Having done the west coast, it was time for me to expand my horizons a little and make my way over to Texas, namely the hipster capital of Texas – Austin. When I told someone of my travel plans they joked that I was simply visiting a list of the most liberal and bohemian places in America, which given my political allegiances I didn’t take particularly offensively and would much rather do than end up getting called out for being English.
Getting off of the plane from LA, I was greeted by what I would have to describe as a much more traditional Texan set of businesses than the hipster paradise I had expected from Austin airport. I wrestled my way through crowds of men wearing cowboy hats, making their way into sports bars, while the entire thing was soundtracked by country music. And I really wish I was just relying on stereotypes. I needed to make my way to Austin itself and see for myself this wasn’t what the whole place was like.
Fortunately for me, the place I was staying was right next to the University of Texas campus. It’s safe to say that there is a very large student population in Austin, in fact, the University of Texas has one of the highest enrollments of students in the country. This part of the city was certainly far removed from the more classic Texas that I had seen, with the hostel itself seeming very cool from the outside. They say “don’t judge a book by its cover”, however, when an author has carefully crafted a cover and sprayed graffiti all over the side of it to accurately represent its interior – I think it’s fine to do such a thing. Low and behold, I was right, and the graffiti continued into the inside of the hostel, including trivia spraypainted on the bathroom walls to help occupy their dumping visitors.
That said, the more traditional side of Texas didn’t stop at the airport. Austin itself is a wonderful combination of the traditional and the bohemian. This is most visible when you walk down Congress, making your way through party territory to the Congress Avenue Bridge, which seems to be the border between old and new. South Congress (which funnily enough is south of the bridge) is home to a number of small businesses that sell hats and boots, rows of food trucks, and bars where you’re more likely to see locals two-stepping than a bunch of out-of-towners dancing until the early hours. It wasn’t just the fun side of that stereotype that I ran into though, at the hostel itself I met “Mr Texas” – a man who professionally talked women out of abortions. Hooray! It’s safe to say that I entertained the discussion for quite a while, offering a number of counterpoints. Despite his strong views on “killing unborn children”, his opinions on criminalising guns to avoid the killing of actual school children were quite the opposite.
After a discussion such as that, there was only one remedy: booze. It’s fair to say that in Austin, there is is plenty of that to go around. Austin is scattered with everything from dive bars to pubs, to saloons, all of which seem to be soundtracked by live music. It is also home to Tito’s Vodka, a lovely craft brewed vodka that helped begin the night of all nights – a pub crawl down Dirty Sixth. It was a Thursday night and the place was buzzing. I’d rarely come across a buzz like this on a night out on a weekend in the US, but in Austin, they were ready to party. While a number of the bars may not be your cup of tea, and you may find the crowds of people irritating, there is something for everyone here and you can escape the hoards into a bar and drown your sorrows. The next night, I also visited Rainier Street – another iconic party district. Rainier Street feels like less of a planned party district, but rather a residential street where every house is throwing a different themed house party. Regardless, both districts are fun and offered me a hell of a time and a bit of a sore head.
In terms of solving your sore head the next day with some hungover comfort food, there are few places you could do this better than Austin. Given its hipster status, Austin does have plenty of vegetarian and vegan options too – but given that I’m a meat-eater that was hungover or drunk for the majority of my stay, I’m going to focus on the dirty, meaty goodness Austin had to offer. Torchy’s Tacos is probably a great place to start, this Austin staple offers up a wide variety of tacos that are simultaneously beautiful and dirty – my personal advice is to go for the Trailer Park and ask for it extra trashy, you won’t regret it. Tex Mex and barbecue are certainly highlights of the city, but there are also a number of great burger joints as well as Frank who serve up some of the nicest hot dogs I’ve ever had and poutine waffle fries that are to die for. You can eat and drink like a king in Austin, and I sure as hell did just that!
Austin is definitely a city of two sides. There are the locals and the students. There is the traditional and the hipster. The weather is absolutely sweltering for a long time, and then it will have a flash flood. Whatever side of the fence of these you prefer, there is something for you in Austin, Texas. I had an incredible time here, and it’s definitely worth a visit for anyone coming to the states. It’s not the idea of Texas you bring with you, but it’s not the same as every other hipster town you’ve ever been to. Austin is entirely its own place, and although I’m not convinced I could live here – I’d certainly visit again, especially during SXSW.