SXSW: How to Sleep Like Oprah and Eat Like a Local

Courtesy of Crave Communications

From the hotel where Winfrey stayed when she grilled Lance Armstrong to the foodie havens hip enough for Hollywood, the 411 on what's hot in Austin.

A version of this story first appeared in the March 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

In time for the March 8-17 SXSW festivities, Austin’s Third Coast hipsters, hippies, rockabilly greasers and Tejano two-steppers have opened a staggering number of new food, drink and music spots in the past year.

With no shortage of creative flow coming in and out of Austin, the challenge is accommodating it all with proper Texas hospitality. On May 21, Virgin America begins daily service out of Austin to San Francisco and then seasonal flights from Austin to Anchorage. Exciting, but not so timely for Terrence Malick’s untitled new film starring Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Christian Bale or Parkland, starring Zac Efron, Jacki Weaver and Paul Giamatti, which recently wrapped. Filming in Austin inevitably seduces and, in some cases, inspires real estate purchasing power. Tip your hat to newly inked Austinite Elijah Wood. He joins fellow Hollywood-refugee transplants Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Justin Long and Toms shoes founder Blake Mycoskie who decidedly embrace the city’s quirky motto and “keep Austin weird.”

“Austin is an intimate town that, during SXSW, turns into a bustling city of the most innovative and creative people in the world,” says conference and festival producer Janet Pierson.

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There aren’t enough hotel rooms to lodge those heading to the live music capital of the world. “The last few years, it’s been about the short-term rentals,” says Austin real estate broker Chad Goldwasser, Director Bryan Poyser, whose film Bounceback premieres at the festival, refers industry folk to AirBnB, VRBO and Homeaway. “Opportunities pop up last-minute," he says. "People bail out of town to avoid the madness and make some money.” Meanwhile, screenwriter-turned-director Eric Heisserer, whose helming debut Hours will premiere at SXSW, is house-hopping over the nine-day stretch. “I am fortunate to have several friends who live in town," he says. "I’ll be shacking up with them.”

The early bookers access downtown’s Four Seasons (98 San Jacinto Blvd., rooms from $499), staffed by “nice people,” Luke Wilson has said. The Old West-chic Driskill Hotel (604 Brazos St., from $279, ) near 6th Street has housed Jack White, Tobey Maguire and Morgan SpurlockRobert Plant and Johnny Depp have held hold court at the homey, rocker-appointed Victorian bungalow conversion Hotel Saint Cecilia near South Congress Avenue (112 Academy Drive, from $235). Vintage 1930s sister property, Hotel San Jose (1316 S. Congress Ave., from $650) has slept Jason Schwartzman and Jack Black. Attached to Austin City Limits is the W Austin (200 Lavaca St., from $479), home of Willie Nelson’s most recent New Year’s Eve bash and where Oprah Winfrey stayed when in town for the taping of her Lance Armstrong interview.

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Eating is sport in Austin. While love might be lost for most things Lance, it's living strong for Austin’s Top Chef season nine winner Paul Qui and his cheekily dubbed, performance-enhancing Tour de Qui food truck franchise. As the chef du moment, in November the James Beard awardee expanded with a brick-and-mortar eatery. His new East Side King is permanently parked behind live music venue Hole in the Wall (538 Guadalupe St.), and its Sapporo beer bacon miso ramen already tops foodie lists. Fans include Michael Fassbender, Santigold and Tom Colicchio, natch.

Qui also is launching SouthBites!, a curation of gourmet food trailers catering to SXSW attendees at the corner of Rainey and Driskill streets. Just a year old, the French/Vietnamese Elizabeth Street Café (1518 S.1st.) is unofficial hangover headquarters -- offering breakfast pho and more for those breaking from festival hullabaloo. “It is incredible with its bahn mi, buns and innovative breakfast menu,” says filmmaker David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express), an admitted regular. “I'm heading there for some Singapore noodles right now!”

Part of the same restaurant is the classic Lambert’s, where the Agency Group throws its annual soiree and where White, Mycoskie, Lady Gaga, Jessica Simpson and Vince Vaughn have gone for live music and Texas BBQ. Lambert's recently added the vintage garden-party-esque Josephine House -- which also offers a music venue (1204 W. Lynn St). Insiders know, frenetic 6th Street can be for Austin amateurs, but Rainey Street, located near Lady Bird Lake, has steadily risen as the neighborhood for the pros. The steady influx of new joints has doubled the food and drink real estate in the previously sleepy hood. Newbies include Bangers (81 Rainey), a sausage-and-beer-garden joint with an impressive pickling program; the year-old Texas gastropub Javelina (69 Rainey); Bungalow (92 Rainey), a posh watering hole boasting half bottles of wine and a whiskey barrel smash; and the philanthropically conceptual White House (95 Rainey), where customers donate drink dollars to a charity in exchange for their booze. "The eastside of Austin is very hipster cool-Williamsburg-y," says Jeff Dachis of the Austin-based social media firm Dachis Group. "It's where all the repurposing is going on." 

