The day began with a boat ride around Lake Travis. There are seven lakes here, all artificial. Dams across the Texas Colorado River have created long, narrow lakes and further development created little fingers off the edges to create more shoreline for houses, condos, boat slips, etc. Lake Travis is the largest at 65 miles in length. Closer to the city is Lake Austin and right downtown is Town Lake, which now is being renamed Lake Lady Bird. My friend Iggy and I stopped at Carlos and Charlie’s, overlooking the lake or half-submerged by it at one time this year as the rains have been unusual and abundant. Not much happening on a weekday, but at night and on weekends the lake is crazy with boaters and party people often gathering in a cove to lash boats together to make a little party barge.
I headed back into Austin to continue my research of the nightlife. Dinner was at Shady Grove, the grooviest of the places I visited. Half indoors, half outdoors in a trailer park (not kidding really – the restrooms are in a converted aluminum trailer!) this place has a free summer music program that packs the house and a menu that you actually have to read and appreciate (not just burger, burrito, chicken-fried steak, fries with that?) I had fries in fact, but they were unpeeled and smothered with the in-house queso (cheddar, Monterey Jack blended into a good melting cheese) and green chilies. Chicken wings – not deep-fried, but grilled to spare us all the extra grease – with a BBQ sauce that was both spicy and flavorful (usually it’s one or the other in my experience… or neither, god forbid). The main was a tortilla-crusted fried catfish filet with a twice-baked potato with pickled jalapenos blended in. A little heat, a little tanginess. Dessert was a brick of peanut butter ice cream on a crumbled Oreo crust. Put a couple of Shady Thangs in me (vodka, Triple Sec, and Peruvian pisco with in-house sour) and I was delirious and stuffed.
The stage is at the corner of the lot. Chairs are set up in the courtyard under a massive pecan tree, plus there are tables for the outside diners and a front lawn where concert-goers lounge on blankets. The night’s act was Will Taylor and Strings Attached working in string instruments with guitar and rock/jazz instrumentation to lay out some outstanding tribute material. Lots of Beatles covers the first set, and then various others including Zeppelin. Quite extraordinary, clever, and unique. Next show features the work of Peter Gabriel and it pains me to know I am missing it!
Second stop was The Broken Spoke. If you are looking for a honky tonk, this place is the real deal. Hearty food in the dining area (claims to the best chicken-fried steak in the state) and then a long dance hall with plenty of fans moving the air around as patrons kick up their heels. To quote a great movie: They have both kinds of music: country AND western. The whole joint bathes in the neon glow of beer lights and roughly 1/3 of the men sport cowboy hats. All are welcome, of course, but many of the regulars clearly know how to cut the rug (there’s no rug – it’s concrete). There’s a sort of museum on hand dedicated to all things honky and tonky. A real cultural experience!
Final stop was Stubb’s. Acts here range from local, up-n-comers to big-time stars like Willie Nelson in an outdoor, 2300-person amphitheatre… ok, it is more like someone’s backyard with an excellent stage with professional sound system, lights, and a concert shell. Not to mention a massive smoky Joe capable of taking on 1000 lbs. of meat and smoking it 11 hours over post oak wood. Now THAT’S some serious barbecuing. Ween was playing the first of two sold out shows and the “Pit” was elbow to elbow. Indoors is another smaller venue for pre- or post-shows as well. The food is extremely popular, arguably the best smoked meat joint in town and tops for concerts. Gospel brunch with two seatings on Sundays. The story of the founder, Christopher B. Stubblefield, is a great one and off the official web page version I was told Stubb first sold his barbecue in Austin out of his motel room. The popularity drew too much attention and he was shut down by local authorities. The venue now resides in a 1840s limestone brick building originally housing stonemasons. Stubb got his start in Lubbock, Texas and gave Stevie Ray Vaughan his start!
Check out my other blog posts from Austin!