Austin is the most dynamic city in the US today, due in great part to its rich and original culture. We are delighted to host you here. We are also proud of our town and happy to help guide you to the famous, secret, old and new best parts of our city.
Austin is awash in inventive and distinctive restaurants and bars. There are all kinds of things to do and places to go. A stay at Hotel Ella puts you in the heart of the city. Settle into our marble bar and sip muddled cocktails or craft beers drawn by hand. Soak up the ambience of the history of the Wooten family and reflect on their impact to this city as you gaze at the pink dome of the capitol nearby, or bask in the orange glow of the UT tower after a victorious UT football game - the previous owners’ hands figure heavily into both places. Or amble into the courtyard and gaze upon the works of the most prolific sculptor in Texas history, as you enjoy a glass of Rose or bubbly, and wonder just who are the faces and stories behind these works? Pop into the secluded artist wine bar for a peek at the history, artifacts and art facts that enrich these fascinating stories. Finally, make sure one night in town is set for Goodall’s. Our in-house restaurant is sure to please with signature dishes of classic fare that are matched with a diverse and deep wine list.
But, there is so much beyond the hotel to experience, alluring enough to draw you off of a shaded veranda, a serene courtyard, or a warm and rich parlor. Walk out to the marble purse, approach a valet, and challenge them in the way that you are feeling called – here are a few possible enquiries, with some insider guidance, all nearby and well known to our team.
Quiet, off the beaten path, and with a true neighborhood feel, head to Fabi and Rossi on Lake Austin Blvd. Small menu, sophisticated and mature. Dress up and get ready to walk into food as theatre at Jeffrey’s – for sure the most ambitious effort in Austin right now, a re-imagination of the original fine dining spot for the city – super close in dear Clarksville, a true jewel. Down on West 6th, two great options for mid-day, small plates, or full meals, Clark’s is Austin meets Nantucket and pulls it off. Raw bar and seafood in full style, or amble down the street to Winflo and go indoor / outdoor under huge oaks amid a contemporary cool vibe. Want old school casual farm to market? Pop in a few blocks north and see Ben and Murph at Texas French Bread. You can bring your own wine, but their locally sourced ingredients on their small menu, are otherwise unmatchable. Their mom Judy was the first to bake real bread in town and it still can’t be beat. OK, still in love, but looking for a little extra buzz and atmosphere? Squeeze into Wink or Foreign and Domestic, two tiny spots that keep it lively and delicious. The wine bar at Wink is tiny and dark with tons by the glass, or the bar dining at Foreign and Domestic will make you salivate and inspire you to go buy new Caphalon and throw your own burners.
Swing a right on MLK and down the hill to Lamar; take your choice, north or south. Tyson Cole never sleeps. He put Austin on the map with Uchi and then went uptown with Uchiko - the two most innovative and creative menus in town. Sashimi and citrus have never been so harmoniously combined. Never seen an NYC or LA snob leave with their scorn intact. Want Australian Thai food? Sway will knock your socks off and leave you buzzing. Super stylish and full of fun. Save room for dessert. If you have to scratch that Italian itch go see Scottie at Vespaio. Some refuse to leave the cozy bar to eat. Two words for you Benjamin – Pork Chop and Carbonara. Wishing you had kept current on those college French classes? Sneak into Chez Nous, incongruously located just off of 6th street. Tres agreeable and after a few glasses of small production burgundy you’ll be ordering in French, convinced you just wandered off into the Latin Quarter. Or, wishing you were in San Miguel de Allende tonight? Head into Fonda San Miguel for the most sophisticated maker of mole in town. Dinner is great. Sunday brunch will have you re-booking your room to blissfully sleep off the rest of the day. Back to Europe, bust out the FC Barcelona jersey and prime your lisp for Barlata. Daniele and Vanessa will transport you straight back – true tapas made with lots of passion, lots of flavor, maybe even a little singing and dancing thrown in if you show up late on a Saturday.
