bistro) and a regular at Barton Springs. Like Owen Wilson, she’s a classy representative of the town.

The Hill Country Ace – Ben Crenshaw (Golfer) – Born and bred in Austin, a student at Austin High, Crenshaw won twice on golf’s greatest stage – The Masters. The incredible aspect of this is that he did it 11 years apart (1984 and 1995). These days, he designs courses which is pretty much every male’s fantasy. One of his masterpieces – The Crenshaw at Barton Creek – is one of Texas’ finest.

amber

The Burgeoning Starlet – Amber Heard (Actress) – This entry is not so much based on body of work to date but more on thecareer ahead. She was great in Pineapple Express, Zombieland, Drive Angry (certainly easier on the eyes than her costar Nic Cage) and The Rum Diary. One can readily see Heard standing among the A-list as she continues to rise. She was born and raised in Austin, attending St. Michael’s Academy. Stay tuned, ya heard?

The Unassuming Genius – Richard Linklater (Director and Screenwriter) – Yes, he created Austin’s greatest film Dazed and Confused, but that was just the start. Since then, he’s written and directed more than a few genre staples Before Sunrise, School of Rock, Before Sunset, A Scanner Darkly and Bernie. It’s difficult to pigeon-hole his style but one clearly defining aspect is the expression of the human condition. He is an unassuming master of his craft.

Other greats that deserve more than notation but I’m running late on my deadline…

janis

The Virgin Voice of Psychadelia – Janis Joplin (Singer) – A member of the infamous Forever 27, Joplin died before her time. But like her peers in that crew (Hendrix, Cobain and Morrison), she achieved legendary status. She attended UT and later began making a name for herself playing solo around town.

The Natural – Drew Brees (Athlete) – Standing at only 6’, after leading Westlake to its only State title, Brees engineered another unlikely championship for the previously abysmal New Orleans Saints. He is a leader of men and as humble as they come.

Austin’s Angel – Farrah Fawcett (Actress / Artist) – A pop culture icon, Fawcett was ranked #26 on TV Guide’s “50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time.” She began her string of accolades at UT where she was the first freshman to be voted one of the “ten most beautiful Coeds.”

The Ill-Timed Superstar – Andy Roddick (Athlete) – Roddick had the rotten luck of being born around the same time as aces Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He did manage to capture the US Open championship in 2003 and that alone deserves a spot here. He attended St. Stephen’s high school in west Austin.

The Jack of All Trades – Kinky Friedman (Singer / Songwriter / Novelist / Humorist / Politician) – He makes the list simply due the diversity and sheer length of resume. He attended Austin High and UT thereafter. He ran for Governor in 2006 and placed 4th and we commend the effort.

Scanning through the above list tells us one thing – if Austin’s notable people were a family, they’d make one hell of a TV show.

An Urban Hill Country: Austin’s Top Skyline Views

Words and Photography by Blair Waller

Austin doesn’t skimp residents when it comes to viewpoints. This reality got LIVIN Austin to thinking: What are the finest views of the Austin skyline? We bring it to you live in photo essay form. (Note: For a closer, larger version of each photo, merely click on it).

Now, we stretched this concept a bit and snapped a few shots just outside of town. The runner-up in this category is Mt. Bonnell. This shot was taken on my way home from work around 6:30 or so.

Mt. Bonnell

The champ of this category comes courtesy of our good friend – accomplished photographer Jake Johnston. This photo stands head and shoulders above the rest, admittedly. It’s known as the Pennybacker Bridge or simply as The 360 Bridge.

200610_Pennybacker_web

Travel straight on 360 from this picture south, take a left on Westlake Drive, take it to Redbud trail and take a left at the stop sign. Seconds later, you’ll be hit by these next two pictorials. Added to the scenery is another Austin trademark, a hustling cyclist trekking up the steep hill.

