Archives for January 2010

Austin Views: The Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail

Austin Views: The Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail

Welcome to the first edition of our Sunday photo gallery featuring views from around Austin. This week will feature shots I’ve taken on and around the Hike and Bike Trail. For those of you who have never seen it before, I hope this will serve as an introduction to one of Austin’s most beautiful and cherished trails.

A view of the trail and the Austin Convention Center from Ceasar Chavez.


Austin’s Top Ten Coffee Shops: Part II

[UPDATE: Checkout the updated list of Austin’s best coffee shops for 2013]

On Wednesday I kicked off my list of Austin’s Top Ten Coffee shops. These choices were not easy—every name on this list stands for a place with its own special charm, devoted clientele and unique atmosphere. Honorable mentions like Rio Rita, JP’s Java, The Green Muse, Quacks, Progress Coffee and countless others all have strong arguments in their favor and plenty of people who will vouch for them. They would probably make the Top Ten in just about any other town. But sadly this is Austin.

And it goes without saying that Austin’s Top Five Coffee shops are among the best anywhere.

Welcome to the Top Five:

5. Mozart’s Coffee Roasters
3825 Lake Austin Blvd.

Nestled on the shores of Lady Bird Lake with a spectacular view of the hill country, Mozart’s is the definition of an upscale, European, coffee house. With bottomless cups of gourmet coffee from around the world, a superb bakery, and two-story outdoor deck, Mozart’s is the unrivaled choice for pure class. Come watch the sun set over the lake and see the twinkling lights of Tom Miller Dam.

4. Flipnotics

1601 Barton Springs Rd.

Having a cup of coffee or a beer at Flipnotics can feel a bit like hanging out in a tree house. Settled atop a hillside in the Barton Hills, below a canopy of trees, Flipnotic’s shaded deck and indoor seating offer the safety and comfort of a mountain clubhouse. And like any good clubhouse, Flipnotics specializes in unusual concoctions—if you’re curious, try the “Moonquake Shake,” a delicious banana-coffee milkshake. At night, Flipnotics indoor seating turns into an intimate venue for live music.

3. Flightpath

5011 Duval Street @ 51st

Deep in the heart of Hyde Park, just a few minutes away from the University of Texas, lies one of Austin’s classic study spots. Comfortable, spacious and uncluttered, Flighpath is dedicated to the fine art of ‘getting-it-done.’ They proudly refer to themselves by the unflattering moniker of “home office away from home” and extol their lack of live music, poetry slams and comedy hours. But don’t be deceived; Flightpath is in no way stodgy. This worn-in, artsy, hangout, with a sociable backyard patio, exudes energy and creativity. And when you’re down to the wire, there’s no better place to be.

2. Epoch Coffee

221 W North Loop Blvd

Just down the road from Flightpath, lies Epoch, the heir to Mojos, a legendary coffeehouse that once lined a corner on the northern fringes of The Drag. With puffy chairs and couches, an odd assortment of tables, lamps from the happy 1960s, dark mahogany wood, and a seemingly perpetual game of chess in a far corner, Epoch instantly commands a distinct vibe. Their co-ed bathrooms are referred to as ‘heaven’ and ‘hell,’ and are decorated with the appropriate murals and customer graffiti. In ‘hell’ one finds the words of Jean-Paul Sartre scribbled on the wall with a sharpie: “hell is other people.” This can be true. On some evenings—especially Sundays and throughout the finals season— Epoch can turn into a riotous affair with scarce seating and crammed patios full of caffeinated smokers. Learn it, love it, live it.

Yes, Epoch is a love-it-or-hate-it experience, and there’s nothing quite like it.
1. Spider House

2908 Fruth St.

Like Epoch, everyone has a strong opinion about Spider House. Just off Guadalupe Street, a few blocks north of the campus, Spider house is a place that enjoys a variety of adjectives: glamorous, pretentious, eclectic, colorful—happening.

Yes, ‘happening’ is probably the most appropriate.

One person on the Yelp Message Board put it like this: “Things happen here, which I am leaving intentionally vague.” Another writes, “I’ve long heard that there were quirky, nay, interesting happenings [there].”

So what exactly is happening at Spider House? First of all, the outside patio looks a little bit like a cross between a junkyard and an eclectic, garden museum. A fountain constructed out of bronze cherub and a bathtub is only the tip of the iceberg. You can also find a handful of gargoyles inside and outside. Aside from its splendid décor, Spider House can be counted on for free movie screenings, DJs and an assortment of you-name-it cultural events.

But what really makes Spider House a ‘happening’ place is how blatantly scene it is. Or is it “seen”? Either way, this is definitely a place where people go to be looked-at and eavesdropped, to ogle and to overhear. It’s also a place for chance table-joiners and bombastic Christmas lights. Be there or be square—seriously.


And that wraps up Austin’s best coffee houses.

