Well, folks... it was another outstanding vacation for the Barkers!
Saturday, October 6, 2012... off to Texas - JFK to Austin!
Why Texas? Well... Texas has always been "on the list," but the reason we went this year was because my friend Jon has been living in Austin for the past couple years and I've been "threatening" to visit him all the while! Since he's moving out of state - probably back to New York for the rest of the year at least - at the end of this month I figured this would be my only chance... so why not make it the annual fall vacation?!
Yep... I know... we usually head down to Key West with Drunkin' Ted & Drunkin' Mary this time of year. Unfortunately, this year DT and DM had some things going on which precluded their making the trip with us. (And without DT and DM... Key West just wouldn't have been the same!)
Anyway... back to day by day "reporting"... we flew Jet Blue from JFK to Austin. This was our first time flying Jet Blue. I've gotta say... damn fine job! They upgraded us to exit row seats on the flight to Austin and that - along with free snacks and bloody marys and Brooklyn Lagers for $6.99 - was the icing upon a flight that took off and landed early and which was spent listening to XM radio and watching TV at 35,000 feet!
So... we arrived on time... the luggage came right out... and by 12:30 p.m. we were in our rental car headed into town!
(BTW... I had pre-paid for a full-sized rental via successful Priceline bidding through Budget. Since I'm a member of their frequent rental club I was upgraded to a Ford Taurus. I've gotta say... nice friggin' car!)
From the airport it was a quick 20 minute ride to my buddy Jon's place - the Monarch by Windsor.
Jon has a 26th floor apartment with a giant balcony overlooking all of Austin! As my friends know I'm usually not a "stay with friends or family" sort of guy... unless the friends or family can offer me the... er... amenities a man of my august stature requires... but Jon's place did indeed fit the bill. (One caveat: It was relatively chilly in Austin while we were there so I didn't get a chance to relax in the Monarch's pool - which is apparently unheated. Very disappointing... very sad, indeed.)
So... after setting ourselves up at Jon's the three of us headed out in search of lunch! We ended up at Hickory Street! Awesome place! Great food! Giant cocktails! Mary had short rib mac & cheese and I had fried chicken with goat cheese apple grits and tabasco maple syrup. (And cocktails of course!) Jon had a chicken sandwich. (*SIGH*) And an Amstel Light. (*TEAR SLIDING DOWN MY CHEEK*)
After lunch and libations at this fine gastropub it was off (just down the street!) to tour the Texas State Capital Building!
Folks... awesome! Awe inspiring! And the best thing... they basically let you wander around on your own to your heart's content!
Oh... sure... there are cameras throughout the building... but they let you roam pretty much wherever you choose - including the basement storage spaces! Folks... this building is huge! Frankly... I found it more impressive than our national Capital in Washington D.C.
After touring the Capital Building and grounds we toured the city - on foot. We had picked a good day to arrive too! October 6 was a home game for the University of Texas Longhorns and Austin was literally inundated by burnt orange tee-shirt wearing Longhorn fans of all ages! Frankly I'd never seen anything like it short of West Point home football games! I'm talking thousands of people... couples... families... city parks and parking lots being used as tailgating centers! And all with the apparent cooperation - and approval - of the Austin city authorities!
After all this "people watching" it was time for a beer, so... off to the Driskill Bar at the Driskill Grill at the Driskill Hotel we went! (Actually... I felt a bit under-dressed for the bar and Jon was hankering for ice cream so after checking out the bar we headed to the 1886 Cafe - also within the Driskill - where Jon ordered tea and dessert and Mary and I ordered... samplers of local Texas beers.
(Yep... Texas has a thriving microbrew industry along with more "mass market" brewing alternatives to Bud, Miller, Coors, and the like.)
We headed back to the apartment after the Driskill in order to freshen up and chart our next move. We decided upon the Broken Spoke for dinner and dancing our first night in Texas!
We got there around 8:00 p.m. I'm guessing and since the dancing didn't start till 9:00 p.m. we decided to eat in the main dining room. They're known for their chicken fried steak and... yep... with good reason! (It was yummy! And huge!) To go with the food there was plenty of Shiner Bock!
As to the dancing... (*SIGH*)... sad to say... we never made it. Actually... we bailed on it. Why? These people are serious about their Texas two-steppin'! and combined with the fact that there were three of us and there was a $15 cover per dancer we just figured discretion was the better part of valor. Besides... the football game was on in the restaurant/bar! There was a good crowd... it was an exciting game... so instead of partaking of the Texas dancing tradition, we simply switched focus to concentrate on becoming part of the Texas drinking while watching football tradition!
(Unfortunately... the Longhorns lost to West Virginia. And no one was more disappointed than me!)
Anyway... that was Saturday - our first day/night in Texas.
Sunday, October 7, 2012... and what better way to start off a Sunday morning than by heading out to a fancy brunch?!
Umm-hum... 11:00 a.m. reservation for three at Green Pastures! Oh, yeah, folks... take a gander at this brunch menu! (And, yes... it tasted as good as it sounds!)
After three hours of brunching and wandering the grounds it was off to...