Redbud 2

Redbud 3

I understand that the best professional photographers must put themselves in harms way to capture the classic shots. This shot is in no way under that banner but in terms of risk taken, it was riskier than the rest. It was taken on the shoulder of 360 near the Lost Creek entrance.

360

One of the more well-known scenic spots are those of Zilker Park. Scan the open park and you’ll see the entire gamut of life’s lazy recreation: frisbee tossing, sunbathing, reading, playing with the dog, hacky sacking and talking with friends. The skyline witnesses all from its perch. These were taken on a hazy Saturday afternoon.

Zilker

Zilker 2

From Zilker, cruise a couple blocks over to Congress and head south. Just prior to hitting Ben White, you’ll find St. Edwards University on your left. Their mascot, the Hilltoppers, illustrate a valid point: this is the highest point in Austin. Here it is, at sunset, in all its grandeur.

St. Eds

Get back on Congress and head back north toward downtown. Within a few moments, the Capitol will come into view. It will draw you closer as you pass the shops, bars and restaurants of SoCo and eventually over the bridge of Lady Bird Lake.

congress

For Austinites, it’s comforting to know you live in a city so magnificently intertwined with the natural beauty that grows beneath it. It’s almost a surprise that it is the 3rd largest capital city in the United States. It is clear from the above photos that the hill country and lakes keep the urban area honest.

Texas via Mexico with Love: The Best Margaritas in Austin

Words by Blair Waller

Over the last few centuries in these parts, there has been this truism: If it’s a slice of heaven in Mexico, so it will be in Texas. Whether it be tacos and enchiladas or piñatas and fireworks, our cultures have integrated to create the unique blend that is Texas. The purest example of this truism might be a cocktail that traditionally mixes tequila, triple sec, lime and ice. It is served in a variety of forms including on the rocks, frozen or straight up, with or without salt. It is best consumed under the hot sun (of which we have little shortage), on a patio or veranda, among your closest amigos and familia. This slice of heaven, nurtured and perfected in Texas, is known as the Margarita.

Margarita is Spanish for Daisy, which was a popular drink in the early 1900’s that involved brandy. It is rumored that the founders simply made a “Tequila Daisy,” as Daisy is an Irish nickname for Margaret. (Somehow we knew the Irish were involved in the origins of this powerhouse refreshment). Whatever the origin, of which there are many myths, nothing quite says home in Austin as this tasty lime beverage.

For your drinking pleasure, LIVIN Austin shares our 10 favorite spots to consume this Texas classic. Fasten your sombrero and let us clank our respective chilled glasses.

Baby A's

Baby Acapulco’s aka Baby A’s

Home of the infamous Purple Margarita. They claim it to be “world famous” and it’s plain to see why. Patrons are allowed only 2 per sitting and for good reason – they’re as potent as they are purple. Baby A’s has been family-owned and operated in Austin for over 30 years, serving these instant-buzz cocktails at 5 different locations. We recommend the Barton Springs location, where you can happily stumble over to Zilker afterwards to enjoy an Austin Saturday well spent.

vivo-prickly-pear-margarita

Vivo

Owner Roger Diaz knows his Mexican cuisine. He also knows a thing or two about Mexican cocktails. Many would argue this spot is tops when it comes to quality, diversity and potency, a formidable trio when discussing margaritas. Located in East Austin, it mustn’t be easy competing with the surrounding population but Vivo does it with aplomb. Try the House Marg and experiment with the array of natural flavor from there.


Curra’scurras-gril-avocado-marg-lg

The “Mother of All Tex-Mex” has an entire page dedicated to margaritas which is a solid start. Most often, combining your favorite food with your favorite drink does not equal the sum of its parts. This is not the case with their Avocado Margarita, the only of its kind in Austin that we know of. You can tip your sombrero to the Garcia Prado family, who began their journey to Tex-Mex perfection 18 years ago.

