Barbecue at the LBJ Ranch. Magical. Just magical. A Hill Country autumn night on the banks of the Pedernales River, right where President Lyndon Johnson entertained visitors from around the world. The guests at this benefit for the Friends of the LBJ National Historical Park were mostly local, however, and when Tracy Byrd and the Hot Swing Band took the riverside stage, folks jumped up to two-step on the large dance floor. They chowed down on Salt Lick Barbecue and bid for themed items, including stays at homes on the ranch property. Bonus: I met two newcomers who will loom large in the Johnson legacy world: Patrick Newman, director of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and Susanne McDonald, the incoming superintendent for the National Park, who takes over in January.
Beauty of Life for Hospice Austin. This venerable Austin luncheon has found its home: The JW Marriott. The banquet room is big, but not overwhelming. The acoustics are excellent and the visuals crystal clear. Our waiting luncheon salad was fresh, hearty and nutritious. These things count. People are still learning the parking system at the enormous hotel, but I walk. The crucial thing at this event, however, are the inspirational speakers who help drum up support for the city’s only nonprofit hospice. This year it was Lori and Wayne Earl, whose incredibly creative daughter, Esther, who inspired the novel and movie, “The Fault in Our Stars,” by John Green. She died at 16 of cancer and left behind a cache of writing and illustrations that her parents have turned into a book, “This Star Won’t Go Out.” Hospice Austin knows how to pick ’em.
Seton Angels Take Flight at South Austin Hotel. A new Seton support group has risen up to fill a gap. Seton Angels was introduced at the South Congress Hotel in an almost faultless event that, in part, saluted mega-donors Joe and Teresa Lozano Long. The idea was to motivate the young donors in the house who make up this giving group, the kind that, periodically, decides how to spend their pooled donations. Instead choosing among charitable causes, Seton Angels will pick from a list of need assembled by the Seton Healthcare Family. Unlike some of the older Seton boards — and they have several good ones — this new assembly is not made up of Austin’s longtime families, but rather is assertively diversified. Worth watching.
Food Fight for Les Dames d’Escoffier. Several of Austin’s popular food-and-drink tasting events have grown too hefty. Sprawling spaces. Long lines. Tiny portions. Frantic guests. Not so Food Fight, which annually benefits Les Dames d’Escoffier, a spirited group that provides scholarships and grants for women in the culinary fields. Alma Alcocer (La Alma, Alcomar and the El Chile Group) provided the earthy blue corn quesadillas along with other appetizers, while Fer Candil (Paella, Tapas and More) dished out crispy paella. I spent considerable time with super-informed Kristi Willis and with charming Cora-Ann Meave of the Blue Corn Project, which helps Austinites build and maintain food gardens. Several of the Dames wished aloud that the event at the Barr Mansion would grow in size — naturally, to bring in more money — but I say this small affair is already just right.
Bridging the Gap for New Milestones. When the distinguished dinner speaker recalled that the idealistic Kennedy administration had tried to help the mentally ill by taking them out of institutions and putting them into community settings — a failed effort by some standards — a man within my sightline sneered: “Liberals!” Then, when Dr. Stephen Strakowski, head of psychiatry at the Dell Medical School, went down the litany of legislatures that repeatedly failed to raise enough money to fund those community efforts, the ideologue nearby fell silent.”The Gap” between what we as a society think is needed to treat the mentally hill and what legislators think is sufficient is a central concern for New Milestones Foundation. Strakowski’s presentation was extremely informative and he reiterated that the Dell School will put considerable emphasis on mental health care solutions. Not a decade too soon.
First Birthday Bash for Austin Book Arts Center. Mary Baughman, who is turning into one of my most trusted sources on certain subjects, wanted me to attend this event, but I was booked. Hey, it’s that time of year. Look, though, here she is at the party with the inimitable Turk Pipkin, always the first person you want to greet at any shindig. Handy Amanda Stevenson sent us a report from the event, which netted $4,000 for the Austin Book Arts Center programs and for expansion at the Flatbed Building. Since September 2015, the group has offered 57 workshops, Stevenson says, “to engage people in creative, interpretive and educational experiences related to the arts of the book.” I’m all in.
