Archives for May 2013

9th Annual Downtown Living Tour – May 19th, 2013 – Reserve Your Tickets

9th Annual Downtown Living Tour – May 19th, 2013 – Reserve Your Tickets

The 9th Annual Downtown Living Tour is a couple of weeks away.  Produced by the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association (DANA), the tour is a great way to tour downtown living, at your own pace, all in one day!

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This year, although the tour will still be self-guided, the tour will also have shuttle service to facilitate access to each tour stop (nice!), and will showcase the following buildings:

  1. The Whitley Apartments
  2. The Shore Condos
  3. Park West Residences
  4. 360 Condos
  5. Avenue Lofts (one of the few Art Deco buildings downtown)
  6. The Four Seasons Residences -RECEPTION – (VIP only, and only open from 4pm-5pm)
  7. Brazos Lofts (check out the history, formerly Capital Chevrolet)
  8. Towers of Town Lake (Penthouse, VIP only, only open from 1-4pm)
  9. Capital Studios (to-be-built Foundations Communities project designed by Dick Clark Architecture)
  10. LBJ’s apartment at JJ Pickle Building (VIP only, only open from 1-4pm)
  11. More stops to be announced!

There are some stops of particular note, primarily the official office suite of President Lyndon Baines Johnson at the JJ Pickle Building, an office suite he used during his presidency and the site of such landmark meetings as the Cold War discussions on December 6, 1966, which culminated in the first agreement with the Soviet Union to limit nuclear weapons, known as the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT).

The JJ Pickle building itself is part of a two-block complex of Federal Buildings in downtown Austin, and was designed by Texas Firms  Page-Southerland-Page and Brooks & Barr, and is textbook 1960s high-rise design.

Here are a few exclusive pictures of the interior of the office suite, which is remarkably intact.

The LBJ Suite is only open to VIP ticket holders, and there a very limited amount of VIP tickets – so we would recommend…

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Big News for Rainey Street District

Big News for Rainey Street District

By now you might have read the breaking news that the Sutton Co. is proposing to build a three-tower complex (including a 65 story tower!) across the street from Iron Works BBQ, with a tower that would be taller than the Austonian.

What you may not realize yet is that Rainey Center, the dual tower project that was supposed to encompass up to 50 stories each, and include up to 1,000 apartments and condos, next door to the Lustre Pearl in Rainey Street, is dead as envisioned… BUT will be replaced by a new concept.


Wally Scott and Mac Pike – aka the Sutton Co. –  have sold the 2-acre site to subsidiary of the Houston-based Dinerstein Companies. This information was buried in the last paragraph in a blockbuster story the Statesman published about a larger than life deal around the block.

According to information posted over at the SkyscraperPage forum, alleged to be taken from city records, Dinerstein is scrapping the dual tower concept for an eight-story mixed use building with an internal parking garage.

That’s a major let down, IMO.  Austin has no shortage of squat beige buildings. Hopefully the new proposal will retain some ‘wow’ factor.

Maybe it just didn’t make sense from a traffic management standpoint to have that much of a draw right off the Cesar Chavez and I-35 access road, and in any case enables Sutton Co. to get capital for an even more inspiring, legacy project.

Still, once people start absorbing this information, it could instill a sense of skepticism about the Sutton Co.’s latest proposal. It wasn’t long ago – after all –  that the Statesman broke news about the Rainey Center project (now Dinerstein is reducing the scope), just like it is doing now with the Waller Center project. Even the Statesman’s Shonda Novak — perennial cheerleader of Austin development — put a caveat in the first line her story about Waller Center of “if it happens”.

The details on the Waller Center project are as follows:

  • $500 million project
  • 3 acres at East Cesar Chavez and Red River streets near Waller Creek.
  • Condos/Hotel tower – 65 floors
  • Apartment tower – 35 to 45 floors
  • Office tower – 17 to 20 floors
  • Proposed groundbreaking – mid to late 2014.

We’d love to see this one happen and reflect the vision below.  It would be a huge boon to downtown, specifically the Waller Creek District.  Cheers to ambitious thinking.

IBCGroup_050213 sutton rainey street

Bank of America Drive Through at 5th & San Jacinto to Shut Down… What Will Replace It?

Bank of America Drive Through at 5th & San Jacinto to Shut Down… What Will Replace It?

One of the most underutilized development sites in downtown Austin is about to transform.

Categorize this discovery as random: because I am a customer of Bank of America, I received a letter stating the drive through at 5th & San Jacinto will be shutting down.  That’s as official as it gets!

