The excitement I felt when I found out my spontaneous travel destination was Austin, was palpable. It's as if Time Out New York Magazine and Booking.com knew that Austin, Texas was my spirit animal. If you know my brand, Eat Travel Rock, at all; you're aware that I love to combine food and music...and of course travel, in any situation. Well this was the ultimate trifecta. Good times were about to be had...by one.
I have traveled solo many times...for quick work trips. I have never traveled on a solo vacation before, and I must say... I was pumped. No one other that myself dictating when and where to go, what to see, what to eat. The decision making began the evening before my flight when I actually found out that Austin was my destination. I immediately went on the Booking Now app on my iPhone and began to search. The ease and functionality was superior to ANY travel app I'd ever used. Since Booking Now is for travel less than 48 hrs out, I was a bit worried that desirable accommodations might not be readily available. Incorrect. The most luxurious hotels in town, as well as unique and boutique hotels were easy to find...and more importantly, affordable. Many of the hotels even had discounts that were just for Booking.com and Booking Now customers. I booked a gorgeous room at the JW Mariott in a matter of a minute and I was all set. Ready to wing it in Austin!
When I arrived in Austin, and after I got settled into my glorious city center accommodations with a stunning view of the Colorado River... I got my game face on. Fortunately, Time Out New York Magazine and Booking.com wanted me to explore the musical culture of the Live Music Capital of the World. This was going to be fun, to say the least. My first challenge was to "bear hug the unknown", and seek out a local record shop...one that is hidden or known only to locals. I decided to walk down South Congress, or as the locals call it, SoCo. I didn't let the 100 degree heat sway me from my mission. I found a tiny little spot called Friends of Sound, and believe me, it was hidden. First, I ventured off the main drag and down a little side street. The sign said "entrance in alley" So I walked down the alley...then around an old brick building... then around another corner. Finally, tucked away, was a vintage vinyl shop that was so perfectly and authentically Austin. I shopped a bit and of course picked up some old school Country tunes like pre-outlaw Waylon Jennings and the Best of Johnny Cash. I then cozied up to the manager to see if he had any great recs for where to see some live music. Not just any live music, mind you... but my next challenge was to "scare myself silly" and find a local gig that was well outside my musical comfort zone. Well he and a fellow shopper gave me some great tips for where to find some great live shows that evening... shows that were not necessarily Eat Travel Rock friendly.
Later, I ventured out for my first ever solo "night out on the town". It was great. Amidst the hustle and bustle of buzzing 6th street in downtown Austin, I hardly felt alone. The vibe was electric, and music was pouring out of every doorway and corridor. I was headed toward the Red Eyed Fly and it reached me before I reached it. The music was LOUD... and joyfully angry sounding. I asked the door guy to fill me in and he said the Death Metal show on the outside patio was $10. SOLD!! Now, I'm usually very non-discriminating when it comes to Rock music. I love it all. But death metal has always been an enigma to me. How can you even understand what they're saying with all that grunting and barking into the mic??? Plus it just seemed...scary! Well, I let go of all that and head banged with the best of them...with a Lone Star beer in hand. The crowd seemed friendly and no one seemed to mind that I only had 15 tattoos instead of 50. After a while, even though the music was starting to make my head hurt, I could see why people gravitated toward the overall vibe. Death Metal will not likely be filling my iPod soon, but it was sure fun for 30 minutes.
Next up, I wanted to venture even farther from 6th Street, and "abandon my compass". I needed to find a Rock bar that was in a part of town unknown to me. I found this tiny little run down club called Beer Land. It was definitely off the beaten path and looked right up my alley (no pun intended). They had a surfer-esque garage band on stage and they were totally my taste. A cross between the Ventures and Green Day. As I cozied up to my 2nd tall-boy of Lone Star, I sat back and realized how fortunate I was to be experiencing something so magical. Not even 24 hrs before, I didn't even know I'd be in Austin. Now here I am, sippin' on a cold one, and soaking up one of the coolest musical scenes on the planet. Bless your heart Rock N' Roll.
My final challenge was to find an iconic spot in town where a part of musical history occurred. After some research, it became clear where I needed to visit. Arlyn Studios is a place where music history has been made; over and over again. This recording studio is not only the home studio of Willie Nelson, but many of my all-time favorites have recorded here: Waylon Jennings, Sublime, Neil Young, Snoop Dogg, Gary Clark Jr., Phish, and Merle Haggard, just to name a few. Their history is rich, but even more impressive is what the music is made with/on. Arlyn Studios possesses one of the few Neve recording consoles in existence. If you saw Dave Grohl's documentary, Sound City, you would know the level of prestige and mystique this conveys. Not only do they have a Neve console, but it is a Neve/API hybrid and the only one like it in the world. As the gracious owner of Arlyn, Lisa Fletcher, explained to me..."It's like the Bentley and Rolls Royce of sound boards coming together." I was lucky enough to have Lisa give me an after hours tour of the entire studio. I couldn't get over the musical history that was in my presence. She even let me "play" with the Neve console. To touch the boards where some of the most significant albums in music history were made, was surreal. I could actually feel the pulse of all the sounds that have been flowing through that studio for decades. It was an experience that will last a lifetime.
After all of my musical challenges were completed... it was time to EAT!! You didn't think I'd forget the food, did you?! Here is a run down of some of my favorite Austin meals. Many of these recommendations came from locals as well as Time Out Magazine Austin. Lonesome Dove Western Bistro was first. Wow. Chef Tim Love's latest adventure in on point. The menu is eclectic and represented by almost every animal species on earth... from duck to rattlesnake. The food was outstanding, and since I was solo, they let me do a tasting of several of the dishes. I would definitely say the best piece of fried catfish I'd ever had. The staff was overly accommodating and friendly. It was my happy place.
Next up was to satisfy my taco craving. You can't go to Texas without filling up on this Tex-mex staple. Torchy's Tacos was ALL i'd been hearing about and it was a must. I took an Uber to this little trailer park lot and there was Torchy's. A cute little food trailer in a dusty parking lot surrounded by red picnic tables. I actually had a fried avocado taco...my life will NEVER be the same. It was taco heaven...in a trailer park.
Finally, I had my last meal at Odd Duck. I could not hear enough about this James Beard Award nominated hot spot. I also heard their brunch was spectacular, so that's what I went with. Everything they serve is locally sourced and sustainable. If you don't believe me, in the most serendipitous fashion, they sat me at the bar right next to Farmer Chris, who is actually the chicken farmer from whom they directly source their eggs. My egg education is now on a loftier level... and the dishes I enjoyed at Odd Duck were next level. It was one of those authentic experiences that can't be described, only felt. I knew I was in a special place, away from the tourists and the hustle, where I could feel the true sense of this remarkable city. My last bite and breath of Southern Texas before heading back to Chicago.
Needless to say, traveling solo may be my new favorite thing. Not only was I able to learn so much more about Austin, its music, and its culture, but I was able to learn more about myself. My sense of adventure is alive and well, and people and places (and music) that once seemed foreign or intimidating, are now welcomed and appreciated. I'm so grateful for this quick journey, and even though i'm back in Chicago, in my comfort zone...Austin is already calling me back.