After four days in Austin it was high time I got to meet some of its 1.5 million inhabitants. No, not people – there are only about 1.4 million in the entire metro area – I mean the bats! The largest urban bat colony in North America resides under the Congress Avenue bridge. One wonders how they found the place and if real estate bats spread the word that this was the up and coming hot spot in Austin. Or maybe bats are a lot like rabbits and things just got way out of hand in the cramped quarters between the bridge girders. Well, whatever the reason, the bats are batty for the narrow spaces under Congress and at around sunset, like a giant plume of smoke, the bats take flight to hunt out as much as 30,000 pounds of mosquitoes! Bat oglers line the railings of the bridge and fill the lakeside park below, while kayakers and boat tours pass underneath awaiting the flight. Not to be missed.
Just before this I was at The Oasis, a cliffside hangout serving–among other things–margaritas and outstanding nachos for those who gather to watch the sunset over Lake Austin 450 feet below.
But the crowning event of my trip may have been the blues act I saw at Lamberts Downtown Barbecue. First off, the food is billed as “fancy barbecue” and it does have a bit of class to it thought the casual diner will not need to worry about this being uptight and requiring fancy dress. It is totally relaxed in a recently redone historical building. Reservations are not a bad idea especially if a popular act is scheduled. Local beers are on tap (such as that Bootlegger Brown I mentioned on day one) and they make a decent mojito and caipirinha. And the food is high quality prepared in an open kitchen (I’ve always liked that – nothing to hide, like a bartender who drinks with you). I started with Fried Green Tomatoes with Lump Crab Meat and struggled to eat them slowly. (Savor it for cryin’ out loud!) The barbecue was top-notch: brown sugar and coffee-rubbed brisket, achiote and lime-rubbed free range chicken, and maple and coriander-crusted pork ribs. All that was out of the smoker; the wood grill unfortunately will have to wait until the next time I’m in Austin, but the selections – salmon, halibut with snow crab claw scampi, pesto-rubbed lamb chops – were no less inviting.
But dessert for me (other than a couple mojitos) was the show I had been hearing so much about. Gary Clark Jr. is a 23-year old hometown blues player who has already made a name for himself with a band and two CDs and soon you’ll see him in a John Sayles movie called The Honeydrippers due out in fall of 2007. But you haven’t seen him till you’ve seen him at Lamberts. This is the only place he does his solo act. You wouldn’t know it was a solo act if you never came upstairs to the bar and small stage. He plays a kick drum with one foot, hi-hat with the other, a harmonica hangs around his neck and his voice can go from booming blues to smooth R&B from one song to the next. And that’s all saying nothing about his guitar playing. He thumbs the bass notes and lays down some Texas blues over the top slipping in a line or two that follows the vocal melody making me think of Hendrix (though he is often mentioned in the same breath as another local guitarist – the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. And in a momentary aside I just want to say, life is short and opportunities come and are gone. The night SRV died in a copter crash after a show at Alpine Valley in Wisconsin, I was in Madison telling a buddy who wanted me to drive him to the show, that though I appreciated his offer to loan me the money for the ticket, I really thought I should be responsible and save the show for another day when I had employment! Fortunately I had already seen him one year before in the same venue, but the point is, see it/visit it/eat it/experience it/enjoy it when you can!)
But I digress! Often! Gary is the newest thing you should not miss. And the Lamberts show, his one-man band bit, is just cooler than cool. Right now he comes in about every two months or so, but his star is on the rise. Run, go see! I’ll be getting a You Tube vid up for Austin in the next week or two, and I’ll throw a teaser in there for you.
It was a fitting end for my trip to Austin. Great food and great music. Isn’t that what Austin is all about?
Check out my other blog posts from Austin!