Ride for the Roses for Livestrong. We were already booked on this date, too. You know the drill: It’s that time of year. Still it’s worth remembering that this remains one of Austin’s largest charities with extremely loyal followers despite the ups and downs of founder Lance Armstrong. According to Katherine McLane from the Mach 1 group — and formerly of Livestrong — thousands of riders still participate the the Livestrong Challenge / Ride for the Roses through downtown. Many also attended a homecoming celebration dinner, including state Sen. Kirk Watson, a founding board member of Livestrong and a cancer survivor. A good sign for the future of this group that pledged $50 million to a cancer institute at the new Dell Medical School: McLane reports that the race activities this year raised $1.3 million. Don’t know yet if that’s gross or net.
UPDATE: The Livestrong Challenge item was added after the first posting.
During the first United States Grand Prix in Austin, posh parties popped up all over downtown. Million-dollar transitory lounges (or rumored to cost that much), after-hours nightclubs, velvet-rope blow-outs. A big chunk of Central Austin was turned into a street party. Promoters rented out the Erwin Center and Austin Convention Center for goliath events.
Then it all evaporated. Except one agglomerated three-day party (see social report below), plus a few promising but relatively modest affairs.
Why? I asked influencers this week.
Theory No. 1: The F1 novelty wore off. Not for core fans, mind you. But for those whose prior interest in the global sport had been faint and ambiguous at best. As almost every observer noted at the time, F1 didn’t exactly match the city’s pre-existing culture. Once the big crowds of visitors melted into the city — or skipped Austin for Mexico City — the Grand Prix became just another Austin mega-fest. A nice one when the weather is fine. Not so much when it turns nasty.
Theory No. 2: Ostentatiously exclusive social events never really worked on a large scale in Austin. Sure, there’s always some sort of easily ignored VIP access at galas, music concerts, sporting events and such. Yet the idea of multiple lines outside a club — with entry denied to all but the privileged of fame, face or fortune — just doesn’t seem right to us. Notice, for instance, how quickly the ultra-lounge trend petered out. Some of those early over-the-top F1 parties thrived on that kind of class system. Not very Austin.
Theory No. 3: Our F1 guests ending up doing what almost all tourists do here: What we already do every week. Eat out. Roam the streets. Go to clubs and unpretentious parties. Shop. Fan out into our cool neighborhoods. They aren’t looking for a replica of an experience to be had in Abu Dhabi or Kuala Lumpur. They crave authentic Austin. That’s one reason the short-term-lease sensation took off — and seems to have crested in the face of strife and regulation — because some of our visitors prefer being housed like Austinites while they act like Austinites.
Full Tilt/Blu/My Yacht Club. Three fine F1 parties have survived — and thrived — as a blended event. At the old Antone’s at West Fifth and Lavaca streets — cleaned and brightened up — the Full Tilt Fashion show launched the festivities on Friday night. Later in the evening, Blu and My Yacht Club joined forces at that same venue. That combined social effort will repeat on Saturday, while an after-party for the racing teams is planned for Sunday.
As for the fashion show, the hosts experimented with what we in theater call “environmental staging,” scattering tiny performance platforms throughout the venue. Instead of trotting down a runway, the models filtered through the masses and then posed — almost as if caught off guard — on the assorted mini-stages. There, they were swarmed by photographers and fashion-forward followers. And oh, meantime, I engaged in conversation with some genuinely fascinating folks. Although I could have done without the velvet-rope treatment outside, I’m delighted that this amalgamated affair — and a few other F1 pop-ups — flourish.
This week, a new cause, UnDebate.Us, debuted two days after a robust Archives Bazaar and a heart-warming Hyde Park Reunion.
