Kenneth Threadgill stood in line all night to be the first person in Travis County to get a beer license. It was 1933, and the bootlegger and country-music connoisseur had plans to evolve his filling station into something bigger—though even Threadgill probably couldn't have anticipated how big it would become.
It started with touring musicians stopping in for drinks after their shows. By the ’60s, Janis Joplin was on stage, polishing her unpolished sound for crowds from all walks of life. The evolution continued, with Threadgill's hosting artists from Jerry Lee Lewis to Captain Beefheart and expanding into a Southern-style restaurant where the love of music ironed out disagreements and engendered an atmosphere of tolerance.
Today, the original location on North Lamar harks back to Threadgill's beginnings, with current owner Eddie Wilson decking the place out with decor that evokes the Austin of the 1930s to the 1960s, including vintage signs that say, “I can’t wait for the internet to be invented.” The second location on West Riverside celebrates the 1970s music scene that thrived at the Armadillo—Wilson's former establishment at that location. At both venues, chefs churn out classic Southern food, such as chicken-fried steak and fried green tomatoes, while frequent live music entertains guests.
Chef David Garrido has been creating a buzz in the Austin dining scene for years. And people have taken notice. The former chef at the popular fine-dining establishment Jeffrey's was invited to the James Beard House in New York City and to open a Jeffrey's at the Watergate in Washington DC. He has also appeared on the Food Network show Chopped and did Dancing with Stars Austin.
At Garrido's Patio Dining, he combines fresh, local, and organic ingredients into his New World Latino cuisine—his playful twist on traditional Mexican recipes. Garrido whips up lamb chops coated in a chile-honey demiglaze and topped with mango-cilantro yogurt, and he stuffs tacos with creative ingredients such as coffee-rubbed steak and gulf snapper. He also fries oysters and piles them atop yucca root chips, and then sends the dish out with habanero honey aioli.
Diners enjoy these dishes outside on the patio, which overlooks picturesque Shoal Creek and cools patrons off with misters and fans. They can also dine inside, where live music and refreshing cocktails—including watermelon-jalapeño margaritas and mojitos made with fresh mint—inspire dance competitions to determine who takes home leftovers. The restaurant is open for dinner seven days a week and brunch Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Once upon a time, a chameleon named Hugo sat on a balcony watching his owner eat dinner with a glass of Chinaco Anejo. The phone rang, and the owner went inside to answer it. Upon her return, the owner found the glass of Anejo sitting empty next to a satisfied Hugo, a boozy grin on the lizard's face. The next day, the owner again took her dinner on the balcony, but this time she sat down to a savory chameleon steak. This fable is the inspiration for Hugo’s Restaurant Y Tequila Bar—a place where no number of thirsty chameleons could exhaust the stock of more than 75 tequilas.
The chilled tequilas range from familiar to exotic and artisanal, and the menu of Southwestern fare definitely plays to area favorites by using locally grown ingredients. Entrees include duck-confit-stuffed tortillas and chorizo pork rib eye sheathed with a balsamic-blackberry-ancho jam. Though tequila is the star of the drink list at Hugos, diners can also choose from more than 25 beers and a selection of specialty cocktails including a strawberry-basil mojito and a Flamethrower Especial martini, mixed with one part gin and two parts actual flamethrower.
Although Esther's Follies' variety show of music, magic, and comedy recalls the vaudevillian entertainment of yesteryear (albeit with a more acerbic modern bent), the nostalgia goes beyond just the performances. The longstanding venue and comedy troupe was named after Esther Williams, the Golden Age starlet whose career as a professional swimmer led to numerous iconic MGM films. Posters for several of these pictures are plastered throughout the space, and an undersea mural bustling with brightly-hued coral, kaleidoscopic marine life, and even a Loch Ness monster further contributes to Esther's otherworldly, aquatic theme. The magical environment, along with the shows themselves, have wowed audiences and Austin Chronicle critics alike.
On the production end, Esther's Follies busts guts in record speed with satirical quips on current events; relevant parodies; and high-stepping, fast-paced comedy sketches. Resident magician Ray Anderson keeps things light with levitation illusions known to dazzle crowds. As the Follies cast ignites into choral skewerings of front-page newsmakers, audiences will laugh so hard that giggles come out their noses.
In what was once a generic roadside warehouse, Patsy's Cowgirl Cafe now brims with inviting, kitschy personality. Shannon Sedwick and Michael Shelton, the entrepreneurs behind comedy hotspot Esther's Follies, decorated the ceiling with tumbleweeds and tree branches and built a bar inlaid with mosaic tilework. There's a stage for live music or tomato-throwing duels, behind which a mural depicts a cowgirl on horseback rearing up against the sunset. In the words of Austin Chronicle writer Virginia B. Wood, "Patsy's has great style and personality, the drinks are good, and the eclectic selection of local music is free."
The food is another popular reason to visit. Chefs prepare Texas staples such as hand-breaded chicken-fried steak with cracked-pepper gravy, and they also put their own spin on the classics with dishes such as chicken-fried portobello mushrooms in vegetarian cilantro-cream sauce. There's also a roster of burgers and veggie burgers named after local celebrities, and libations such as the mexican martini with tequila, triple sec, lime juice, and olive juice.
Though named for a fixture of a bygone era and reportedly haunted by its ghosts, Speakeasy lives in the present: its three floors fill with modern music each night. On the first floor, live music from local bands spills through Speakeasy Live, where hardwood accents, art-deco lamps, candle-lit tables, and exposed brick complement a Jazz Age atmosphere. On the Mezzanine level, a full bar, antique couches, and two vintage bowling lanes overlook the main stage. Lanes are open Tuesday through Sunday.
At the top of a 59-step staircase, patrons emerge onto Terrace59—a neon-lit rooftop lounge that offers panoramic views of downtown Austin. The terrace stays heated during the colder months, while a canopy allows the full bar to serve and lively music to play even in the event of inclement weather and cushions the fall of DJs who decided to parachute in. On each of the three floors, servers pour all kinds of drinks, many of which are named for people, places, and events associated with Prohibition.