Austin – Hungry for the Blues?

For the music-hungry, Austin has all the beat you need.

My friend and I arrived in Austin in search of jazz, hoping for blues on the side. The goal: hit as many pubs and clubs as we could in a weekend. We wouldn’t catch every stage show we read about in the Austin Chronicle while fueling up on blueberry pancakes at legendary Kerbey Lane Cafe. But it was worth a try, if only for the tales we’d bring back on Monday when we were once again awash in the office ordinary.
We made reservations at the posh Driskell Hotel-a 19th-century structure that is a quintessential slice of upscale Texas tourism in a city that is becoming more and more un-Texas. Valets dress in Western-wear; rooms are decorated in a classy cowboy motif. Try to know exactly what you want to do in Austin before you check in, however. The weekend we visited, the concierge was missing in action, and the front desk staff registered clueless when we asked them where we should go for Sunday brunch. (We stumbled upon live jazz and tasty migas at Manuel’s on our own.) If the Driskell is too bourgeoisie for your taste, try the Austin Motel-it’s dumpy in a fashionably quirky kind of way. Near downtown, the mom-and-pop inn is flanked by funky Austin art and antique stores-Uncommon Objects, Aqua, Yard Dog-that make shopping in Dallas seem so predictable.
For dinner we picked the hot spot Mezza-luna, which had a two-hour wait, The gnocchi, the rainbow trout, the wood-fired margherita pizza, and-of all things-the smoky-tasting olive oil rewarded our patience. Waiting for our table, we killed time next door at Ringside, an intimate hangout with red wood tables that can’t hold much more than a couple of scotches and a candle centerpiece. It’s a place to be mellow, sit, and listen to a sexy saxophone while ordering cocktails from tuxedoed waiters.
If you’re looking for a place with loud energy and you don’t mind if a little beer gels splashed on you, check out Antone’s, famous for blues. A Warehouse District, exposed-brick building, Antone’s was dancing-room-only when we got there. Buckwheat Zydeco- that Cajun, bluesy band with their clamorous washboards and accordions-had the crowd in syncopated stomping.
A furtive alleyway leads to Speakeasy, a ’30s-style swing club with dark paneled walls and antique movie posters. The place was packed with pretty people wearing everything from chiffon to khakis, locking limbs to the music of the Lucky Strikes. Other spots we would go back to for more: Elephant Room, a dark, cellar bar that books jazz only, and La Zona Rosa and Liberty Lunch for alternative, artsy bands. Austin is full of 50,000 laid-back twentysomethings that keep the city energetic, but never on edge. Vibrant and up all night. If you’re not drop-dead drained by the lime you get back, you probably didn’t do the place right.
WHEN YOU GO
The drive to Austin takes about three hours. To make reservations at the Driskell Hotel, call 512-474-5911 or 800-252-9367; rooms range from $155 per night to $1,500 for a suite. For a simpler (and cheaper) stay, try the Austin Motel, 512-441-1157; rooms range from $46 to $99.

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