UnDebate.Us Premiere Party. The timing could not be more pivotal. One day before what is sure to be another toxic presidential debate, a new Austin group revealed its mission to restore trust and kindness to civic discourse. Founded by Brian Cooper and Kellie Jetter, UnDebate.Us aims to apply five integrated components to new norms — emphasis on empathy training — for productive dialogue in schools, businesses and communities. Several dozen snappily dressed influencers gathered at the South Congress Hotel to toast the idea, heralded by philanthropist — and quite the idea man himself — Tom Meredith. After an hour of planned program, however, several otherwise sharp guests still couldn’t figure out how an UnDebate works, or what was expected of us at this launch party. But we’re all ears. Anything would be better than our currently deteriorating national climate of civility.
Austin Archives Bazaar. This shockingly lively event grouped agents from 26 area archives in the old Saengerrunde Halle, while authors and archivists presented their research cases to guests at picnic tables in the Scholz Garten. Now some of these repositories — such as the Austin History Center, Briscoe Center for American History, Benson Latin American Collection and Ransom Center — I’ve used for decades. Others, like the LBJ Presidential Library, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Texas Archeological Research Laboratory and Texas General Land Office, I’ve cracked open only in the past few years. There’s so many more! Then there are those I didn’t know existed, including those dedicated to Catholic, Episcopalian and Presbyterian records. I’m especially looking forward to accessing the Carver Genealogy Center and following one person’s pursuit of ancestors.
Hyde Park Reunion. The eighty-somethings lived within a few houses of each other in Hyde Park during the 1930s and ’40s. Several of their fathers were called up for duty during World War II, and several had served in the Korean War themselves. They attended Baker and Lee schools, University Junior High, Austin High and, religiously, the University of Texas. “It was right across the street,” remarked one of merry group that assembled in the Northwest Hills area for their fourth reunion. All told, more than a dozen guests in their ninth decades — sharing the expected medical complaints, but, all told, in robust shape — talked into the evening about cherished Austin memories and more recent adventures. While all this — and barbecue — was going on, I interviewed seven lifelong companions. Look for a story in December.
South First Street rivals South Congress Avenue in several ways, including its comparable wealth of quality coffee shops.
Seventh Flag Coffee Co. 1506 South First St. seventhflagcoffee.com. Open 6:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun. Parking in back. Strong Wi-Fi. Teas and chai. No decaf. Music sometimes loud. Despite traffic outside, picnic area fairly quiet.
I adore this place. This, despite the fact they don’t carry decaf coffee of any kind. The owner took an old wood residence and transformed the inside with almost Scandinavian precision and lightness, then added a variety of tables and counters accompanied by amazingly comfortable molded wooden stools. One low couch sits in a niche and shaded picnic tables tempt the mostly young crowd on fine days. Perhaps to maintain quality or efficiency, the menu is quite limited. An increasing number of themed non-food-and-drink items are for sale. Three toasts have proven quite popular, and there are also a few nutrition bars, water and juices on offer. The always alert baristas — who looked like they were hired from the same talent agency — moved over recently to City of Saints coffee beans for espresso-based drinks, as well as cold and hot brews. Sometimes the musical volume is too loud for us oldsters, but they’ll turn it down if you ask. What do I order without the decaf option? Coconut green iced tea in the summer, green tea in winter, unless I’m going crazy on the caffeine. Above a mantle hangs a black flag adorned with seven white stars. It reads: “Our country of friends.” Indeed. Both my husband and I feel supremely at home here.
Once Over Coffee Bar. 2009 S. First St. 512-326-9575. onceovercoffeebar.com. Open 7:30 a.m.- 9 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat., 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun. Onsite parking in front. Good Wi-Fi, no password. Decaf, teas and chai. Muted music. Serenely quiet on back creekside deck.
One of the first places in town to offer French press coffee, Once Over now uses a shiny Curtis Gold Cup machine, which a helpful barista described as “robo pour over,” to go along with espresso drinks. Recessed in a nondescript strip center, this always packed place offers a few tables out front under a big tree surrounded by untended planters, as well as a divine creekside deck out back. Now that nearby Bouldin Creek Cafe is more of a restaurant and less of a coffee shop, the mix-and-match Once Over provides the most reliable link to the neighborhood’s funky coffee house past. It’s very laid back. There’s a 10 percent discount if you use cash and another $.25 if you bring your own cup. You don’t pay at point of contact, but rather after being served. The excellent drinks aren’t extravagant or whimsical. The baristas pours four types of red wine and four types of white wine, along with Austin Beer Works varieties. The usual snacks and pastries call out to an easy mix of people working on projects together or alone. The baristas usually engage with folks sitting at the long, bar-like counter. As you could guess from the rest of this description, a good number of guests are loyal regulars, who engage in fluent banter with the staff.
