In our ongoing series of how to best experience our various home cities as an Arsenal fan, I bring you my beloved Austin -- which, despite its love of all things Longhorn and pointy football, is a soccer-loving (and progressive, and fun, and good-food-making) city. You'll see lots of people here just hanging out in soccer jerseys, and Arsenal's one of the more popular teams in town (though, of course, Barca and various Mexican league teams get their share of shirt-outs.) Here are some things you should know about the Austin experience.
ARSENAL WATCHING IN AUSTIN
Central Time means that, aside from the occasional 6:30 kickoff, we have a lot of 9 am and 11:30 am starts, and a core group of bars that cater to soccer fans and understand their level of devotion (and commitment to the adage, "You can't drink all day if you don't start in the morning").
WHO ARE THEY?
The Austin Gooners, with a 400-strong Facebook membership and gameday crowds that often reach triple digits, can be found at @austingooners and austingooners.com.
WHERE DO THEY WATCH?
Austin Gooners just moved headquarters to The Tavern, located on the northwest corner of the downtown grid. (Motto: "You're never too far from 12th and Lamar;" far-flung suburbanites might beg to differ.)
WHAT'S IT LIKE THERE?
Like a two-story chalet/clubhouse with a dog-friendly outdoor patio, in keeping with Austin's recurrent dog-friendly theme. Since games happen during breakfast/brunch hours, the good folks at The Tavern provide breakfast buffets at games. There's one peculiarity of Texas state law that messes with morning soccer-watching -- no drinking allowed before 10 am on Sunday. (I know, I know.) But otherwise, it's a fun, friendly bar with plenty of TVs, and the Gooners are a boisterous bunch fond of chants and high-fiving goals -- one loyal fan scoops up his two young daughters and does a victory lap around the bar after every Arsenal goal.
Fun fact about the Austin Gooners: There are some decent soccer players in the group -- enough to have routed Austin Liverpool supporters 9-1 in a charity match this past spring. It would have been 10-1, but I Gervinho'd a shot.
WHERE ELSE CAN I WATCH?
Cuatros, the previous home to the Austin Gooners, is home base for the Austin Blues (Chelsea supporters), the Austin chapter of the American Outlaws, and it's pretty much soccer central for any big games. Fado, despite being a chain Irish bar, is another reliable soccer-watching destination that Manchester (both City and United) supporters favor. (New Austin resident Robert Plant has stopped by to watch his beloved Wolverhampton while they were still on TV.) For afternoon and evening games, Black Sheep Lodge (just south of downtown) is an excellent option for afternoon and evening matches. If you want to go to a pub on the side of Austin's ugliest stretch of freeway that's home to Spurs fans, then Mister Tramps is your place.
Also, if you like your soccer live, the Austin Aztex play in the USL Premier Development League during the summer months. Coached by Paul Dalglish (yep, Kenny's son), the team helped launch the rise of up-and-coming Vancouver Whitecaps stud Kekuta Mennah. Another live soccer option: the University of Texas women's team, who play during the fall in a soccer-and-track stadium next to the giant football stadium on the east end of campus.
WHAT ELSE CAN I DO IN YOUR TOWN?
Well, let's start with eating and drinking.
There's outstanding food all over town -- a happy by-product of Austin's tech-fueled growth. I'm partial to Sway (modern Thai), Salt Lick (eat-all-you-can barbecue out in the country), Freedman's (fancified barbecue in a historic 19th century stone house), Mi Madres (insanely good breakfast tacos, and yes, breakfast tacos are a thing), East Side King at the Liberty (a food cart started by Top Chef-winner Paul Qui featuring karaage (Japanese fried chicken) and beet fries, Haymaker (hefty sandwiches and poutine), Frank (artisan sausage and sinful brunch options), and Contigo (South Texas ranch-inspired gourmet awesomeness), but there are numerous choices dealing in virtually every cuisine you can think of.
The flagship Whole Foods on 6th and Lamar is the Disneyland of food, food trucks and food carts are all the rage (and have been for a few years), and plenty of vegetarian options if that's your thing. Oh, and a fellow Gooner recommended Kerbey Lane -- along with Magnolia Cafe, your best bet for a Must Get Rid Of Hangover and/or Must Fuel Up For Next Three Days Breakfast.
Austin's home to some great craft brewers -- Austin Beerworks, Live Oak Brewery, Independence Brewing Co., and if you venture out a little west of town, Jester King. Venture out even further west, and you get to Hye, home to Garrison Brothers Bourbon and a stretch of good-to-incredible wineries extending to Fredericksburg, one of Austin's favorite day-trip destinations.
In town itself, there are a number of bars priding themselves on craft cocktails (though some of the spots have haughty attitudes to go with the fancy drinkmaking). Rainey Street is a narrow, short street on the east edge of downtown with houses that have been converted into pleasant, fun-to-hang-out at bars, East 6th is the backbone of a down-to-earth, hipster-leaning bar district, and West 6th has a core of more upscale bars where professionals hangout, though douche levels can be high here, as "Sunday Funday" is said here without any trace of irony.
The part of Sixth Street you might know best from Austin lore, the downtown section that locals call "Dirty Sixth," is great for college students and 20somethings still relatively new to drinking, but with a few exceptions (Casino El Camino and its ridiculous burgers, Jackalope which for some reason is the West Ham bar), it's your basic nightmare.
Draught House (in the Rosedale neighborhood) gets a special shout-out from me for its immense beer selection and ultra-laid-backness, and if you like dives where it's always Christmas (in the form of a ratty, smoky-smelling Christmas tree), you'll want to check out Lala's Little Nugget in the Crestview neighborhood. Austin's had an official smoking ban in bars for seven years now, but Lala's didn't get the memo.
OTHER THINGS TO DO:
If you're at all into exercise, Zilker Park is home to pick-up soccer, volleyball, hordes of cross-trainers, frisbee-football-players, and dog-walkers, and fronts the awesome Lady Bird Lake Trail where runners and bikers get their laps on. Zilker's also home to the Austin City Limits Music Festival, one of the best music festivals in the country. In March, South By Southwest turns Austin upside down for two weeks and gives music fans a chance to drink from a firehose of free live shows as well as costly official showcases. The "Live Music Capital of the World" moniker still holds up -- in addition to reliable venues like Mohawk, Red 7, and Stubb's, the gorgeous new Austin City Limits Theater (strangely, embedded within the W Hotel downtown) hosts free Austin City Limits tapings (through an online lottery) as well as concerts not necessarily affiliated with the show.
And, if you like movies (and your movies with beer or your movies as events), Austin is home to the Alamo Drafthouse, which started as a single moviehouse with a great concept, but is now expanding to basically take over the world. During the summer, Alamo hosts a weekly movie series that pairs a band with an outdoor movie screening on the Long Center's lovely terrace -- last year's highlights included Jurassic Park with a member of the Jurassic 5 and Flash Gordon with an awesome local Queen cover band called Magnifico.