“But Ben!” you say, “You’ve hardly said anything about actual coffee this whole time!” That’s true. This list is not based on the individual house-blends or the overall selection at any of these places. If you’re on this list, it’s because you are unique and wonderful place to spend an afternoon. A good cup of coffee is a given. That being said I do want to let you in on the absolute best cup of coffee in the whole city:

Anderson’s Fresh Roasted Coffee

1601 West 38th Street

Not a sit-down experience like the other names on this list, Anderson’s is a boutique located in the quaint little plaza on 38th Street. Everyday Mr. Anderson himself, the protégé of Alfred Peet of Peet’s Coffee, offers a $1 cup of coffee from one of his glorious, international blends. This coffee not only tastes better than others, it actually gives you a better buzz. (This is probably not scientifically verifiable, but it’s been my experience.)

Ok, that’s it! Please, let us know what you think. Vote in our poll. And definitely speak up about all the wonderful places I’ve neglected.


Town Market: A New Bodega On Rainey Street

Town Market: A New Bodega On Rainey Street

Town Market has opened below the Legacy apartments on Rainey Street.   It’s a unique space.  Leasing a live/work unit on the ground floor of this downtown Austin apartment tower, Town Market is a two story affair with wine, coffee, sandwiches on the ground floor and dry goods on the second floor.  The Town Market concept comes from the same people who brought you Cissi’s on South Congress.

The store is 50 paces from the Hike and Bike trail, so I expect they will do well during breakfast and the early evening hours.  The Rainey Street District has one of the highest residential concentrations in Austin, and Town Market is a welcome addition to the downtown Austin neighborhood.

Hours: Monday – Saturday 8am-8pm, Sunday 8am-6pm
Google Map: 43 Rainey Street, Austin, TX 78701


Chase Bank Building SOLD

InFactDaily is reporting that the owners of the old ‘Chase Bank Building’, located in downtown Austin at the corner of Lavaca and 7th Street, have entered into a purchase contract with the Travis County Commissioners Court.  TCCC will purchase the 315,000 ft building for $61.25MM.

In a related story, Chase Tower on 6th Street was recently purchased by Spire Realty Group.

Austin’s Top Ten Coffee Shops: Part I

Austin’s Top Ten Coffee Shops: Part I

Because of its large population of students and artists, Austin is a hotbed for eclectic, privately owned coffee shops—Austin houses more of these coffee shops than most large cities in America. With local favorite Little City slated to move or close by January 2011, and with several new coffee shops cropping up in recent years, it seemed like a good time to assess the changing landscape of Austin’s coffee scene.

I love ‘Top Ten’ lists. Their neatness alone commands credibility. But really, why should you trust me? Isn’t this just a matter of taste? Citysearch provides a voter based listing, though it hasn’t been updated since 2005. But can we really trust the democratic process? I think not. My list is based on over 20 years in Austin and countless all-nighters. I may be bleary-eyed and a little wired, but I know what I’m talking about.

It should also be mentioned that this list will not include any corporate chains. Some of these places make a great cup of coffee, but they aren’t what makes the Austin’s coffee scene what it is.

Without further ado, here’s the first five in my list of Austin’s Top Ten Coffee Shops.

In reverse order:

10. Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse
1501 South First

Just a few minutes from Downtown Austin along South First Street, Bouldin Creek is an artsy coffee shop with a nice blend of outdoor, indoor and covered seating. Apart from its distinctly laid-back South-Austin feel, Bouldin Creek distinguishes itself with an excellent food menu. With both vegan and vegetarian options—even a “gluten free menu”—their breakfasts are superb.

9.  Halcyon
218 W 4th St, Austin, TX

Located in the heart of Downtown Austin, Halcyon bills itself as a Coffee Shop/Bar/Lounge hybrid. Far more chic than the other names on this list, this coffee shop owes its special appeal to its location and a unique crossover ambiance. I often hit up Halcyon when I’m downtown for drinks and need to recharge—or I actually want to hear the person I’m sitting next to.

R.I.P. 8. Little City Espresso Bar & Café
916 Congress Avenue

Right on Congress Avenue, Little City is Austin’s classic downtown coffee shop. They’ve won accolades from all the usual suspects, including the Austin Chronicle Reader’s Poll, The Statesman, and Texas Monthly—Heck, they even come recommended by the New York Times. If you’ve never been before, you need to stop by before they close their doors indefinitely in January 2011.

R.I.P. 7. Café Mundi
1707 E. Sixth

Café Mundi provides a totally unique ambiance. Hidden in plain site a few blocks East of I35 on Sixth Street, in the vicinity of Mexican dive bars and family diners, this coffee shop has “escape” written all over it. A beautiful garden filled with crate myrtles compliments a cozy little interior. This is by far my favorite spot on the south end of the east side.

6. Bennu 24 Hour Coffee Lounge
2001 E. MLK Blvd.

Bennu wins the ‘Best New Coffee Shop’ award. The atmosphere is reminiscent of the “living room” style established by predecessors Flightpath and Epoch, but Bennu’s ambiance falls comfortably between the two—a little cozier than Flightpath and a lot quieter than Epoch. This comfortable, hip place is perfect for work and study. Though it hasn’t yet generated enough of a scene to crack the Top Five, for most people, Bennu might be the most appealing choice on the whole list.

To see who rounds out the top five, check back this Friday when I discuss Austin’s tiptop cup of joe.