Takobatakoba-margarita

Just 4 blocks south of Vivo is another Eastside treasure – Takoba. This venue focuses on simplicity. Their “Top Shelf” gem on the rocks complement the sunny, pebbled patio with style. If you are feeling a little spice, they can dance to your step with their “Mango-Habanero” refreshment, complete with El Jimador reposado and Patron. This has the potential to be your summer Saturday afternoon game changer.

trudy's

Trudy’s

A Tex-Mex institution since 1977, Trudy’s has grown with Austin as the city grew from college town to the cultural trailblazer it is today. Along the ride, they have kept locals loose on inhibitions with their classic margaritas. If you can swing it, upgrade to their top shelf specialties, the culmination leading to Don Julio 1942. Giddy up.

Guero’s

Guero's

Looking for the finest while roaming one of Austin’s finest urban party settings, South Congress? Roam no farther than Guero’s Taco Bar. Their roots date back to the late 1800’s when they were a seed and feed store (I also didn’t know what this was until today). It’s safe to say that this spot contributed heavily to the culture and cuisine of Austin today and their first rate margaritas no doubt assisted. Their list is long and distinguished with classics The Don, The Longhorn, Pura Vida Rita and El Jimador. It’s no wonder the gals in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof chose this spot to take their friend from out of town. As getting a table might be difficult during the weekends, visit their rustic outdoor spot next door where they serve up tacos and live music to complement those tasty ‘ritas.

Texas Chili Parlor

Speaking of Death Proof, it seemed only natural to mention this Austin institution that has more “X’s” on its menu than other places that don’t exactly serve food and drinks. (This is also the 2nd location the characters in the movie visit after Guero’s). They mainly refer to their flaming hot chili but also describe their beverages, the XXX Premium Margarita in particular. This refreshment features 100% Agave tequila, Don Julio Blanco and Patron Silver. Next priority might be the Mad Dog that includes a generous serving of Mezcal. The parlor claims to be “many things to many people.” For us, that’s the margarita.

El Chile

Here, you have a difficult choice to make when it comes to margaritas: Sangria, Top Shelf or Perfect. You couldn’t go wrong with any of those BUT, if you did, you’d land in one of their unique blends – Chilango (Spicy orange-infused) or Prickly Pear (tequila marinated in cactus pear). It’s a tough situation but we think you’ll make it out without feeling too sorry for yourself.

Manuel’s

This downtown spot on Congress taught me something I didn’t know: “Tequila was the first “American spirit” distilled in the Americas. In the 16th century, Spanish conquistadores—who apparently ran out of their own brandy—decided to improve upon a beverage that the local Aztecs made from the blue agave cactus named octli…and that, my friends, was the birth of our beloved Mexican tequila!” Well, if knowledge and a keen sense of history is of any indication, then trust their margaritas. They are arguably the best downtown has to offer.

Iron Cactusiron cactus

You must respect a joint that once served an “End of the World” Margarita late last year to commemorate the supposed demise of planet earth. It was sold for $100 but the silver lining was pretty sweet (assuming we were still alive) – another one on the house. Dubbed “The Mayan,” this powerhouse was a perfect blend of Deleon Reposado, Grand Marnier 100 year, lime juice and Agave Nectar. Sincere respect from LIVIN Austin for such a bold move.

Walking the Cow: The Burger Kings of Austin

Words by Blair Waller

Admittedly, it was an ambitious plan. Perhaps a little too ambitious. The goal was to visit as many of Austin’s top burger joints in a single weekend and rate them accordingly. I began with a near exhaustive list of 25 and tried like hell to taste as many as humanly possible. This took place last weekend.

At the outset, with just a little help from my friends, my goal was to rank the very best in the city. However, as I got about 4 burgers deep, it occurred to me that a ranking system was not appropriate. Each patty, bun and trimmings combo offered its own unique variation of delectable goodness. I could see myself craving each relatively equally, depending on the given circumstance at the time. So, instead, I decided to award each burger its very own unique and respective crown, the king of a very specific domain.