Summer Moon Coffee. 3115 S. First St. 512-804-1665. woodfiredcoffee.com. 6 a.m.-12 a.m. Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-10 p.m Sat., 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Fri.Some onsite parking, also street parking nearby. Solid Wi-Fi with password posted on chalkboard near entrance. Decaf (Americano), teas, chai. Moderately loud music. Not too noisy on small deck out front.
This place is very popular with students. And the brand has expanded to other neighborhoods since this original shop opened in a tiny strip center on South First not far from St. Edward’s University. A good deal of emphasis is placed on the fire-roasted coffee beans — “100 percent organic, 100 percent Arabica” — and products that come with variations on the shop’s name, including Moon Milk (secret recipe). The five kinds of breakfast tacos usually sell out by 10 a.m., a Sunday barista told me, after which one can choose from three types of sandwiches or wraps, along with pastries and snacks. A few comfy chairs and meeting tables complement a fascinating staple-shaped laptop counter. I like that this place maintains a sense of humor, which is adopted without coyness by the young baristas. The stone and wood decor lend Summer Moon a sense of place, and although I can’t tell you why the fire roasting makes a difference, the coffee here is definitely superior.
UPDATE: Fair Bean Coffee has closed.
Starbucks. 516 W. Oltorf St. 512-534-6654. starbucks.com. Open until 11 p.m. Not too much parking, plus a drive-through ramp. Instantaneous Wi-Fi. Decaf (pour-over or Americano), teas, chai. Low music. Partially shaded outdoor seating set back from busy intersection.
Face it, this part of South Austin deserved a big, new, drive-through Starbucks. Sometimes, that’s exactly the option you need. The new one at Oltorf and South First streets takes the place of a defunct chicken joint. If you are driving there, enter via westbound Oltorf or northbound South First. Don’t try left turns across traffic into the undersized parking lot. Do try the smooth-as-latte drive-through. The interior is vast, enclosing with windows on three sides at least two dozens metal seats and two types of stools, some counter seating, also some lounge seating. The pristine wood, concrete and masonry finishes dampen the feeling of chain sameness. Partially shaded seating invites one outside, but only on the sunny west and south sides. Of course, there’s a dazzling array of espresso and cold brew selections, as well as bagged coffee beans, water, chips, juices, pastries, teas. A sign you’ll probably see more often: “Now serving almond milk”! The college-age baristas handle the traffic handily, happily. Despite all the hard surfaces, the place doesn’t sound loud and there are plenty of spots to close those laptops to chat. Of course, Starbucks is a globally recognized way of life, not just a coffee shop, which you can take or leave at will.
Starting with the Pop Austin preview party at a Zen-like West Lake Hills-area home, we had quite the crackling week around town.
Pop Austin Preview Party. Almost every piece of art sparked a familiar feeling. That’s because almost every one came from the hand of a distinguished artist, mostly Americans from the late 20th century. If the prices were a little steep for someone on a reporter’s salary, they fell within the range of an determined art lover starting a collection with a definite cash advantage. The preview party for the third iteration of Pop Austin attracted a knowing, mod crowd to a harmonious West Lake Hills home that — no surprise — was or still is for sale. We couldn’t find out the name of the architect, but the house and grounds were clearly a labor of intense love for one or more designers. Pop Austin, teaming with the Texas Cultural Trust, has gone in a new direction this year, offering more edifying sessions for those curious about the art.
