Travel

Austin’s Hot Attractions

The Texas capital is primed for South by Southwest with a slew of acclaimed new restaurants, the opening of the W Austin and a new Austin City Limits music venue.
Paul Bardagjy/ Courtesy of Uchiko

The entertainment world’s love affair with Austin keeps heating up: Drew Barrymore is rumored to have just bought a house in the city, whose full- and part-time residents include director Richard Linklater, Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey. True Grit, The Tree of Life and Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World have recently filmed here. And this month, the Texas capital becomes the industry’s No. 1 destination as South by Southwest takes over the city from March 11-20. Between the hundreds if not thousands of showcases and screenings, here are some of the best new spots to check out in the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World.

WHERE TO EAT

Austin has risen to the top of culinary critics’ lists as one of the best U.S. cities for dining. One of the best new restaurants is Uchiko (4200 N. Lamar Blvd., uchiaustin.com), the second iteration of chef Tyson Cole’s homage to Japan. A four-time James Beard Award semifinalist, Cole won star status in 2005 for his sexy and innovative sushi as one of Food & Wine’s “best new chefs” in America. His 8-month-old Uchiko is every bit as provocative, with less of an emphasis on “just sushi” and more of a focus on Japanese farmhouse fare. Cole, who recently published Uchi: The Cookbook, has attracted such diners as Lance Armstrong, Chelsea Handler and Robert Rodriguez. “The food is really unique and very cool,” says actress-model Brooklyn Decker, who moved to the city in 2009 with husband Andy Roddick.

Perhaps the restaurant/bar addition to receive the most buzz is Haddingtons (601 W. 6th St., thehaddington.com), which has deemed itself a modern tavern serving up British-influenced cuisine and specialty handcrafted cocktails. The decor calls to mind an upscale British pub with its long wooden bar and myriad whimsical paintings of the British countryside along the walls. On most nights, it’s hard to elbow your way up to the bar, and Sunday brunch is borderline mayhem — but well worth it with a dish of delectable bangers and mash. Fans include Rodriguez, part-time resident Mike Judge and Spoon drummer Jim Eno.

The latest additions to the downtown scene are Congress and Second Bar + Kitchen (200 Congress Ave., congressaustin.com), two concepts designed by chef-owner David Bull, a celebrity in his own right. A James Beard nominee, Bull has battled the formidable Bobby Flay on the Food Network hit Iron Chef America. Throughout Texas, Bull is known for his innovative-yet-classic New American cuisine. Congress is his intimate fine-dining outlet, while Second Bar + Kitchen is his diner concept, featuring an array of great beers, one of the best burgers in town and an elevated yet laid-back feel.

On the east side of 6th Street, the side that has given Austin much of its Bourbon Street-like fame, chef Shawn Cirkiel has opened his second concept, Backspace (507 San Jacinto Blvd., thebackspaceaustin.com), a 30-seat trattoria serving thin-crust Neapolitan pizzas from an Italian brick oven and handmade charcuterie. It’s located in the back space of Cirkiel’s first restaurant, Parkside, a popular hotspot with a raw oyster bar. John Krasinski, John C. Reilly and Tommy Lee Jones have all been in. (Cirkiel regularly cooks for Jones at the actor’s private ranch in San Saba, deep in the Hill Country.)

So what are the mainstays to hit? Jimmy Kimmel Live music booker Scott Igoe recommends grabbing a post-set drink at the bar at the 125-year-old landmark Driskill Hotel (604 Brazos St., driskillhotel.com). Miranda Bailey, producer of the Ellen Page starrer Super, which will play at the film festival, is a fan of Mexican restaurant Manuel’s (301 Congress Ave., manuels.com). “You inevitably end up with a vegetarian cast member, and it has really good options for them. The tortilla soup is rad,” she says. And Spy Kids 4 star Jessica Alba is a fan of the elevated comfort food at new mainstay 24 Diner (600 N. Lamar Ave., 24diner.com); don’t miss the farm-fresh fried-egg sandwich.

WHERE TO GO

The 2,750-capaciy Moody Theater (310 W. Willie Nelson Blvd., acl-live.com), the new home of PBS’ Austin City Limits, had its grand opening in mid-February, and it’s where Perez Hilton is hosting his annual SXSW party March 19; last year, the bash featured performances by Snoop Dogg, Macy Gray and Michael Posner. And the renovated Arthouse at the Jones Center (700 Congress Ave., arthousetexas.org) provides sanctuary for modern art lovers. The three-story art space’s $6.6 million makeover was completed in October, and its new exhibit, “Rehearsals at the Astoria,” is a scaffolding reincarnation of the now-demolished Astoria, the iconic music venue in London; the sculpture is serving as a free rehearsal space for bands during the exhibit’s 10-week run.

WHERE TO STAY

There’s almost no chance of nabbing a hotel room during this year’s SXSW. The Four Seasons — which has hosted Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and underwent a renovation of all 291 of its rooms two years ago — has a waiting list of more than 60 people (from $440 a night, 98 San Jacinto Blvd., fourseasons.com/austin). Also fully booked are hip hotelier Liz Lambert’s boutique sister properties. Hotel Saint Cecilia (from $295, 112 Academy Drive, hotelstcecilia.com) is a Victorian mansion updated with a rock ’n’ roll vibe; Amy Poehler recently booked a super-private bungalow there. And Lambert’s Hotel San Jose (from $160 a night, 1316 S. Congress Ave., sanjosehotel.com) is a vintage, cool redo of a 1930s motor-court motel.

The big new entrant is the W Austin (from $279, 200 Lavaca St., starwoodhotels.com). Opened in December, the hotel, where Krasinski and wife Emily Blunt have stayed, has 251 rooms and suites; Trace, a contemporary farm-to-table restaurant concept; and state-of-the-art workout and spa facilities. The rooms feature plush bedding, photos of acts that have played Austin City Limits and clever “postcard”-shaped windows with views of Lady Bird Lake or the downtown skyline.

“Austin embraces different cultures and languages and music and food, but you still sort of have that Southern charm you get from being in Texas,” Decker says. “I love those perfect marriages in a place like this.”           

FOR SALE: Roddick/Decker House

Brooklyn Decker and Andy Roddick’s four-bedroom Austin house, where they married in 2009, is under contract after being listed most recently for $3.6 million. Roddick bought the house, which is on Lake Austin and includes a home theater and fitness center, for $1.46 million in 2003. “It’s close to downtown and has a boat slip, so it’s great in-and-out access,” says Lauren Powell of Sotheby’s International, which has the listing.