Another factor that should be taken into consideration is location. As visiting each spot alone – diving into burgers and fries solo – would have been reason enough to reevaluate my life as a whole, a group was to be consulted. Therefore, convenience and the flow of the group was a considerable (and formidable) variable. After all, wouldn’t this add an element of needed reality, or practicality, to the evaluation? Say you’re on South Lamar with a group of friends who are all craving a burger and y’all also plan on hitting Rainey or West Sixth or Downtown afterwards. It would be inconvenient to travel all the way to around UT campus to, say, Posse East, right? This narrows your options down to only a few convenient spots and the debate begins from there. That’s the rub for this one…the burger rub.

Here I sit, probably about 2 waist sizes larger with a firm belief that I will not wish another burger upon my stomach for at least a month, to bring you the finest in ground beef delicacy Austin has to offer.

(Disclaimer: A true burger consists of ground beef. Any other primary base – chicken, tuna, steak or veggie – is a sandwich).

Wholly Cowwholly Cow 2

The best “I feel like a burger but I’m an eco-conscious individual interested in consuming foods that are selected in the most humane fashion possible” burger

The consistent comment flowing around the fleet of burgers was this: “I can taste the healthy.” Wholly Cow’s burgers are produced using local, grass-fed beef. Even the trimmings are grown organically. Not the product you would expect from a spot located within a convenience store on South Lamar. It was funny gazing across the isles making your selection, “Let’s see, Skittles, Combo’s, Laffy Taffy, Wrigley’s, Marlboros, Dr. Pepper aaaaaand, here’s the hormone and chemical free burgers.” A health-conscious delight from bun to bun.

Casino El Camino

The best “I’m on ‘dirty 6th’ and I’m in the mood to tackle a gargantuan mass of beef and since I’m among a mass of college kids, I’d prefer to eat this in the shadows at a place that is not afraid to tell you exactly how it is” burgerCasino El Camino

I was told prior to attending that I was headed to a “vampire bar.” Yes, it was dark but that’s just the setting the proprietor intends. Contrary to this precise setting, we ate on a nice little veranda-like patio at the back. Granted, the outdoor décor was, like the inside, gothic in appeal but enjoyable nonetheless. I attempted to strong-arm the Pitts Burger, complete with provolone cheese, sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions and A-1 sauce (presumably thick & hearty). Like all of their burgers, the patty is ¾ of a pound and cooked only slightly on either end of medium rare. Anything too far outside of these basic parameters and you must be prepared to hear about it from the cooks. They don’t take kindly to nit-picky orders. They stand firmly by their product and that I can and will and do respect. After all, you’re in a vampire bar so mind your tongue and sink your fangs into that bloody thing.

(And yes, you’re viewing that picture accurately. It took 4 hands to lift that single Pitts Burger.)

The Tavern

The best “I’m feeling a wave of Polish nostalgia and am in the mood for a kolache but instead of a sausage in the middle, I’d prefer a juicy beef patty with trimmings” burger

That’s right, the Tavern serves their beef and trimmings between kolache buns. For me, a man who refuses to travel between Austin and Houston without making the mandatory stop by one of the famous kolache shops, this venue serves a very specific type of hunger. So, when in Rome (or in this case, Warsaw), accept no substitutes for this kolache-mounted burger.

Hopdoddy337684-hopdoddy

The best “I have a friend in town and I’d like to show them the treasures of South Congress like the eclectic shopping, busking musicians, and the view of the Capitol and while we’re here, we should grab a bite at one of Austin’s recently appointed staples…and we don’t mind waiting half an hour or more for the order” burger

Like many popular spots, Hopdoddy Burger Bar has a prime location and the crowds that accompany it. However, one thing it is not is overrated. They boast an amazing product – humanely-raised angus beef, fresh-baked buns (made from scratch and baked twice daily), fresh-squeezed beverages and the finest Austin-brewed beers on tap.

