As I mentioned in the last post, my wife and I just recently reached our three year anniversary. This is it, folks. We’ve finally emerged from the newlywed phase! It’s still an odd anniversary, though. It’s not as big of a milestone as a five or ten year anniversary, so how do you celebrate it especially after the rough year we’ve had?
Originally I started looking at Oregon several months ago before a wild hair snuck up on me and I started looking at Iceland for a winter trip. People make that jump all of the time, right? Well, spend enough time on the internet and things like that are bound to happen. Did you know a round trip flight from Boston/New York to Iceland is almost the same as a round trip flight from Dallas to Portland? Have fun planning your next vacation!
So with Oregon saved for another time, we needed something a bit more low key and affordable since we now have this huge winter trip. A staycation seemed logical.
Then my wife reminded me of a very important fact. We haven’t floated the river in a long time. The “river” for us being the San Marcos river, a staple activity of my alma mater, Texas State University (Eat ’em up). Anniversary planned.
We decided to drive down to Austin a day early and stay at a nice hotel before spending our next day down in San Marcos floating the river. You know, do something schwanky before boozing it up on inner tube with a bunch of college kids. Keep it classy, y’all. With all of the time inbetween, we’d revisit some of our old stomping grounds. Now in our 30s, we were curious to see if we could hold up to Kirby and Colin from half a decade ago.
We left early from Dallas on Friday morning, making the always adventurous trip south via 35. We made good time, except for when we hit Austin of course. You know, the city that keeps on growing except for its infrastructure. So we spent about 15 minutes making a two mile crawl on the final stretch to our hotel: the Kimpton Van Zandt.
This definitely ranked in my top three hotel experiences for me. The lobby is open and spacious, sporting a trendy cafe to your left and an open lobby full of comfortable seating to your right. Being Austin, all of the decor revolved around music, including their main statement piece: a phonograph releasing a flock of colorful birds made entirely out of old records. Oh, and the hotel is named after some famous musician named Townes Van Zandt.
My wife and I had tunnel vision, though. While I’m sure there was plenty of charm to explore in Cafe 605 and Geraldine’s, we were there for one thing: THE POOL!
After checking in, the front desk has a policy of offering a free water or a beer. Guess which one I chose? When someone offers you free beer, you don’t say no. Unless it’s something from AB InBev or Miller Coors. Because it’s important to have respect for yourself.
With my Twisted X Austin Lager in hand, we made our way to a very crowded pool on the fourth floor. It’s 100+ degrees in Texas…are we really surprised? We claimed a sad spot on a concrete slab by the fireplace (pictured with the beer above), when southern hospitality came in at just the right time. An older couple quickly offered some shaded seats they weren’t using in their spot. Now we’re talking!
The lager was enhanced by the flavor of free and the refreshment most adult beverages provide after spending nearly four hours in a car. It was a great warm up round to the pool. Would I get a second round? Of course! Just not of this. With my wife on her second cocktail, I got my second beer.
Round two opened with Boulevard’s Tropical Pale Ale. Tried and true, grapefruit always pairs well with hoppy bitterness. This was a nice step up from the lager, and paired much better with the heat and the pool.
This place was definitely bumping now. We counted at least two bachelorette parties, penis straws and all. People from across the country were all mingling with one another. And oh, us? We’re just from Dallas. We tried to impart our experience and knowledge: visit 6th to say you did (but don’t spend your night bar hopping there), explore East side, go to far west 6th, explore Red River and Rainey, and maybe stop by SoCo. Maybe they listened, maybe they didn’t. Regardless, it was time for round three!
I was feeling bold and went off the beer track to a cider. I was intrigued in the concept one fermented with hops. That counts as a beer, right? So I picked up a can of Austin Eastciders’ Hopped Cider. It was a great balance of dry and sweet; a solid choice for those wanting a sweet drink on a hot day without being overpoweringly sweet and sugary. I’m not a fan of super dry ciders, but it was too hot of a day for a super sweet cider either. I found the right balance in this dry hopped delight.
But now our pool day was coming to a close. We had a hunger and still hadn’t even seen our room yet. Time to move on, but pool day was a resounding success with both of us feeling rather toasty.
Our room was money well spent. While our view left something to be desired (third floor…this is your “upgrade?”), the room itself was definitely luxurious. It was all about the bathroom here, people. It was practically half the size of most standard hotel rooms. My wife, as she put it, got “major bathroom inspo.” There were scrubbing salts at the washbasins, a jamBox ready to use, and some of the best shampoo and shower gels that have ever come standard in a hotel. I wish I could do better at describing the space, but I’m used to describing beer here, folks, so just look at the photo below.
After a relaxing bath and shower, we started our evening. Our first stop was Buffalina for dinner; a cozy little neopolitan style, wood fired pizzeria off Cesar Chavez on the east side. This is not pictured. We were very hungry. Cameras could not capture our food in enough time. We ordered the pepperoni: large chunks of melted mozzarella, pepperoni, jalapeños, red onions, and a scallion ranch sauce that pulled it all together.
After our quick bite, we walked down a few blocks to a speakeasy built inside an old house called Weatherup. I am by no means as much of a whiskey man as I am a beer man. Look at the name of the blog. But come on, now; how could you not order a cocktail from a place so unique? It was hard to snag a spot in the hazy, cozy interior; but the weather had cooled down by this time in the evening so we opted for a spot in their bier garden…cocktail garden? (What do you call a speakeasy’s secluded backyard drinking space?)
