Firing off bottle rockets for 5 fall Austin parties

More than 30 top parties still to go this fall Austin season — no exaggeration — but we take them one at a time.

Texas wins on a lovely fall day. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Let’s pause for a moment first to salute the Longhorns’ win over the Bears last Saturday. Not as big a deal as the Chicago Cubs breaking a 108-year-old curse, for sure, but fun to watch in person, and a good sign for Austin.

Heather Bendes and Georgia Fontana at Girls Empowerment Network 20th Birthday Party at W Austin Hotel. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Girls Empowerment Network of Austin 20th Birthday Party. Originally, it was called the Ophelia Project, inspired by Mary Pipher’s “Saving Ophelia,” a 1994 book about the social pressures on American adolescent girls. The Girls Empowerment Network now tackles body image, peer relationships and juvenile justice, as well as mental and physical health for girls. The cocktail party at the W Hotel Austin featured some of the city’s most empowered women, including Austin first lady Diane Land. Board chairwoman Heather Bendes outlined for me all the group’s activities, but I could still learn much more. Note on the clever event timing: Many hosts try to beat the traffic with a rush hour reception, but they don’t start early enough. At 5:30 p.m., this one was not hard to make while 6 p.m. seems to be cursed.

Helen and Ed Ingram at Pease Park Conservancy Fall Party. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Pease Park Conservancy Fall Party. Never underestimate the power of a well-produced video for a nonprofit. The Pease Park Conservancy was blessed with cooler weather this year for its fall fundraiser at Allan House, the mansion just northwest of the Travis County Courthouse, which makes an unpredictable events venue. In this group’s case, the choice was emboldened by its perch above the nearly forgotten Little Shoal Creek Canyon. I spoke with numerous engaging citizens, including District 9 Austin City Council Member Kathie Tovo and District 10 candidate Alison Alter.  (Someday, I’ll learn the new districts by heart.) Back to that video: It features some swell drone shots of the city’s first park, but also some testimony from people we really respect, such as architect Emily Little, activist Richard Craig and civic leader Tom Spencer.

Joyce Blaxingame has manned this gate at Royal-Memorial Stadium for longer than she can remember. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Longhorns 35, Bears 34. For more than 30 years, I’ve tried to make at least one University of Texas Longhorns football game every season at Royal-Memorial Stadium. The rest of match-ups, I watch on TV. Still, there’s no beating the pageantry and potency of 100,000 fans and all that action. I’ve watched from luxury boxes, from student bleachers, from high up on the west side, to down on the sidelines. I’ve rarely had more fun than hanging out recently with Kristy Ozmun, who reps for the Longhorn Network, and her husband, American-Statesman reporter Ben Wear. They know the stadium like the backs of their hands. And Wear, a part-time official, knows the game backwards and forwards. When we sat down, it was in a tiny, semi-tented area overlooking the network’s commentators, who included this game superstars Vince Young and Ricky Williams. But we also spent time blithely on the field and there met Joyce Blaxingame, who has manned the same gate for decades. We want her stories.

Sparky Pocket Park won a Merit Award from Preservation Austin.

Merit Awards for Preservation Austin. There are few more closely scrutinized local honors than the Merit Awards for Preservation Austin. And properly so. There so many ways that Austinites are saving their built heritage and only a few prizes to go around each year. Usually, at this Driskill Hotel ceremony and luncheon, I scribble notes about future articles based on the winners. This time, I was gratified that I had already written, if sometimes briefly, about advocates Jill and Stephen Wilkinson, the Save Muny campaign, the city’s Cemetery Master Plan and the Neill-Cochran House Museum. More of that reporting to come. The gentleman sitting next to me made a salient point: The guests are here for the awards and the conversation. Why have a speaker? After all, they say the same worthy things every year: Demolition bad, preservation good.

Bethany Andrée on the last day of Snack Bar. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Snack Bar Last Hurrah. We were among the first customers seven years ago. We were among the last on Oct. 30, as Snack Bar closed with a big blast. Bethany Andrée’s team was all about hospitality. Sure, the fare was healthy, affordable and sometimes innovative, but it was a just great, open place just to hang out, or to interview somebody for the newspaper. Sure, it was right down the hill from our house, which made it particularly convenient. But to tell the truth, there are more than 50 eateries within easy walking distance of our house, and more than 10 made Matthew Odam’s Top 100 restaurants list recently. I’m sure something rewarding will take Snack Bar’s place under Liz Lambert’s expansive leadership. (A reader suggested that that stretch of South Congress be nicknamed “SoLiz.”) Still, I’ll miss the welcome that waited for me every time I stopped by to snack and more.

*Editor’s note: This story previously referenced Georgia Fontana as the Girls Empowerment Network’s chairwoman. 

Author: Michael Barnes

Michael Barnes writes about Austin's people, places, culture and history for the Austin American-Statesman and

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