How to Spend a Night in Austin
Here are some recommendations if you find yourself lost in the Austin nighttime looking for meaning.
Photos by Parker Thornton
Ask a non-Austin Texan about the capital city's nightlife and you will inevitably be pointed to Sixth Street, a nine-block downtown stretch with enough bars and debauchery to rival New Orleans's Bourbon Street. Which is all well and good for transient college students and out-of-town bachelorette parties, the prime clientele for "Dirty Sixth," but Austinites know the best way to enjoy the city is to slow things down. Eat BBQ until it seeps through your pores, then stumble into a record shop or down a cocktail or three as the sun goes down. The heat here is oppressive, and moving too fast exerts precious energy better spent fighting off hyperthermia or belting out John Prine tunes at karaoke. Here are some recommendations if you find yourself lost in the Austin nighttime looking for meaning.
VINYL BINGE AT BREAKAWAY RECORDS
One of the best of several locally-owned businesses in the North Loop neighborhood is Breakaway Records, heaven for vinyl junkies looking for a curated mix of 45s—particularly funk and world music. The selection and pricing are among the best in town, removing the time suck of having to dig deep in a discount bin to find something worthy of hauling home. Bonus: the staff knows their shit but aren't buttholes about it, a true diamond in the rough when it comes to record stores.
More to do nearby: Pop next door to vintage boutique Blue Velvet and try not to buy the whole damn store. It's a little on the pricier side, but well worth it for the jaw-dropping 20s-era flapper gowns. Clothes are meticulously sorted by decade and vetted for any kind of damage before they hit the rack.
MEAT AND MORE MEAT AT KEMURI TATSU-YA
The team responsible for Kemuri Tatsu-ya first made waves with the much-vaunted Ramen Tatsu-ya, which could be one of the best noodle soup purveyors in the country. Still, this is Austin. The point is to eat meat, damnit, and that's what this little gem delivers in spades. The Texas-style izakaya offers a traditional lineup (yakitori, kushiyaki, sashimi), but the menu is also stuffed with delicious bastardizations of the small-plate Japanese gastropubs. The Hot Pocketz are, perhaps, the biggest (but tastiest) offender. Anything that emulates America's most infamous frozen food calls for initial skepticism, but this flaky pastry hugging juicy brisket and an ungodly amount of melted gouda cheese is a must order. Another must is the BBQ Boat, which combines the usual Texas barbecue suspects of brisket and pork tenderloin with smoked eel tender enough to cut with a chopstick.
Don't want to wait? Make a reservation. Or chill out and take advantage of the full-service bar outside and soak in what can only be described as the Japanese take on an old Texas saloon. Just don't get too drunk before you eat. You'll want to remember this meal.
10 PM–12 AM
SECRET DRINKS AT MIDNIGHT COWBOY
Yes, it's true. You were warned to stay the fuck away from Dirty Sixth at the outset of this guide. Consider Midnight Cowboy the solitary exception. This respite has been kept safe from douchery. They don't offer well drink specials (a true rarity on Sixth) and to enter, you must fight through the drunken hoards and look for a red lightbulb on the outside of a nondescript building. Find the correct name on the callbox (cough, Harry Craddock, cough) and ring the buzzer. Once inside, you'll find strong, detail-oriented cocktails served by knowledgeable bartenders who make stirred drinks on a bar cart parked right in front of the plush booths lining the narrow walls. You're only allowed to linger for two hours, so make 'em count. One thing to note: Reservations should be made in advance although it's possible to roll the dice and get in by simply showing up.
More to do nearby: Midnight Cowboy was full? Stuck in the middle of Sixth Street bedlam? Truth be told, there's one other redeeming bar on the Dirty: Mug Shots. The absolute polar, grungy opposite of Midnight Cowboy. It's charming in its own right: Crowds flock there for the cheap beer and laid-back atmosphere then stay for the wonders of the rat wall outside. (Yes, that's exactly what it sounds like.)
BREWS WITH THE LOCALS AT DEEP EDDY CABARET
Hands down the best dive bar in town, Deep Eddy encapsulates the old small-town Austin that so many newer establishments unsuccessfully chase. Try a glass of something from their "fancy wine list"—the most expensive glass is $8—but the real specialty here is beer. A dirt-cheap selection of pitchers with an emphasis on Texas brews makes this an easy place to cap out the bar-time hours (bars in Austin close at 2 AM).
BELT ONE OUT AT AUSTIN KARAOKE
No frills is a gross understatement at this Korean karaoke place. It's a late-night BYOB spot with private rooms that vary from intimate to giant, all painted in various offensive neon shades, complete with matching faux-leather wraparound booths. Luckily, all eyes will be glued to the TV screens, where classic Korean mini-movies accompany song lyrics for a winning combination of, say, a montage of Korean Britney Spears-esque schoolgirls slowly fading into sweeping mountains. Pro-tips: Bring a mini cooler to keep drinks cold. Ask for a tambourine from the front desk and take "Edge of Seventeen" to a whole new level.
TEX-MEX AT LAS CAZUELAS
This delightfully tacky 24-hour Tex-Mex joint is covered wall-to-wall with every single Mexican interior design trope that has ever existed: papel picados, saddle blankets, pictures of the menu. But the food speaks for itself—this is unequivocally a legit spot. Do as Austin does and order the breakfast tacos (don't ask for a burrito—this is taco country) with chips and salsa, a marvel of a pick-me-up (sober-me-up) morning meal for under ten bucks.
LOOK OUT AT ZILKER LOOKOUT
Post-tacos, scope out any of the many lookout points along Zilker Park's trail. Claim a secluded seat to watch the sun begin to hit the surface of Lady Bird Lake (where kayakers will likely already be paddling). Soak in the stillness before the trail becomes inundated with annoyingly pert workout types and, without having to stop and check your FitBit, take in views of the city that gave you your sweaty, spicy, bighearted, big drinking night.
More to do nearby: Go say hey to the Stevie Ray Vaughn statue, which stands guard over Auditorium Shores, and say a silent prayer to the guitar hero, because, if anyone knows a thing or two about your blues (and Austin), it's SRV.
All photos by Parker Thornton.