...the South Austin Brewing Company for their "Groovy Sunday" where you purchase a "tasting glass" for $10 and... er... pretty much "taste" all you want for as long as you want while listening to live music (Penny Jo Pullus that day) and mingling with all sorts of interesting locals and fellow tourists "in the know."
Next... off to Zilker Park for a free outdoor concert that... er... we couldn't seem to find. (Apparently it had been cancelled.)
Next? Well... for some unknown reason our beloved friend and host, Jon, had failed to stock his fridge with beer. So... off to Whole Foods (indeed, the very first Whole Foods... the flagship store) to buy beer and snacks!
Next? Back to the apartment to drink beer and eat snacks!
Next? Well... snacking and drinking makes me hungry and thirsty, so... off to "Hut's" for burgers and... er... lemonade.
Folks... they almost killed me! (In a good way!) Just check out this menu! I had the "Fats Domino" with "Longhorn" beef. Excellent! But what pushed us over the edge wasn't the burgers - though they were huge - but rather the chille cheese fries... all... those... chilli... cheese... fries...
Monday, October 8, 2012... we hit the road before noon headin' west into Hill Country - destination Fredericksburg!
Texas hill country is also Texas wine country. I won't bore you with a blow by blow description of every winery stop, but if you're interested, here's the link to a good overview. Rest assured... we hit quite a few!
One temporary disappointment... as we were driving down Rt. 290 passing through Hye (pop. 105) I notice a sign for Garrison Brothers - the first and oldest legal distillery in Texas. As you can imagine, I immediately followed the arrow and at speeds approaching 155 mph on a certain dirt road (or so it seemed) sped to my appointment with destiny... only to find that the distillery was closed to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Well... as disappointed as I was, I consoled myself with the knowledge that with a slight detour on our way back to Austin from San Antonio come Friday we could indeed visit the distillery as part of our Texas wanderings after all!
After making stops at a few wineries we made it to Fredericksburg and our "home" for the next two nights, the Lazy T.
Let me tell ya, folks... I know how to pick 'em!
Just five minutes out of town but a world away... we had the whole property to ourselves! Technically, we had Room no. 2, but since we were the only guests staying for the two mid-week nights, we had the whole main building to ourselves, meaning the furnished "great room" with it's own big screen TV and comfy chairs and couches as well as the outside - including sole "ownership" of the six person hot tub!
(Oh, yeah... ol' Bill loves a hot tub! Not too hot though; I had to lower the temp from 105-degrees to a more bearable 101-degrees! Believe me, though... we were in that tub every morning and every night! And, oh, what stars...! Simply beautiful!)
Monday night's dinner was at the Navajo Grille.
Alfresco dining at it's best!
Folks... this is me we're talking about. If I came away happy... well... ya know it was good food - and drink!
After our delicious dinner at the Navajo Grill, we stopped in at Silver Creek Beer Garden and Restaurant where they had a blues band playing live music (and mighty fine live music at that!) out on the front patio.
Upon our arrival "home" that night we relaxed under the stars in the hot tub while listening to the chirping of the crickets.
Not a bad life, folks... not a bad life...
Tuesday, October 9, 2012... After a fine breakfast at the Lazy T, cooked and served by our delightful hostess "K.K.", it was off to that jewel of Fredericksburg... The National Museum of the Pacific War.
Folks... make sure to click on the above link and browse the website! This was Mary's favorite part of the whole trip! One of mine, too!
God bless Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz and God bless "The Greatest Generation."
After a good three hours touring the museum inside and out, it was off to Enchanted Rock, well... just because! Beautiful! Simply beautiful! (And a nice little ride scenery wise!)
Having driven out that far and seeing a sign for Llano... we visited there as well!
(Note the Courthouse. Courthouses such as this one - architectural treasures - are scattered throughout Texas in towns large and small! The very concept of Justice sits at the head of Texas consciousness!)
Next... the drive back to Fredericksburg and a stop at the Fredericksburg Brewing Company for a couple brews and some snacks - including a cup of the best cheese soup I've ever had!
Following this... back to the Lazy T for a relaxing dip in the hot tub where we enjoyed the sunset!
Next... the Hill Top Cafe for dinner! Casual... kitchy... and, yet... fine, fine dining! (Check out the menu, folks; google the place for reviews!) Heck... there was even live music - on a Tuesday night! Wonderful food and atmosphere... and the service was simply outstanding!
Following diner... (oh, yeah... Tuesday was a long night) it was off the world famous Luckenbach, Texas!
(*APPROPRIATE MUSICAL INTERLUDE*)
Folks... Luckenbach was awesome!
Nope. No big stars. No huge crowds. Just some "pickers," some singers, cans of Pearl for $3.07
You want "genuine?" Believe me, folks... Luckenbach is the real deal! (Yet tourist friendly!) I ended up having a discussion with the bartender and a couple "good ol' boys" about "delicacies" such as blood puddin', head cheese, and haggis!
We basically "closed" Luckenbach that night, but I got the feelin' that had we wanted to stay and hang... that would have been just fine as well. Luckenbach ain't about the money... it's about the spirit.
Upon returning to the Lazy T late that night... more hot tubbing under the stars!
* To be continued...