Cow Bell’sCow-Bells-Trailer

The best “I’m east of I-35 and I’m feeling a food truck atmosphere and a fresh, home-grown product…and I might be the first of my friends to try this gem” burger

At this quaint little yellow truck, founder / owner / operator / burger maestro Daniel Oliveira “takes time preparing your burger,” and it shows. After sinking your teeth into one of these (I went with an “MMA” that features avocado), you’ll understand these guys only bring you the freshest of ingredients, never buying in bulk and making daily trips to the local market. That was my overwhelming impression – fresh. Yet, flavor is not compromised in the least, thus delivering possibly “the best burger you’ve ever had,” as they claim. I must say, they belong in the conversation of tops in Austin. Happy 1-year anniversary, Cow Bell’s – your best years are most definitely ahead of you!

Crown + Anchor

The best “I’m near UT campus and I’m digging a bacon cheese delight and I only have a $10 and I’d like to a couple bucks leftover so I can play pool later in the night and I won’t be needing those extra dollars for the tip because they don’t offer table service and the bartenders won’t come close to deserving it as they stare off into space while you stand there waiting to pay your tab” burger

Alright, I digress slightly into their lack of service, but the bacon cheese burger was damn solid for a great price ($6.25).

Black Sheep Lodgeblack sheep 1

The best “I’m in a Western state of mind, thinking of buffalo roaming the open pastures of Wyoming, and I don’t want wings per se but definitely would like that buffalo flavor somehow infused into a hamburger” burger

I present to you, dear readers, Black Sheep Lodge’s Black Buffalo Burger which features “a half pound of Angus chuck patty spiked with Frank’s buffalo sauce and bleu cheese.” No, it’s not buffalo meat, but it is a beefy force that deserves to be reckoned with amongst the bison herd. Finish with a side of supremely prepared sweet potato fries and you’re due for an afternoon nap.

Other receiving votes, or the “best of the rest” go to the following…

Nau’s Enfield Drug – The best “I’m picking up a prescription and while I’m at the pharmacy, I might as well grab a juicy beef snack” burger

P. Terry’s – The best “I have small hands and want a proportionally-sized burger with delicately-prepared trimmings” burger

Dan’s Hamburgers – The best “Now that the ex-wife (Fran) has closed her doors at her South Congress location, I am now free to reign supreme and take the throne” burger

Dirty Martin’s – The best “Grandfather-esque of locations that has been on the block serving the dirtiest of burgers to hungry UT students and local residents alike” burger

Phil’s Icehouse – The best “I can’t make up my mind so I have to go with sliders and I don’t mind a family atmosphere with a playground” burger

Counter Café – The best “I went there twice this last weekend but the tiny North Lamar location was too crowded so I had to regretfully forego its product in lieu of others due to time constraints and lack of patience but would really like to return and enjoy the burger that’s been named the 2nd best burger in the state by Texas Monthly” burger

Foreign & Domestic – The best “If money ($19) and time (no reservations and always hopping) are of no object and I’m feeling nothing short of wagyu beef” burger

Hut’s Hamburgers – The best “A burger alone will simply not suffice and I need to taste the best onion rings in the world” burger (this according to devoted reader Kerry Pollard)

East Side Show Room – The best “I feel like transporting myself to Eastern Europe and wish to dive into a crumpled bleu cheese burger with an egg and topping that off their Prescription Mint Julep (the best in town)” burger

For the record, I did not visit all of the above this last weekend. I visited a total of 6 which my body tells me is quite a few. The rest were covered either in the last couple months or were informed from devoted readers. Thank you to all who contributed.

I hope that leaves you with an ample view of the finest beef concoctions Austin has to offer. Now excuse me while I go on a non-red meat diet.