This harks back to March, when Stream Realty has contracted to purchase Tom Stacy’s mega-assemblage extending from Congress to San Jacinto.

Another parcel — a half block site on East Fifth Street between Brazos and San Jacinto — will be sold once Stream closes on the purchase. Sallis said there’s been interest from developers looking to build hotel, apartment and mixed-use projects there.  Source: Austin American Statesman

The intersection of 5th & San Jacinto is anchored by Eddie V’s restaurant, the Brazos Lofts, and a new hotel is expected to break ground this year.  Directly across San Jacinto, White Lodging is planning a 17 story, 326 room “Westin Austin Downtown.”

The Bank of America drive through can be seen in the bottom right of the image below.

6th Cong plan

Austin’s Top Ten Coffee Shops: 2013

Austin’s Top Ten Coffee Shops: 2013

UPDATE: We’ve posted our updated list of Austin’s Best Coffee Shops for 2015

[Guest post by DAB Contributor, Jacob Dirr]

Preamble: For years I secretly scoffed at what I perceived to be pseudo-intellectuals reading or working in coffee shops. You know who I’m talking about: Frasier Crane types who say things like “preamble” “scoff” and “perceive.”

Then about two years ago today, I quit my day job and struck out as a contractor, in the process developing an appreciation for coffee shops. To me, it is a place to get work done, but do so close enough to humanity that I don’t feel like a hermit. It needs three things: free wi-fi, coffee and seats to qualify as a “coffee shop” in my book (Caveat: I drink black coffee. It makes me feel like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, whatever that means.)

Here are my personal top picks in Austin.

dominican joe

Dominican Joe

Nestled into a little shopping plaza on the south shore of the Colorado River, DomJoe is my go-to joint for breakfast meetings or getting work done on my laptop. Although it can get a little crowded, there is usually a seat available. It is a good balance between being vibrant, but calm enough to focus. To reap the full rewards, come on a nice day and enjoy the outdoor patio (where you can smoke, if you are a smoker-writer). The line is not always the quickest, especially when customers want a sexy drink. However, the employees are all totally cool, down-to-earth folks. Overhead music is usually a chill mix, and the coffee is good enough to drink. They sell Taco Deli tacos, which hands down are the best breakfast tacos in town, if not a little pricey. They also sell other food. Pro-tip: If parking is full, head south on Congress (opposite direction of downtown). Not far away there is free on-street parking at the Texas School for the Deaf.


Caffé Medici

Caffé Medici has multiple locations, but the one I frequent most often is on the ground floor of the Austonian condos. (Finding it is easy: 1) Locate Austin skyline, or if you are downtown then simply look up. 2) Identify the tallest freaking building in Austin. 3) Travel there by car, bike or foot.)

The atmosphere at each Caffé Medici varies by location. Even though I most often go to the one in the Austonian, I do so out of convenience more than anything. The vibe there is okay, the patrons and the employees are not unfriendly, but are often are too cool to smile.  The coffee is hands down the best I’ve found in Austin, and among the best I’ve had anywhere. In addition, the upstairs seating is very often chill and a great place to get work done or whathaveyou. Pro tip: For a traditional “coffee shop” experience, visit the Medici in West Lynn. For a college vibe, visit Guadalupe. (Ed note: The coffee there is Cuvee Coffee, from a local Austin roaster. Props to Cuvee for providing a product that rocks.)


Summermoon Coffee

Summermoon’s shtick is wood fire-roasted beans. It adds a distinctive flavor to their brews, which is pleasant, but not good enough to warrant a special trip to buy beans to brew at home. They sell an assortment of food items. I’ve only tried out the breakfast tacos, which are edible if you’re hungry in the morning, but not especially tasty. Summermoon is a super place to hunker down with a laptop though, and the outdoor deck is a great place to have a conversation during the cool mornings. In particular, I tend to come here every time a good friend visits from Ohio, and find that our best time together is spent bull-crapping with coffee on the porch. Pro tip: Invite someone to join you, set up camp on the comfy rattan outdoor furniture, caffeinate and get to know them better.