I asked for the bartender’s choice and told them the only two preferences I knew about: a large ice cube and whiskey. What they came back with was a tasty, almost syrupy New Orleans style cocktail: rye whiskey, cognac, sweet and dry vermouth, lemon zest, and benedict. I am literally just listing off what our server told us was in it. I told you I don’t know much about cocktails. What the hell is benedict? ::does google search:: Oh, okay. You learn something every day.
By this time, we’re finding out real quick we can’t hang like we used to. My wife in particular has not yet mastered the art of pacing one’s self at our age. We needed to pick up our energy, so we made our way to Kung Fu Saloon for some skeeball and games. It had clearly changed…or moved. I’m not sure. It was different from what I remembered, but still fun. Rows of free play games, except for a pricey but very tempting dual Mario Kart set up, and tons of “analog” board games. I was undefeated that night in Connect Four. I welcome any and all challengers.
It’s still not even 10 PM at this point. What the hell man? We’re fading fast but we had two spots left we promised ourselves. Jackalope for a big fuck off drink and Home Slice for “late night” pizza. We walked down 6th, got our Helldorado, and caught a Lyft for some pizza (we really like our pizza). Food in hand, we travel back to the hotel to crash. It’s 10:30. We were out for four hours. Totally counts as staying out late.
The next day was our float day. Except there’s a little problem down near the gulf coast called Tropical Storm Cindy bringing up excess rain all over Texas. Not exactly good floating weather. Do we risk it and go? I’m not about to risk an angry wife, so we make alternative plans.
With floating out of the way, we now have plenty of time to get our brunch on at Kerbey Lane Cafe. The queso was still as good as we remembered. Mimosas in hand, we ordered southern style eggs benedict (fried chicken and biscuits) and blueberry big-as-yo-face pancakes. Thoroughly stuffed from the delicious food, but with only mimosas to drink, where do you think the Beoir Man took his wife next?
That’s right. A brewery. So on we went to Hops and Grain. They opened early at 10 AM and were home to a particular beer I remembered from my bachelor party over three years ago: The One They Call Zoe. I was excited to take my wife here and share the experience.
She was underwhelmed. And so was I. We ordered a flight comprising itself of their Dispensary Series IPA, their Saison, their Maibock, and their River Beer. Unfortunately, we could only bring ourselves to finish the Saison. Every beer tasted like it was taken from a home brew recipe book. Nothing bad, but nothing that stood out or tried to break the mold. Oh, there was one that was bad. The River Beer. It tasted like a Keystone. It was practically undrinkable. In the end, the only two good things to come from this brewery were a great photo op and a recommendation to try out Blue Owl Brewing.
In case you aren’t aware, Blue Owl Brewing’s approach to beer is sour mashing. In short, it’s a way of taking a traditional brewed beer and adding sour notes to it for those of us, like myself, that like a tart kick. I’ve been on a huge Gose and Berlinner-Weisse trip these last couple of years, so Blue Owl is right up my alley. Their microbrewery is a quaint, warm, and welcoming environment the moment you walk in the door. Miniature terrariums line the walls, shelves, and tables; while beautiful art work and fixtures bring out and reflect the personality of the fine folks that work there.
There wasn’t a beer here I didn’t like. My favorites were their funky and hops rich Amarillo Animal (their tiny barrel series of their mainstay Spirit Animal), their Dapper Devil tiny barrel series, and their Little Gose. The little gose has to be one of the best smelling beers I’ve ever had. Your nostrils fill with the herbal aroma of basil and citrusy tangerines. And it tastes just like it smells! I felt like I was drinking a very boozy mimosa.
With the bad taste of River Beer washed out with the tart joy of Blue Owl’s beers, we made our way down to San Marcos with a pep in our step. Now, while floating was out of the question, San Marvelous was still my college stomping grounds. We drove this far; what’s 30 minutes more?
Needless to say, things have changed in the last seven years since I graduated. For one, there’s a GIANT overpass being built over the train tracks on Aquarena. Back in my day, we waited for the damn train! Then there were loft apartments after loft apartments looming over the skyline. But my old bachelor pad was still there, some neighborhoods stayed the same, and my favorite pub still stood strong: The Tap Room.
The Guacamole Queso burger was still just as good as I remembered. The giant moose head with the Guinness hat still hung on the wall along with the eclectic collection of tacky decorations lining the tap wall and bar. Of course, there were new decorations as well. The bathroom was clean and newly painted, too (no longer lined with DUI Bail Bond ads and bathroom graffiti).
I had fond memories of trivia nights and completing my Around the World card. But seven years later and my San Marcos isn’t there anymore. What’s that saying? You can never go home again? That would be this trip’s theme. My wife and I found ourselves done with old places like Jackalope and trying to party all night. But we found new charm in Austin with the Hotel Van Zandt, East Austin dives, and Blue Owl Brewing. But some old mainstays still held their charm, like Home Slice and Tap Room.
We used to be in love with Austin. After all, it’s where we fell in love. But as we grew up and changed, so did our cities. It’s not the same. We can never go back home again.
And that’s okay.