SafePlace Celebration. I don’t know how they do it. The survivor speakers, I mean. As often is the case, one of them who gave testimony at the 2016 SafePlace Celebration was not identified by name. Her story of spousal abuse and at times incomplete redemption would rend the heart of any third party telling it, but it was especially effective coming from the steady voice of the victim herself. Also sharing his story — without as much detail but no less dignity — was multi-sport athlete and Longhorns hero Quan Cosby. And it never ceases to amaze me the folks behind the scenes of Austin’s nonprofit scene, such as attorney Karen Bartoletti, who humbly accepted Guardian Award for her decades of commitment, from the founding of the Austin Rape Crisis Center in the 1970s to the SAFE Alliance of today. I was tickled to sit with the performers and stagehands from the the Mrs., who shared their powerful video, “Draw the Line,” which benefits SAFE. I was particularly pleased because the utterly charming Larissa Ness sings and plays keyboards in the band. An oh, the guests really ate up the school cafeteria theme for this key benefit.
“Priscilla Queen of the Desert” Premiere Party. In the lobby of the Topfer Theatre, the most frequently heard phrase turned out to be: “ahead of its time.” Tick off the subjects that the 1994 Australian movie, “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” pioneered: Gay parenting, post-operative transsexuality, advanced theories of drag. The chatter around Zach Theatre‘spremiere party was as much about the musical’s socio-political history as it was about the gloriously outrageous costumes, insistent disco music and knives-in-the-back dialogue. I spent time with Miss Kitty Litter ATX and Peter D. Reid because they represented an international drag group that was among the centerpieces of the celebration before, during and after the show. The stage version, which took a long route from Australia to London to Broadway, then on the road and on to Austin’s main local stage, never fails to light up audiences and such was the case this night.
Victor Emanuel Awards Luncheon for Travis Audubon. Wow. This little affair has taken flight. Once a rather sedate luncheon, the Victor Emanuel Conservation Awards ceremony, which benefits Travis Audubon,now assembles several hundred guests at the renovated Austin Country Club. All one has to do is cast a glance at the previous winners of the honor — Bob Ayres, Georgean and Paul Kyle, J. David Bamberger, Carter Smith, Andrew Samson and the eponymous Victor Emanuel — to figure out this is the local conservation Oscars. This year, introduced by multiple speakers, the laurels went to Valarie Bristol, former Travis County Commissioner and key architect of the vast Balcones Canyonlands Preserve as well as other globally lauded projects. And what other party would you hear this question right away: “What interesting birds have you seen lately”?
Franklin Barbecue, Bourbon and Brews for Project Transitions. Utmost simplicity. The new tall, clean-lined 800 Congress events venue, formerly Hickory Street Cafe. Franklin Barbecue served on one side. Craft brews and bourbon on the other side. Low and high tables inside and out. The Project Transitions afternoon benefit could not have been more unfussy or more pleasurable. We also nabbed a chance to talk with new and old friends, including the AIDS group’s program director, Todd Logan, who explained the new challenges to the venerable group as the crisis moves well beyond the gay community — who still made up a good number of the guests this day — and onto campaigns to manage the disease. Turns out one of the biggest hurdles is just getting people to take their live-saving medications. Good that there are folks who care about this cause more than almost 40 years into its history.
Condé Nast Office Launch Party. This says something: When media company Condé Nast (Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, The New Yorker, etc.) opened its southern headquarters — a digital innovation center — they chose Austin. On Oct. 4, they inaugurated their offices on East Sixth Street. “Austin has become an epicenter of digital talent and creativity, and establishing our presence there will not only enable us to accelerate our growth, but it also will provide us with insight into cutting edge technology and keep us at the forefront of the industry,” said Fred Santarpia, executive vice president and chief digital officer for the firm in a release. I could not make the event, but I’ll be watching this development and its 50 or so workers closely.
UPDATE: David Bamberger’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.
This week, we’ve got a novel, a true crime tale, an investigative report, a sports chronicle and a family history among the latest Texas titles to cipher.