Back on S. 1st, there’s Sway (1417 S. 1st St.), a modern Thai spot by the owners of the Mexican favorite La Condesa, and in the Clarkesville neighborhood is Clark’s Oyster Bar (1200 W. 6th St.), where the bivalve list is extensive and the shrimp toast is a gourmet dazzler. Then there's Handlebar (21 E. 5th St.); ultimately, it doesn’t get more meta than a bar tended by gentlemen rocking the freestanding handlebar moustache with the reverence of Matthew McConaughey’s David Wooderson, then to mix and pour for McConaughey himself.

Of course, in a town where BBQ and Tex-Mex are religion, the classics aren’t to be forgotten. “Iron Works BBQ is my favorite spot,” says Heisserer of his old favorite at 100 Red River St. “I go for the brisket.”

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The March 10 Spring Breakers party at the Paramount Theatre is the most buzzed about SXSW bash and where screenwriter Hannah Fidell (A Teacher) “hopes to get in.” The fete promises castmembers James FrancoSelena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens and director Harmony Korine, among others. (713 Congress Ave.)

Look out for homages to Austin’s adopted air sex phenomenon highlighted in Poyser’s Bounceback. The filmmaker is hot to tribute the Japanese craze at the Alamo Drafthouse (320 E. 6th St.).

Amid the partying comes that small detail of doing business. “The bar at the Driskill is one of my favorite places to hold a private meeting,” says Heisserer, who’d like to “rub elbows” with The Avengers’ Joss Whedon (who is confirmed to attend). “You can see the rest of the bar so you can people-watch, but it’s quiet enough where you can have a private conversation without people listening.”

SXSW’s Hideout Lounge encourages such meetings to happen within its official perimeters. “New this year for film, gold and platinum badges will be Film Happy Hours at the Intercontinental,” says Pierson. “We've also got the Violet Crown Cinema -- a great place not only to see films but to grab a bite or drink and take a meeting.” (434 W. 2nd St.)

Don’t forget Austin’s great outdoors. “Take the time to walk down South Congress Bridge or the pedestrian bridge next to South Lamar,” says Qui. “Chill in Barton Springs and take a walk or kayak around Town Lake.“ Heisserer plans to cruise the lake -- since a local friend owns a boat. He also plans to take a dip in the perpetually 68-degree Barton Springs Pool.

When it comes to live music, there are some new sites: the 200-capacity Holy Mountain venue and lounge; Bourbon Girl, a more polished 6th Street addition with two slick private karaoke rooms; and Winflo, an Italian restaurant with a dedicated listening room. The eastside of Austin is replete with small bars with big backyards. Cheer Up Charlie’s, Liberty and Hotel Vegas are rumored to be planning surprise shows. 

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Wood is the latest Angeleno to purchase a home in Austin. The Venice resident closed in late January on a four-bedroom, 4.5-bathroom turn-of-the-century Victorian in the fancy Bouldin Creek hood on West Mary Street (price: $1.075 million). The three-story, 3,825-square-foot lair built in 1890 boasts elaborate custom-milled woodwork and two huge porches. It’s less than a mile south of downtown.

Bullock’s West Austin home, which has been listed at $2.5 million, is finally under contract after nearly a year on the market and a brief stint as an $8,000-a-month rental. The single-story retro-contemporary gated, tree-lined refuge on Spyglass Drive is a whopping 5,663 square feet, with three-bedrooms and three-bathrooms and resting on 1.76 acres. The new owner scores a massive swimming pool, spa, tennis court and private jogging/biking trail. Bullock isn’t leaving Austin. She has a portfolio of residential and commercial real estate, including Bess Bistro and Walton’s Fancy & Staple. In fact, she recently added on to her main Austin residence.

And a sale ultimately came for Dennis Quaid’s once-$12 million troubled Tarrytown home along Lake Austin. In December, he and his now-ex-wife Kimberly -- a former Austin real estate agent -- closed for $5 million. The new owners aren’t taking any chances on a place that Quaid has contended was misrepresented by the previous owners and turned out to be a water-damaged, rat-infested, poorly structured money pit. The newest owners plan to tear it down. Does that mean goodbye to the FAA-approved helipad?