Question: What have I been longing for? Answer: A visit to my favorite Texas town that didn’t involve a wedding, conference or another event weekend that, while they are always fun, is definitely packed with an agenda that is not my own.
So when an opportunity came my way that would take me to Capital-town and allow me to make my own agenda….shopping and eating at some of Austin’s hippest! I couldn’t resist and hitched a ride with my better-half who had some bus. in the city and allowed me to be free to shop till I dropped……easy Austin-style!
I’m recapping some of my highlights from my days there, in hopes that you too can experience some free days in this great city to follow my path. I’d like to go back and do the same trip for art and music but couldn’t get it in this time.
Day I……Reunion Tour Roz and Samantha Bernstein, co-founder of The Chic Sheet and her precious reason for leaving, daughter,Blake Sophia.
After meeting for lunch at South Congress Café (loved the menu, must try it!) with Samantha and major catching-up, we picked up Blake Sophia from school and then the Girls took me on a two-hour car drive of Austin, by neighborhood…..showing, explaining and then giving me the Houston equivalent so that I would really get it and I did! A-town began making more sense to me than just for the longhorns, the music, the night life and the hills. It became a real city, that I understood for the first time.
I knew all about the lakes, but learned that Congress is like 5th Ave. in NYC, divides the Number Streets from West to East. 6th Street I knew about but left with a greater appreciation for some of the other numbered streets like 2nd, 4th and 12th to name a few. Learned that East Austin is really starting to happen…had only been there for the amazing breakfasts at Sysco (ala Buffalo Grille or Breakfast Klub). Artists are finding this area and moving in to live and work, bringing it to life.
We toured some great neighborhoods like Tarrytown (West U.ish), Old Enfield, as in old Austin money, Clarksville, retro-looking neighborhood where the Enfield workers had lived years ago (now very Heights-like); Westlake for a speedy drive-thru as I’d been there multiple times; Rainey St. & the Bars; followed The Windsor on the Lake Trail along the lake; saw many great lake front homes, including SB’s parents (note to all: there is a company in Austin called Home Away.com where you can rent many of these great homes for short or long term usage).
Dinner: Ended the day with a perfect meal at Uchiko (photo below) where we let our waiter lead us thru an amazing menu and he definitely batted a thousand. Every plate outdid the next. Here are a few dishes that we had that night that you must try when you make it to this awesome restaurant. Hotate Midori (short ribs), Hama Chili, Grilled Brussel Sprouts, Madoui (sashimi with rice), Maguro (raw tuna w/goat cheese & apples)…..and the finale, which I had to be convinced to order, Fried Milk served with chocolate milk and chocolate mousse was unbelievable. What a night, what a meal!!!
Day II…….Some Serious Shopping
Day II, after an amazing walk along the lake in the morning, I went it alone, so I started with lunch-on-the-go at a Food Truck at the Food Truck food court on a South Congress lot before heading out to visit the two main stores I was there to see: By George boutique and Kendra Scott Jewelers that just happened to be next to one another.
First, By George (I visited both locations, SoCo & No. Lamar) was chocked full of so many contemporary designers, many of which I had not heard of, which is why I love and purchase from this store.
In SoCo, the more casual of the two locations had a limited amount of my fave Austin gals, Herff Christiansen who I had wanted to visit with but they were in San Antonio for the week There was a lot of true contemporary in great styles…Elizabeth & James, Rag & Bone, Heather, Madison Marcus, Steve Allen and a new fave from that visit…Ulla Johnson plus a new find, a lip scrub from Sara Happ, whose name I’ve been seeing around quite a bit of late. At their headquarter store on No. Lamar, the designer pickings from Isabell Marant, Lanvin, Derek Lam, Michael Kors, Carven and many more were divine!
Kendra Scott, whose quick rise to national stardom began only 10 years ago when she made her first jewelry pieces in her very own bedroom, has become a mainstay of Austin retail, where her headquarters are based. She has the SoCo store, a store in Beverly Hills, managed by my daughter’s BFF Jessica Meyerson and then another store in Dallas, as well as being carried in many of the best retail stores in the country such as Neiman’s, Nordstrom, Bloomie’s and Lord & Taylor and her online store, of course. A Houston opening, we hear, is around the corner, we are hopeful.