The Character of Austin in Bronze Form

Words and Photography by Blair Waller

I am not a photographer or a cyclist. However, I do own a camera and a bicycle. Thus, I ventured out into the city on my bike with a singular mission: photograph Austin’s finest outdoor statues. Over the past 3 days, after arriving home from work at around 6 PM, I hustled out under the last few hours of daylight to shoot as many urban statues as possible. While the results might not be exhaustive, I like to think I captured a comprehensive spectrum of Austin’s cultural expression through public art.

Now, whereas previous articles have been narrative supported by visuals, this article is the inverse – a photo essay, if you will. Set aside your reading glasses and enjoy the amateur splendor.

The Congress Shuffle

I loaded up the iPod, strapped on my helmet, hopped on my bike and peddled toward Town Lake. First stop – the brass band at the Mexican American Cultural Center. The gentlemen played sweetly as dusk descended upon the runners and cyclists of the trail.

mexican american jazz

Shortly after moving back to Austin in November of last year, a funny thing dawned on me. After living in Austin for 4 years during high school, I never once had seen the Stevie Ray Vaughn statue at Auditorium Shores. I finally laid eyes on it a couple months ago and realized what I’d been missing. The blues troubadour, with his back to downtown, gazing south was everything everyone had said it was – a pure embodiment of Austin’s live music scene.

stevie 1

stevie 2

Speaking of music legends of Austin, it was only natural to visit Austin’s other icon of icons. I peddled up the walkway along 1st Street, crossed the bridge, up Guadalupe, then hung a right on West Willie Nelson Boulevard. And wouldn’t you know it, I ran into the recently unveiled statue of Willie Hugh Nelson.

willie 1

willie 4

willie 2

willie 3

After paying tribute to Shotgun Willie, I shot one block over to Congress and headed north. After a few blocks, I caught trusty ole’ Sixth String. The day crowd of downtown was beginning to thin.

congress guitar

Following a quick jump, peddle and cruise, I visited the savior of this fine city, Angelina Eberly. Why is she considered the savior? Back in 1842, Sam Houston, claiming that Austin was not properly suited to be the capitol of Texas, attempted to move it to Houston. He sent a mass of rangers to recover the government archives in the middle of the night. This move displeased local innkeeper Angelina who rushed down and lit the town cannon in attack. She missed the fleet of rangers but blasted a hole in the General Land Office building, an act that instigated the uprising against the Man. Had Angelina not been such a badass, Houston would be the capitol of Texas. Think we all owe a tip of the cap to the late Angelina Eberly.

angela 1

angela 2

angela 3

The Capitol Lawn

Queue Forrest Gump voice, “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you…”. I had never been the grounds of the capitol before this day. It simply never occurred to me. Maybe I’m just not all that into politics. Whatever the reason, I felt a poignant sense of accomplishment as I crossed 11th Street and entered the gates.

capitol boy

capitol ranger

capitol horse ranger

capitol fireman

capitol abe

capitol steer scene

capitol rodeo 1

capitol rodeo 2

As this last photo illustrates, night had settled. I raced down 11th Street headed home eastward when I popped a flat. I got all “Angelina” with the misfortune and slung my bike over my shoulder and walked the 20 or so blocks home. Exhausted, I called it a day shortly after my return home.

The University of Texas

I had heard through the grapevine that Austin was host to a university. After replacing the tube on my back wheel at Fast Folks on the Eastside (thanks, Natalie!), I slipped on my Chuck’s and headed toward campus in search of the finest statues the university had to offer.

UT fountain

UT Fat Man

UT man

UT George

UT Fountain Capitol

UT MLK 1

UT MLK 2

UT Woodrow

UT Reading Man

UT Longhorn

UT Reading Girl

UT Hook

The Philosophers, Austin’s Batman and The Father

With time running short and the boss of the Lancashire Group breathing down my neck for this deadline, I ditched the bike and opted to hit the last couple sites by four wheels instead of two. After a stormy Wednesday afternoon, the sun graced the sky for its set. I visited the philosophers of Barton Springs Pool – J. Frank Dobie, Roy Bedichek and Walter Prescott Webb. The three men gathered here each afternoon at what they called “Austin’s first literary salon.” What I wouldn’t give to have joined these gentlemen of leisure as they talked, philosophized, dreamed, debated and laughed in this magnificent setting.