Hurry home and find a little space in that carry on for something nice. Our friends Cyrus and Rhianna were so revered; we invited them to accessorize Ella with Bell and Bird rarities. If you want, they’ll whisk over and tell you about the pieces – all are 100+ years old, direct from Europe, stunning and unique. And, chances are, they are just returning from another trip with new finds. Or, swing downtown to Eliza Page or By George, both full of diverse and interesting jewelry and select clothing. Kendra Scott is super hot on Soco, all designed by her, here in Austin. You may have helped the economy a bit, but you are sure to be welcomed back home warmly. Work hard, travel smart, don’t return empty-handed.
Ok, truth be told, the tie-dye campaign is passé. And that happened a long time ago. But the origin and sentiment are still vital. Head to 6th and Lamar and you find ground zero for the 80s/90s inspiration to keep it local, and keep it weird. Long made short, developers wanted to bring in a big chain, Austinites wanted to keep it local. What miraculously emerged was the biggest indie bookstore west of the Mississippi, Book People. Easy to get lost in staff picks and soft seats and end up with a big bag of books. If that makes you hungry, cross the street to the new Whole Foods flagship. It’s not really a grocery store, it’s Disney World for foodies. As a linchpin to Austin’s innovative zeitgeist and progressive lifestyle, Whole Foods started at 10th and Lamar in 1980, and has moved around within a couple of blocks three times, keeping it’s faux tofu roots basically in place. Caddy corner is Waterloo Records. Still rocking and still rolling. Artists in-stores, box sets, rare finds, and just a ton of music mojo in one place has kept this record store re-inventing itself and staying vital as ever. The 500 year old Treaty Oak a block south is kind of overlooked today, but was the source of a massive rallying cry of conservation and indignation in 1989 when it was poisoned. It now shades only half of what it once did, but it proudly stands straight, as it reportedly did when the “treaty” between Stephen F Austin and frontier Native Americans was signed in the 1800s. If you want the 90s/00s version of K.A.W., head to South Congress. Maybe the best single place to see what the city considers its current style. Everything up and down is homegrown and best in class. When a disgruntled former DA turned her attention to a run down roach motel, a metamorphosis catalyzed. Liz Lambert’s San Jose Hotel, Steve Wertheimer’s Continental Club, the Lippincots’ conversion of a feed store into Guero’s all made it happen. Today there are outdoor coffee shops, trailers, cupcakes, pizza, monstrous perfect burgers and a ton of vintage and handmade art, clothing and objects d’art. All makes for great people watching and the perfect ambling Saturday afternoon disguised as a history lesson. Now you get the Keep Austin Weird thing, but note to all, skip the T-shirt.
Yes it is. Any night, all night, it is always a high quality, highly original scene in Austin. Except during SxSW or ACL, then, it is a gluttony contest and generally unlike anything in the world. Come to South By in March and feel cool and cruise around and around downtown. All Night. ACL is in the fall, and you will while away the day on a beautiful 46 acres of soft grass and sweet tunes and friendly vibes. Rumors are bands get discovered at Southby, and companies decide to relocate chilling on the great lawn at ACL. The rest of the year, keep it real and stick to the smaller clubs. Pull an Austin Chronicle for listings if you want, or dial up the do512 app, or, just head to one of these spots…Stubbs always has something good indoors or outdoors, local and touring stuff. Check, it could be a big show. Want to bump into a polite and sexy 65-year-old man with long hair that sang the lyrics to the first rock ballad you used to try and slow dance to? He hangs out like the rest of the old rock n roll royalty at the Continental Club on South Congress. An authentic roadhouse scene. Saxon Pub has the best early week regular gigs going. And it is small and a happy place to hang. Go, so you can say you saw Bob Schneider play there – the biggest best fish in this pond. Antone’s has moved again, further south but not much changed. Touring shows, lots of old school blues, same as it ever, we hope, will be. If you are lucky though, you can walk out the side door and head to the Cactus Café on Guadelupe. It’s the coffee shop singer-songwriter spot that has hosted the best of the best for decades. Townes Van Zandt owned the room in his reign, everyone that writes with meaning and strums an acoustic has given it a go here. Drips with history, even if it sits inside of UT, and doesn’t draw too many college kids. Truly is a shame youth is wasted on the young. Don’t make the same mistake; catch a show there while you are in town.
