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Austin: Day Two – Tearing Thru the ACL

IMG_20130704_132027It took us a while to get rolling on the second day, but when we finally did, we had lunch at La Condesa, one of the city’s best Mexican restaurant. We ate outside as it was only 94 degrees at lunch. It allowed us to take in the pedestrian experience along with the food. We started with a great guacamole medley featuring four great guacs and four great salsas. My favorite was a basic guacamole topped with a chipotle puree and almonds. Also fascinating was the guac with pomegranate. The restaurant’s conchinita pibil and chicken tacos were fantastic. The restaurant is doing a great job with its ingredients, but probably could do some work with its tortillas. The tacos’ tortillas had a good taste, but probably could have spent a bit more time on the griddle. The fried chips with the guacamoles were very average. Overall, the restaurant is fantastic, and stands as a solid recommendation.

We moved on next door to the home of Austin City Limits where we got a personal tour of the facility. The auditorium is a half octagon with three levels, and seats around 2500 people. It is much more stacked than it appears on TV, and is so black that even Johnny Cash would be proud. The facility is just 2 years old, and is a $200 million joint venture with a W Hotel and a high-rise condo complex above (because someone has to pay for all of this).

The ACL facility is not just a venue for TV. It’s used 25 times a year for taping shows, but is used the rest of the year for concerts. Many of the acts performing at the DPAC hit this facility, but some other really interesting shows hit it, too. While the backstage areas are interesting, we spent quite a while in the ultra-contemporary lounges of the middle and upper levels. The middle level’s lounge features a gallery of photos taken from the Austin City Limits performances through the years. The company intends to implement NFC features, though, so that people can see the performances from their smartphones as they peruse the gallery. The upstairs lounge features a huge collection of original photos by rock photographer Jim Marshall. There are some precious items here, including color photos from the stage at Altamont, Woodstock, in the recording studio with the Rolling Stones, etc.

Austin has a ton of hotels for its size. Intercontinental, Hyatt, Omni, and several boutique hotels are up and running in downtown. However none is as impressive as the W hotel in the ACL complex. This hotel is the chic-est space I’ve ever seen, and likely has hotels in Manhattan drooling with envy. The perchtop pool area was a mob scene of beautiful people, lemme tell you, but we kept moving into the beautiful spaces of the W’s lobby, bars, and restaurant. There are several drinking lacunae, but the coolest is the room with thousands of vinyl albums….no the dark red bar with the vintage MacIntosh audio equipment and precision turntable take the cake. Ever Tuesday night is an album listening party, and it goes on and on…

Austin’s population is a big surprise. In 24 hours of milling around downtown, I have run across no more than 12 black people. The cultural mix here is decidedly white and Mexican, not the melting pot of white, black, and numerous variants of Hispanic origin in Raleigh. In my 24 hours I’ve encountered exactly one homeless person, a guy sitting on the corner outside of Whole Foods’ HQ. It is extremely unusual to be in an up-and-coming urban setting with no panhandlers; none. This could be the seed of a weeks-long discussion about migratory patterns, history, economics, and more, but the fact is, it exists for whatever reason.

It’s July 4 in Austin, TX. We will take in the night’s fireworks from a downtown balcony. However it will be the first display of contrived patriotism I’ve seen all day. There are no displays of flags, no temporary fireworks stands to be found.


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