philo 4

philo 3

philo 1

philo 2

I then cruised down Barton Springs Road until I hit South Congress. There I found the most constant of Austin’s bat population, the aptly named “Nightwing.” It swung and shifted on its axis in the post-storm breeze.

bat 3

bat 2

bat 4

bat 1

The final destination was fitting – the Texas State Cemetery. I circumnavigated the premises only to find it closed to the public. To confirm that fact, I pulled up next to a bystander and asked whether it was possible to enter. As luck would have it, the man happened to be the historic site’s Director of Research. The man, Jason, said, “You here to pay respect to a loved one?” I replied, “No,” and continued to explain my purpose – shooting the final segment of this here photo essay on Austin’s finest public outdoor statues. Jason said, “Well come on in. I’ll leave the gate open for you. Just be sure to close it on your way out.” This singular personification of Austin hospitality allowed me to enter the grounds to capture the fitting conclusion to the piece.

Here stood the statue of the city’s namesake, Stephen Fuller Austin, the “Father of Texas” and the republic’s first secretary of state. He keeps a constant eye over those that defended our state and city as they lie in peace.

SFA 2

SFA 1

SFA 3

Austinites, this is your city’s character in bronze form.

Top Weekend Destinations From Austin, TX

Words by Blair Waller

Recently, my good friend and his new bride moved from Chicago to San Francisco. Although they love Chicago and envision living there in the future, the newlyweds sought an adventure prior to settling down and having kids, paying a mortgage, joining the country club and the like. Makes perfect sense, right? When asked about specifics, my friend stated an interesting reason that he claimed was one of the main drivers behind the decision. He said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Chicago is amazing and there is no shortage of things to do. However, say we want to get away for the weekend – where are we going to go? Detroit? Cleveland? Milwaukee? Indianapolis? Not sure I can sell the wife, or myself for that matter, on any of those.” I understood his point – Chicago is landlocked from fun. Compared to the destinations surrounding San Fran – Napa Valley, the Sierras, Carmel, the Redwoods – it’s not even an argument. Needless to say, I fully endorsed their decision.

To be clear, we’re talking about destinations within a reasonable driving distance, fit for a single weekend, perhaps even a 3-day one. These are trips that require little planning and would cost about the same as a festive weekend at home, therefore negating any budgetary discussions.

Thus, we here at LIVIN got to thinking – what are the top “driveable” weekend destinations from Austin? Whether you want to escape a busy weekend here in town or simply feel a sudden burst of spontaneity, you conceive the idea on a Wednesday and are wheel’s up Friday at 4 PM after skipping lunch so you can beat the traffic. We consulted our brains trust (that’s you, dear readers) and selected our Top 5. No doubt you might feel exhausted as you return late Sunday but the satisfaction of adventure prevails over fatigue.

Plus, you could always use a place to go when Kim Jong-Un releases nuclear missiles headed for the capital.

Now, in the spirit of “getting away for the weekend”, we’ve excluded major cities Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. Most likely, you’ll be headed to those spots visiting family or attending a conference or catching a sporting event. With that, let’s toss some clothes into a suitcase and do this thing.

 

Fredricksburg

Distance from Austin: 1.5 hoursfredricksburg 1

This quaint town, often referred to as “Fritztown” on account of its German influences over the years, nestles deep in the Hill Country roughly 80 miles west of Austin. If history tickles your fancy, they have it spades with the likes of LBJ National Historic Park, the National Museum of Pacific War and the Pioneer Museum Complex. After the morning education, you can immerse yourself in the wild with a hike to Enchanted Rock, tramping through Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park (they also have a golf course), or paying a visit to the Wildseed and Herb Farms. Also, in case you get a little homesick in the 48 hours away, you can catch the Mexican free-tail bats at Old Tunnel State Park. In the evening, be sure to cruise by one of the many wineries like Grape Creek Vinyards (referred to as “Tuscany in Texas”), Mandelbaum Cellars (they have live music as well) or the famous Fredricksburg Winery, named by USA Today as one of the top 3 wineries in the state. Then there are a slew of delectable restaurants from which to choose including the Auslander Restaurant, Der Lindenbaum, Friedhelm’s Bavarian Inn or August E’s.