In a season of color, Kendra has it all, which is what she is known for, especially with the inception of her Color Bars, (pictured) where you can literally work with a KS sales manager to create Kendra Scott jewelry as YOU want it. You pick the metal, the color and the sizes of the stones from her select styles and presto, you have just the earrings you dreamed of.
St. Cecelia, opened last winter, is a converted Victorian house, hidden by enormous trees and offering nine modern studios, bungalows and five rooms, starting at $275. Hotel San Jose, around for awhile, where I have stayed is more affordable with doubles starting at $90/$160.
Nearby is the year old Kimber Modern Hotel, behind the Continental Club at 110 The Circle, where there are a mere six rooms starting at $250. All of these
quaint hotels are in the SoCo area but if you prefer the hustle and bustle of Downtown, there is always the Four Seasons, the W, all of the chain hotels and coming in the near future a new Marriott Intercontinental near the Convention Center, being built by a great friend of my bro’s from San Diego, Doug Manchester and his son and which from his description to us last summer when we were visiting his amazing resort The Grand DelMar, sounds to be fabulous when opened.
The Numbered Streets: A visit to Julian Gold on West 6th St., just because I had never been there and it’s somewhat of an Austin shopping landmark. Also because they were advertising Claudia Labou as a P.A., who I have come to know from her many visits to Tootsies (one coming up in April, in fact) and I wanted to stop by to say hi. I found an array of designers, targeted to the boomer generation with variety from Tory Burch to Giorgio Armani…something for everyone.
I ended my shopping day with a visit to Kick Pleat at 918 West 12th Street and
was thoroughly delighted with my findings from this store that I had on my list as a newbie to Austin, only to find out that it’s been there for 8 years?! Owned by Wendi Coletar, who purchases for the store from NYC and Paris was not there but I had a great time chatting with manager, Michelle Foster, who told me the store was recently published in the March issue of Lucky Magazine. There were many things I fell in love with…..all contemporary and at contemporary designer pricing. I’m still thinking of a mixed media dress of sheer with linen from Le Prairie de Paris at $360 that I wished I had purchased. The store specializes in emerging designers such as Acne, Rachel Comey, Lizzy Fortunato jewelry, and Shine that did a “Miami pant” in blonde with navy side stripe for $289 that I also have obsessed over. Good news here is there is a shopping website, www.kickpleat.com. Check it out!
Dinner: Could not be in Austin for three days without a treck to mi familia, Damian Mandola’s restaurant at the winery in Driftwood, Texas, called Trattoria Lisina. The weather cooperated, the evening was divine, the setting was one of beauty and the restaurant had such a warm, great feel of mix of mostly old Europe with a touch of modernity. However, the star of the night was the food. We went with my dear friend Peggy Poling (Peggy Poling Designs for fine event linens) and her hubby Dana Copp. Because we were four we were able to try many different dishes and a great red wine suggested by Damian, all making for a flavorable evening to remember.
Day III: A little more Shopping and Eating on our Way Out of Town!
As I had pooped out the day before from all of the shopping around town, I knew that it would not be complete without a visit to 2nd Street, home of this coming week’s food and art fair and an area I’ve been hearing is definitely on the rise. As we were antsy to get home, we stopped for our Austin Mexican food fix at La Condesa, a modern artsy twist on some great Mexican food…..I loved the guacamole and salsa sampler of various takes on two of my favorite foods! Then off to visit some stores along the street, mostly small novelty stores like a music store, Eliza Page, a great jewelry store find, Estilo boutique and various home stores that we browsed through plus a visit to Urban Outfitters to see just how the chain tweaked their assortments for A-town! (not much). Clearly, my steam had begun to fizzle and I didn’t feel I had the time to truly grasp all that 2nd Street had to offer….save for next time!
As I said good-bye to Austin, I felt such gratification for three days well spent. Visited with great friends, saw the city in a different way than I had in the past and hopefully, left my readers with a guide to follow on some of the highlights of this very special Texas city. There is no surprise that everyone wants to live there….and that the current population has grown to 1.8 million for the area….nothing quite like it and it’s not just about Keeping Austin Weird, its about Keeping Austin Awesome!