Two ways to go here – old school comfort or stand in line and be counted, literally. For old timers, House Park BBQ is right around the corner and long ago taught us all, “You don’t need teeth to eat our beef”. True, true, and yellowed newspaper on the wall attests to slow cooked, decades old flavor. Our old up the alley neighbor is now a few more blocks north. Bert’s BBQ. If you grew up in Austin, or went to UT in the 70s, 80s, 90s, you knew the family: Bert, Joyce, Gary and Jay. And you are either a T-Man guy, or a Frito Pie kid. Still drink the sauce on the side, because they serve it warm. Downtown is the Iron Works, setting the standard for a long time with great chopped beef and all the right trimmings and setting. If you followed SRV after a show at Auditorium Shores, chances were he headed straight to Sam’s afterward. Willie Mays is still making Q there. Word is after turning 50 his mom finally trusted him enough to share the recipe for the beans. Used to be a right of passage to see just how brave you were to venture to the toughest corner in town for the sweetest pork ribs and most soulful sauce. But the world of BBQ has evolved; it is no longer good ol’ boys in Wranglers with big bellies as pit bosses. The meek and skinny have inherited the scorched BBQ earth. Thank you Aaron Franklin. Go early, rent a chair, bring a good book and hope there is enough to go around. Let them eat cake? The king today commands a 2-hour+ line and runs out of food by 1 o’clock most days. Best brisket in the world. Just go. A tad bit lazy and a tiny bit less discerning? La Barbecue is all that too. Get you a chopped beef sandwich and a cold Coors at half the wait and feel damn fine. Want the best of both worlds? Get a table, fine drinks and sides in the hood at Freedman’s, or downtown at Lamberts. Hard to make Q fine dining, but both of these places do. Choose well, and be willing to ease the belt one hole to the left. Go for a run and hit Juiceland – tomorrow.
If you enjoyed sitting in the courtyard, there is more where that came from. Charles Umlauf was recruited to Austin at 26 to help found the schools art department. A professor for 40 years at UT, he bequeathed his home, estate, and much of his collection to the city to fulfill the vision of establishing Art in Austin. The Umlauf Sculpture Grounds sit across the street from Barton Springs, a pretty great combo afternoon. Just a couple miles to the west are the grounds of Laguna Gloria on Lake Austin, with outdoor and indoor installations. Four blocks east is the Blanton, UTs stunning contribution to the art world- nestled among the historic academic and state museums - the Harry Ransom and Bob Bullock. All are worthy and interesting and can be done in quick succession with ease. Two blocks south, a tour through the Capitol is sure to inspire awe as well, it was said to be designed 10 feet taller than the one in DC – welcome to Texas, y’all. Further afield and little less easy to put your finger onto is the burgeoning East Austin Studio Tour (E.A.S.T.) scene. When it is going on in November, it may be as cool as anything in town all year. Sticking to the west side, the gallerists Lisa Russell and Lora Reynolds carry emerging and important and very collectable artists. Inquire about what they have in gallery, and ask for an entrée or appointment. Downtown at 7th and Congress is The Contemporary Austin – always something coming and going and lots of events.
