"Keep Austin Weird." That's the mantra that has maintained this bastion of free thinking in a state that's home to "thinkers" like President Bush. And this month, as musicians, movie makers, and techno-geeks descend upon Austin for the South By Southwest Conferences and Festival (March 7 through 16), the weirdness continues. If you plan on checking out SXSW—and I recommend you do—here are just a few ways for you to spend your time.
LOOK & LISTEN: Since there are hundreds of first-run flicks and amazing bands showcased in this year's festival, there's something for everyone. I am looking forward to Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry, a documentary on the life and times of tattoo artist Norman Keith "Sailor Jerry" Collins. And how could you not stop by the Austin Music Hall on March 14 for a dose of Dolly Parton? If you want to choose your own adventure, you'll find schedules, events, and other worthy festival-related goodies at www.sxsw.com.
DRINK: Much to my surprise, the drink of this Texas town isn't a bottle of ice cold Lonestar; it's micro-brewed vodka. Try Tito's Handmade Vodka, produced at Texas' first and oldest legal distillery, or Dripping Springs Texas Vodka, which gets its smooth finish from Hill Country spring water. Both local spirits are found in many of the drinking holes along the infamous Sixth Street strip. If you decide to brave the stretch, packed with Longhorn frat boys and pimped-out Monte Carlos, you'll have a fun night at Jackalope, home of the Helldorado (a ridiculously large concoction of God knows what). Last time I visited, Conan the Destroyer was playing on the big screen, Ronnie James Dio was wailing on the jukebox, and nude velvets were hanging on the wall. Other spots I like are Casino El Camino, a dark bar that serves a mean burger, and Side Bar, which is just off the strip and has a low key atmosphere and outside patio area.
EAT: It's Texas, so you have to grub on some barbecue, and you can't go wrong at a classic spot like Stubb's Bar-B-Que. Stop in on a Sunday for their famous brunch with live gospel music.
STAY: Directly across from SXSW venue the Continental Club, is Hotel San José. Described as "ultramodern" when it was built in 1939, this retro motel attracts my kind of travelers—the kind who like their music loud, their drinks strong, and their cities weird.
404 E. Sixth St.
Casino El Ca mino
517 E. Sixth St.
The Side Bar
602 E. Seventh St.
801 Red River St.
Hotel San José
1316 S. Congress Ave.
Casino El Camino : http://www.casinoelcamino.net/
Stubb's Bar-B-Que : http://www.stubbsaustin.com/
Hotel San José : http://www.sanjosehotel.com/