Austin’s Top Ten Coffee Shops 2015

Austin’s Top Ten Coffee Shops 2015

Altas

Every couple of years Downtown Austin Blog likes to take inventory of Austin’s best coffee shops.  With SXSW approaching, thousands of visitors will be looking for a respite, so it is a great time to update our picks.  Coffee shops in Austin are everywhere. They’re a dime a dozen. They’re right up there with the food trailer trend. There are even coffee shop-food trailers. You can find coffee shops inside book stores and even inside bike shops.

So how does one navigate through the multitude of places to grab a cup of joe in Austin these days?

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Last Minute Christmas Gifts You Can Buy Downtown

Last Minute Christmas Gifts You Can Buy Downtown

Neo Jumper

Christmas is in four days, y’all.  If you want to live dangerously – you can try doing your last minute shopping online and cross your fingers that it gets shipped to you in time OR you can go to the mall and get something completely lackluster, but why risk it?

You can pick up unique gifts right here in downtown without biting your nails about when it will arrive.  One of the many benefits of shopping local.

But Amber, you say, I don’t have the time to visit a lot of unfamiliar stores, look through all their wares, and make a decision.  Never you fear – Amber is here! I’ve done a little of the heavy lifting for you, and below provided you a curated list of some cool shops and some cool stuff they’ve got so you can run in, get a special gift, and run out.

REMEMBER – Check the websites for the store hours!  If you are unsure about something, probably also a good idea to call ahead!

My list, of course, is not exhaustive – if you know of a cool downtown / downtown-adjacent shop – feel free to tell us in the comments below!

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Art in Downtown Austin – The Art-o-mat®

Art in Downtown Austin – The Art-o-mat®

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I see this quirky little machine every time I walk in Whole Foods HQ downtown to get a healthy helping of freshly made vegetable juice.  But I’m usually in too much of a hurry to pay much attention to it.  I kinda always knew what it was, just never *really* looked at it.  However, I had a few seconds the other day and I FINALLY took a closer look and was just as charmed as I always thought I would be!

It’s a vending machine for reasonably priced art ($5!)!  Yay!

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According to their website:

The inspiration for Art-o-mat® came to artist Clark Whittington while observing a friend who had a Pavlovian reaction to the crinkle of cellophane. When the friend heard someone opening a snack, he had the uncontrollable urge to have one too.

In June 1997, Clark was set to have a solo art show at a local cafe, Penny Universitie in Winston-Salem, N.C. He used a recently-banned cigarette machine to create the first Art-o-mat®. It was installed along with 12 of his paintings. The machine sold Clark’s black & white photographs mounted on blocks for $1.00 each.

The show was scheduled to be dismantled in July 1997. However, owner Cynthia Giles loved the machine and asked that it stay permanently. At that point, it was clear that involvement of other artists was needed if the project was going to continue. Cynthia introduced Clark to a handful of other local artists and the group Artists in Cellophane (AIC) was formed.

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These little machines are all over the nation, with four locations in Austin (they are currently in Whole Foods Global HQ on Lamar, Whole Foods @ Arbor Trails, Whole Foods in Bee Cave, and the Mercury store in the 2nd Street District – Whole Foods @ The Domain is in the works). I LOVE this concept because I think these little pieces of art make great gifts, and are a way better way to spend $5 than on a coke and a couple of candy bars or useless pieces of junk that you may get from other vending machines.

I was so intrigued that I just had to find out more.  So, I got in touch with the owner of the concept, Clark Whittington.  First off, he had only positive things to say about Austin, which is not surprising in the least.  He says that Mercury was the first venue in Austin and they’ve been there about 6 years or so – he says that Mercury has been great to work with.  Whole Foods then contacted him and has since taken the concept under their wing, which he says has taken the concept to a whole new level.

He also told me that, even though the machines are throughout the US, there are several Austin-based artists who have work in the Art-o-mats. Here’s the list of current Austin-based artists:

Deborah Abbott
Marilyn Kirk
Jon Lawrence
Donna Toutin
Gabrielle Toutin

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Clark says that the real mission of the project is to promote artists. They have about 120 machines and about 300 or so participating artists. He describes the concept as the balance of art versus commerce.

I asked him how the concept has grown over the years. How it had started from one machine in a coffee shop in Winston-Salem to 120 machines across the nation. Here’s what he said:

I don’t really contact people because when I do I get treated like I’m selling vinyl siding, so I wait until I hear from people and then go from there. We’re an art project – it’s not the best business model.  It’s really weird how art centers and museums – if I pitch someone – they just start crunching numbers.  Lots of times, businesses like Whole Foods and Mercury understand that there’s more too it than every little nickel and dime.  Art-o-mat is not pretentious – we are reaching out to everyone, everyone is invited to participate.

I just want to share this with the world – with people that do get it.  The last thing I’d want to do is expand in a way that doesn’t mesh with what we’re doing.  We have to be calculated and relaxed with how we do things.  Artists and hosts have to find us on their own.

Logistically, every machine is owned by the studio – not only to control the quality of inventory – but because, at the end of the day, this represents Clark’s livelihood. There are a few collectors that own their machine, but most are on a lease. Then the host buys art from Art-o-mat on invoice, as needed. Clark works with artists to curate and distribute the art for the machines.

Clark says they are in need of artists, especially Texas artists.  If you, or someone you know, has an interest in either hosting a machine or providing art for the machine – you can visit Art-o-mat’s contact page on their website. He seems to be pretty responsive.  Want to see some amazing samples of the type of art work in the machines? Visit their Flickr page.





FLOR coming to Downtown Austin’s 2nd Street District March 7, 2013.

FLOR coming to Downtown Austin’s 2nd Street District March 7, 2013.

flor-austin-1

Looks like FLOR will be opening in downtown Austin’s 2nd Street District (209 W 2nd to be exact, where Mercury Design Studio was – they’ve now moved 2 doors down).

They’ll be opening a day before SXSW 2013 starts, just in time for the crazy crowds.  We suspect they’ll do well in the area with DWR and Mercury Design Studio nearby – as well as several high-end downtown austin condos and apartment buildings, and look forward to doing a little shopping there ourselves.

 

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Brass House to Open in Downtown Austin Convention Center District This Friday

Brass House to Open in Downtown Austin Convention Center District This Friday

brass-house

The little 100 block of San Jacinto has seen a little turn-over recently.  Hank’s Garage, which had been vacant for some time, was recently taken over by a concept called El Ceviche Grill, and the bar that was Skinny’s Ballroom – which closed not too long ago (and we here at DAB were pretty sad, we had been rooting for them) – has a new concept coming in called Brass House (website looks to be in progress).

I’ve been surprised at the lack of success at some of the places in the general area, considering the hotel & convention traffic coupled with nearby high-rises such as The Four Season’s Residences, The Austonian, and the Rainey Trio of The Shore Condos, The Milago, and Towers of Town Lake.  Perhaps sky-high rent and massive competition have been too much for many of these small operators.

Either way, I’m intrigued by Brass House.  Describing itself on its Facebook page as a Jazz House, Wine Bar, and Gastropub concept, the finish-out looks in keeping with catering to a higher-end clientele and they are touting that food such as “Dolmas, hummus, pickles, paninis, salads, charcuterie boards” will be “All made from scratch in house or bought from a local family owned source….”.

Here’s a picture of some of the decor that captures the general vibe of the place.

Brass House is supposed to open this Friday, February 8, at 4pm.  I’ll likely walk by to check it out and I’ll be sure to update this post with my thoughts!