“The Devil’s Sinkhole.” Bill Wittliff. University of Texas Press. Wittliff appears at BookPeople on Oct. 10. We can’t wait to bury ourselves deeper into this sequel to Witliff’s highly praised first novel, “The Devil’s Backbone.” Set in a rugged slash of Central Texas, both books follow the adventures of a frontier boy, Papa, told in irresistible dialect. Although it takes the loose form of a series of folktales — illustrated with bone-dry wit by Joe Ciardiello — one can also imagine the “Devil’s” duo as a movie or a mini-series, which shouldn’t surprise us, coming as they do from the Austin screenwriter who gave us the magnificent “Lonesome Dove” mini-series. We promise more reporting on Wittliff and his spiky stories, rightly compared to Mark Twain’s and J. Frank Dobie’s.
“Wolf Boys: Two American Teenagers and Mexico’s Most Dangerous Cartel.” Dan Slater. Simon & Schuster. Dan Slater appears at BookPeople on Oct. 7. This is “Beyond Breaking Bad” for real. Two otherwise promising Laredo boys, along with their friends, join the Zetas drug-smuggling cartel and go deep into its hyper-violent culture on both sides of the border. The boys are tracked by a veteran detective with cultural insights into their background. A magazine reporter, Slater knows how to tell a thrilling story in long form. This book, excerpted in Texas Monthly and banned in the Texas prison system, also illuminates the inner lives of the Laredo and Nuevo Laredo hoods far from the tourist traps and NAFTA highways. Another book that screams out for dramatization.
“Faustian Bargains: Lyndon Johnson an Mac Wallace in the Robber Baron Culture of Texas.” Joan Mellen. Bloomsbury. LBJ attracts a certain prosecutorial style of reporting, even decades after he left positions of power. Think of the Robert Caro magnum opus. From all available indications, the late president deserved that kind of attention. If one sets aside his monumental political achievements and their subsequent shortcomings, it’s also clear he was also involved with shady characters such as Malcolm “Mac” Wallace, who shot the lover of LBJ’s unpredictable sister, Josefa, herself doubling as Wallace’s paramour. He was not only defended by LBJ’s lawyer, he went on to bypass vetting and do work for a major defense contractor. Mellen turns up a lot of previously unrevealed evidence and makes a potent case. Documentary film in the making?
“Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Texas: A Year in the Life of Lone Star Football, from High School to College to the Cowboys.” Nick Eatman. Dey St. The “year in the life” format is time-tested in sports, movies, law-making and the arts. Eatman, who manages and writes for DallasCowboys.com, starts with the premise that football is a year-round activity central to the lives of Texans throughout the state. So he follows the Plano Wildcats, Baylor Bears and Dallas Cowboys through the 2015 season, packed with ups and downs, and, if you were paying any attention at the time, you’d can predict some of the spectacular scandals. Eatman has been given extraordinary access to the high school, college and pro teams, in part because he has been following all three levels of the sport for a long time. (His previous two books were “Art Briles: Looking Up” and “If These Walls Could Talk: Dallas Cowboys.”) There’s no attempt to get under the skin of the culture in the way of H.G. Bissinger’s “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team and a Dream,” but there’s a lot of football here and Texans can’t get enough of that.
“The Long Shadow: The Lutcher-Stark Lumber Dynasty.” Ellen Walker Rienstra and Jo Ann Stiles. Tower Books. I have long wanted this story told. After cotton and before oil, for the most part, there was Texas timber and the family fortunes associated with it. One formidable tribe dominated the field for a long time. The dynastic enterprise was founded by Henry Jacob “H.J.” Lutcher, then was vastly expanded by his son-in-law, William Henry “H.W.” Stark. Profits from Lutcher-Stark investments were devoted to philanthropy by Henry Jacob Lutcher “Lutcher” Stark, creator of the Stark Foundation of Orange, which was followed much later by the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports at the University of Texas. The Foundation commissioned Ellen Walker Rienstra, a contract historian, and Jo Ann Stiles, who taught history at Lamar University, to write this richly researched this in-house family biography, published as an imprint of UT Press.
October and March might be the busiest Austin months, socially. You can attribute part of that to the ACL Music Festival in the fall and to South by Southwest in the spring. We offer some other options for the next couple of weeks.
Ping me if I missed a big one that comes before Oct. 21!