Whole Foods

Whole Foods

Blasphemy. I know. If I wanted to drink coffee to fund publicly-traded corporations, I might as well join the Republican Party. But hear me out. Whole Foods has all the hallmarks of a coffee shop: tables, coffee, wi-fi, young people. Whole Foods is a great place to people watch, probably one of the best places in Austin, and people watching is also among the reasons people go to “coffee shops.” It’s a place I go to work when I want to feel connected to humanity, but when going to a typical coffee shop feels a bit too Strong Sad. The downtown Austin flagship Whole Foods is accessible by bike or car, and offers a plethora of outdoor and indoor seating options. Coffee and food are also good. Pro tip: Find a seat in view of the escalator and document the absurd variety of people who buy expensive organic food.


Thunderbird (on Manor)

Thunderbird Coffee (there is another one up north, too) is about as hipster as I can tolerate, but adds points for people watching elements. Unlike some other coffee shops, Thunderbird sells beer too, which makes it an equal-opportunity place to meet-up with someone to brainstorm, flirt or collaborate. They offer good food (Taco Deli tacos here too) and the coffee is also good enough to drink. This place, more than any other on the list, has a regular live-music line up. This is a good and bad thing depending on your objectives for the visit. Fortunately, there are outdoor picnic tables which can offer peace and quiet, weather permitting. Pro tip: If you just moved to Austin, visit a Thunderbirds, snag one of their logo tickers and slap it on the top of the laptop clamshell. You’re a “local” now and permitted to talk trash about all the people moving here.


Cherrywood Coffeehouse

Cherrywood is often very crowded parking-wise. If you live in anywhere in the upper east side relative to downtown you can get there comfortably by bike. Cherrywood has coffee, beer and legit food. I seldom do work here, but what makes it standout is the atmosphere. The two or three large palm trees in the gravel-lined courtyard transport you to another place, someplace tropical, where Hunter Thompson and Earnest Hemmingway would hang out. When the weather hits that supreme zone of 70 to 85 degrees fahrenheit and it is sunny, do yourself a favor and visit. If you are too anxious to relax, then get a little drunk. If you are too depressed to feel appreciative, then get caffeinated. Pro tip: Bring a notepad, so you can jot down ideas know you will never follow-through on.

Curras Grill

Curra’s Grill

Located on East Oltorf between I-35 and Congress, in an area practically impenetrable without a car, Curra’s offers homemade Tex-Mex food, and probably better qualifies on a Tex-Mex restaurant list than coffee shop list. However, it offers free wi-fi and covered outdoor seating and superb coffee, so I’m counting it as a coffee house. It’s a great place to eat a little breakfast, and putz-around on your tablet of choice on a lazy weekend morning. Behind Café Medici, they offer the best cup of Joe in Austin. Unlike Café Medici, refills are on the house and the employees are not indignant. I don’t know who makes the coffee, but I’ll drink enough to have a heart murmur. Enough said. Pro-tip: There is overflow parking somewhere nearby. Not sure where, though.

Austin Java

Austin Java (multiple locations)

Austin Java is an Austin staple, primarily because it was clever enough to incorporate “Austin” into its name before Austin was a global brand. I can’t say a lot about it, other than there are multiple locations, plenty of outdoor seating, beer, coffee, wi-fi, good service and good, filling food options. Austin Java is like a CD investment: safe, stable, but not super exciting. If you’re risk adverse or short on patience, Austin Java is a safe bet.  Pro tip: keep an eye on the artwork at Austin Java, and you might have an experience like Jude did.

La Pena

La Peña

Technically a museum, La Peña is the antithesis of the modern snobbishness, and it is serendipitous that it is across from the Austonian Caffé Medici downtown. For starters, they only take cash. La Peña has coffee, but it is pot-brewed and of gas station quality, served in styrophom cup. However, its saving grace is the breakfast tacos are tasty and hella-cheap, something like $1.17 after tax. Pro tip: Grab a coffee at Café Medici, walk across the street and get tacos at La Peña, sit on bus stop bench outside and enjoy.



Lavazza is among the newest editions to the downtown coffee shop landscape, and is a franchise of an Italian company. There are shirtless men photos on the wall. However, don’t not check it out because it isn’t very “Austin”. (Double negatives, anyone?) The local franchise owner is as Austin as you can get: 24-year-old Christina Hales, an entrepreneur who graduated from St. Edwards University down the way. If you are a pastry fiend, this is the place to go, they make all their offerings from scratch in the back and on Saturday mornings they are coming out of the oven, onto the display rack and can happily end up in your stomach. Pro tip: Park downtown in the San Jacinto Capitol Visitors garage for free, walk to Lavazza, get a coffee and pastry, then walk back up to the Capitol and enjoy the best public space in Austin.