Most notable are the peaches, as Fredricksburg is known at the Peach Capital of Texas. We recommend a stop by Das Peach House where you can kick back and enjoy the prettiest of peaches in their restored 1870 log cabin. Afterwards, you might want to head over to Fredricksburg Brewing Company for a cold lager and a snack. For a place to hang your hat for the evenings, you may do so either in town or just outside in a classic Hill Country cottage. Oh, then there’s the Texas Hill Country Lavender Trail which speaks for itself.fredricksburg 2

If the above somehow doesn’t fill your schedule, you may want to attend during one of their many festivals and events like the Blues, Bluebonnets & BBQ gathering at Becker Vineyards this weekend. As alluded to previously, these spots require little planning and even less budgeting. Plus, aren’t the best trips the spontaneous ones?

Lastly, on the way home, make a pit stop in cult-famous Luckenbach where “Everybody’s Somebody”. If you don’t believe me, take it from one of the many musicians who have been involved in some capacity in the Luckenbach’s music community including Willie, Jerry Jeff Walker, Waylon Jennings, Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen.

 

Rockport and Port Aransas

Distance from Austin: Approximately 3.5 to 4 hoursrockport

These are our picks for the best in “Texas Coast Life”. Although only across the bay from one another (a 45 drive), we recommend picking one or the other as each have a bevy of selling points and attractions.

Rockport is best known for its wildlife – fish in the water and birds of the sky. With fishing, you have your choice of fresh vs. saltwater. It is not uncommon to snag one of the many sharks, dorados or kingfish in the gulf or speckled trout, redfish and black drum in the bay. With birding, your best bet would be to seek out one of the rarest species in North America, the whooping crane. The best place to do so would be the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Another interesting quirk to check out would be Texas’ oldest live oak, “Big Tree”.

Port aransas

 

Across the bay is Port Aransas, the only established town on Mustang Island. The town nurtures a fascinating history complete with pirates, Indian settlements and the Civil War. While there is no shortage of fishing here as well, the port is your “go to” for the beach. In turn, enjoy some of the finest seafood in all of Texas. For accommodation, look no further than Port Royal Ocean Resort.

 

Marfa

Distance from Austin: 6.5 hours

OK, this one is a bit of a stretch for a weekend. So, make it a long weekend. One thing we can say for certain, Marfa is worth the trip. Nestled between the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park, Marfa sits atop most of Texas at 5,000 feet, deep within the Chihuahuan Desert. The primary draw to Marfa revolves around the arts, attracting the Coen Brothers (No Country For Old Men), Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood) and the makers of the 1956 film of Giant, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean and Dennis Hopper. The town even got its name in creative fashion – the Russian translation of “Martha”, a character in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.marfa

Then there’s the mysterious lights. Reported in the area for over a hundred years, the light’s origin are subject to various theories including static electricity, phosphorescent minerals, swamp gas or simply “ghost lights”. They oscillate, change color and dance in the desert night. Visit during Labor Day Weekend and you’ll catch the Lights festival complete with a parade, concerts and street dances.

The culinary highlight resides with Maiya’s, founded by a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. Although their wine list is fantastic, for an exclusive wine adventure, hop on over to the Starlight Vineyard where the mysterious lights are visible.

If you have time, you can always join the 1,200 species of plants, 450 species of bird, 56 species of reptiles and 75 species of mammals in none other than Big Bend National Park, Texas’ finest of the sort.

marfa 2marfa 4