After all, you are in Austin. Home of so many things, but maybe nothing more singular than the breakfast taco. Roberto came from Mexico City and picked the most hidden location possible to ply his wares, only for breakfast and lunch. Success was completely product driven. Still is. Two locations super close. But don’t tell your friends. If you do, they stay at home and know their order by heart. Welcome to being a local, you are now a Tacodeli delivery guy. Newer kid in town is Torchy’s. Kind of like an Aggie / Longhorn thing. Most people are clear and all are decided. A little more adventurous and maybe a tad less nuanced, but both are certain to cure what ails you. That is, if it is a hangover. Later in the day, you have lots of options that include beer and margaritas. Chuy’s got it all started here years ago and still earns it everyday on Barton Springs. Head to Lake Austin and add the wake board and bikini scene at the Hula Hut. Still high-quality low-ditch Tex-Mex, which is the art form by the way. Venture to South Congress and dip your beak in a tasty margarita and finely developed salsas and entrees. You might wait a bit, but the scene and Chicken Especiale at Guero’s is worth it. Z-Tejas is around the corner from 6th and Lamar and a happy hour must that is always fresh on the menu front. Great drinks and apps, be sure and ask for the verde+guacamole salsa. Downtown is La Condesa, certainly the latest evolution of flavors and style. When the pomegranate is in season, make sure it makes its’ way into your guacamole. If you want to linger and keep it simple, head to Hyde Park for Julio’s, or Clarksville for Zocalo. Both whisper authenticity and basic goodness. Julio’s has the best chicken in town. Zocalo, a great spot to chill with fresh chips and queso watching the world wheel by. Or, there is always super old school at Dario’s, Cisco’s, Matt’s El Rancho…
You noticed. Again, you can go old or new, just in this case, new is old. If you want to really score, wander South Congress and poke into every storefront there. Most scour garage sales for old Tony Llamas and will be happy to sell you some 20-40 year old vintage cowboy boots that you can put on tonight and not look like a tourist. If you want new and a perfect fit, head to Heritage and order some custom made boots. It’s not quite Charlie Dunn quality and style, but they do fit just right. For both country and western, walk into Allen’s and say ahhh. More boots than you could imagine, and the same great folks that have always been there. All good answers, and you probably need a couple pair anyway.
This is easy. Anywhere and everywhere. Grab a bike at Ella and head to the trail. There are running trails up and down Shoal Creek just 3 blocks to the west. Home of Austin’s original frisbee golf course, fun, but maybe a stretch to call that exercise. But to do it right, go get on the Bird for biking, running, swimming, paddling. Start at the rock under Mopac on Lady Bird Lake. 3 mile loops, 4-mile loops, even 7 and 10 mile ones. Kayaks to paddle, boats to row, SUP to get out and work the abs and view the world from the water – a pretty awesome way to start your day. If you like to roll instead, head over to Mellow Johnny’s on the Lance Armstrong Bike Path and rent a bike at Lance’s store. Built in a former homeless shelter and beer distributor the shop rents high-end road bikes, mountain bikes, and provides handmade coffees and smoothies and free showers to fuel and clean up afterward. Close to Ella is Caswell Tennis Center, twenty great courts, instructors and drop-in clinics make it an easy and fun way to get your sweat on. On the other side of the lake is Barton Springs, the living heart of the city. It’s a 1/8 mile long spring fed cold-as-beer, clear-as-gin urban oasis. Most just soak and hang out, but there are always folks stroking long laps there in preparation for their next Ironman. It’s also a jumping off point to intense in-town mountain biking up the greenbelt. 22 miles long, with over a 100 miles of full swoop, full suspension trails. In the shade and kind of hard to get lost for long, head out and forget you are in the city and finish with that dip in the springs. Lots of options to rent wartercraft up and down the lake – and another slightly less crowded pool called Deep Eddy. Spring fed too, but with lanes, and flip turns to keep you on pace. Just up the hill is Juiceland, the unassuming superfood haven for all those fitsters. Sure to make you feel younger. The front desk can get you set up for workouts at Castle Hill Fitness, or world class golf at Barton Creek, or if it was all too much, deep tissue sports massage from Mecca to work out the aches and pains.
