Not everything’s bigger in Texas. Down in South Austin, they trade big chains and high hair for all things indie. And it’s warm through the winter.
While band hopefuls and raucous UT students party on Sixth Street, South Congress (SoCo) is a bastion of cool and quirky boutiques and restaurants with an imposing Capitol view. The fashion set likes South First (SoFi) and South Lamar (SoLa) — they’re nearby and less saturated.
Hipster hideaway Hotel San Jose (1316 S. Congress Ave.; 512-444-7322), a revitalized 1930s bungalow-style spot beloved for its Zen courtyard and pool, rents old-fashioned typewriters. (That’ll inspire the memoir.) You’ll feel like a local in a cottage at Park Lane Guest House (221 Park Ln.; 512-447-7460), a green hotel with organic, vegetarian breakfast and a pro-pets policy. Technically, Four Seasons Hotel Austin (98 San Jacinto Blvd.; 512-478-4500) is outside SoCo, but the spa’s eucalyptus steam rooms and Lady Bird Lake vistas make it worth a mini diversion.
Accessibly chic By George (1400 S. Congress Ave.; 512-441-8600) carries Mint, Velvet, and Genetic Denim, as well as Isabel Marant Étoile jackets and Maria Rudman jewelry. Cute Therapy (1113 S. Congress Ave.; 512-326-2331) boutique has a mantra we should all live by: “Dress well. Eat chocolate. Live green.” Hit Parts & Labour (1604 S. Congress Ave.; 512-326-1648) for well-priced local designs like Kailo Chic Eiffel Tower pendants, and quaint SoFi bungalow Kick Pleat (918 W. 12th St.; 512-445-4500) for indie gear like Deener denim, Rachel Comey boots, and Pade Vavra pendants.
Carrot cake French toast is the famous brunch treat at South Congress Cafe (1600 S. Congress Ave.; 512-447-3905). ’Nuff said. Italian in Texas? Hell, yeah, especially at Enoteca Vespaio (1610 S. Congress Ave.; 512-441-7672), the casual new sibling to formal fave Vespaio (same address; 512-441-6100); and new hotspot Botticelli’s (1321 S. Congress Ave.; 512-916-1315), which serves secret-family-recipe bread. Sashimi gets Southwestern flair at SoLa’s Uchi (801 S. Lamar Blvd.; 512-916-4808) in the form of sake-marinated salmon roe.
* Cocktail hour, a cheat sheet: Güero’s Taco Bar for hand-shaken margaritas. Mars for Martian bellinis. Jo’s for beer. For no-booze booze, get three shots (okay, scoops) of Shiner, Guinness, and Irish Coffee at Amy’s Ice Creams.
* When in indie bandland, don’t miss the granddaddy of all local music venues, The Continental Club, which has a swanky new upstairs lounge; and legendary Threadgill’s for live shows and gospel brunch.
* For a vamptacular thrill, watch 1.5 million bats come out at night on Congress Avenue Bridge.
SoCo, SoFi, SoLa. So good.
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