Ok, first things first, welcome to old Austin. If it hasn’t been around 25+ years, you are not gonna read about it here. Cold outside, and ready for a shot? Walk into The Texas Chili Parlor. Channel your inner Guy Clark and go for the xxx and the hard stuff. Legends were created here. Get dirty and test your mettle. Late night, and trying to see who and how laws get made around here? Check your cell phone at the door and descend into the Cloak Room. What you see and hear is up to you, and tomorrow’s newspapers. Game time? You are never too far from 12th and Lamar. The Tavern made its’ claim with air conditioning and a haunted third floor. All the games downstairs, pool upstairs, nothing has changed but the upgrade to HD over 60 years. Hungry? Grab a po-boy, fried catfish, or a damn good burger a block further south at Shoal Creek Saloon. The shuffleboard dates back to the 40s and Jakes, and some of the regulars do too. Just need a burger fix? Skip the Mic, and drive through P Terry’s, two options nearby. Quick and healthy versions of super tasty staples. Tired of eating, want to drink and disappear? Duck into Deep Eddy’s Cabaret. Once a grocery store and bait shop, it’s been a bar with a back door and short pool tables for long enough to outlast every trend. Mini pitchers and a juke box with lots of Joe Cocker. Want to sample 80 taps and pontificate about hop counts and nitrogen? Grow your beard and pull on your sweater and head to an authentic English pub in Austin. There are more dartboards at the Dog and Duck but a ton more regulars with good stories at the Draught House on Medical Parkway. The same tables, with the same carvings date back 40+ years. And if you really want to go back in time, head up and over Mt. Bonnell to a barely standing Dry Creek Café. Sarah is gone, but Bing Crosby singing “Hey Jude” on the jukebox- it might just surface a “bring down your bottles!” cry from her ghost.
Head East young man. If you are under 30, wish you were, or just want to know how the hell these people do it, head over to East 6th Street. East means east of I-35. The best trailer food, cheap beer, expensive beer, funky food, and funky people. Used to be all Tex-Mex, but there is a revolution afoot. Head to Qui for the finest dining on the east side. Buenos Aires, East Side Show Room, Yellow Jacket – it may be kind of raw, but it is all so very real. Wander way east into Justine’s and you will have found the best outdoor, out of the way hang in Austin. Steak Frites and dangling lights make for a nice night. Just keep checking your instagram and twitter, because all this is new and different and it all moves quickly on the east side.
Have a lot of emails to get through? Time to find a table and a pour over or latte. Austin has coffee. Locally roasted, direct sourced, third generation, Portland approved, all kinds of high hurdles have been cleared. Medici has great spaces and a few outlets that will get you buzzing and keep you comfy. Or, head downtown to Juan Pelota. The same baristas serving lots of regulars in an old warehouse, sitting on the dock of the loading bay. Houndstooth has established themselves, and serve high style and high octane all day. If you are cool with drip coffee but really crave a world-class cinnamon roll, head to 45th and Burnet. Upper Crust Bakery still keeps it real. Same staff and same regulars debating the ever-shrinking Statesman at the city’s first communal table by the front door. Prices, quality and points-of-view haven’t changed, by the way.
Yes, they are bad ass, and they are the new new thing in town. Don’t worry about the outside, the location, the name, or the fact that you can’t pronounce the menu items, just trust in the line and think of them as the twitter of food. Many are short lived; most aspire to become a true brick and mortar. All are trying hard to do something new and different. They are the lifeblood to the next gen of young guns that can take strange parts of strange animals and mix it with comfy and unfamiliar flavors and make eating out of a paper cup transformational. If you are lucky enough to be in town for ACL you can try 40 at once, and taste the godfather of all, the Mighty Cone in it’s original setting. If not, it’s only a few blocks north of the hotel and a safe bet. Otherwise troll South First, South Congress, Rainey Street or the East side, or for that matter, just about anywhere in town where you see an empty lot, a crane, an airstream.
Well, as they say, that depends. But to simplify, think of it this way. If you can articulate three types of music sub genres – then hop your fixie and cruise it east of I-35. If you prefer to hear music from soundtracks and words you know by heart, or are looking for shots, cheap drinks, and a slightly saner version of Bourbon Street, then hit old 6th Street (between Congress and I-35) – Full disclosure, the UT and other college kids descend on it late, and term it affectionately Dirty Sixth. If your shoes are shined, or you spent the whole day at the office, or you like to converse easily, West 6th might be more up your alley. A mix of nice and comfortable and close together bars that will bustle early and late. If all that sounds a tad off, head over to Rainey Street. Its’ four blocks of converted early 20th century bungalows that have style, warmth, funkiness and great service.