Best coffee shops near North Austin

We extended our coffee search to Near North Austin recently and, although we got a good start on this sector in late 2017, we need your help in filling out the candidates. We’d gladly add to this list.


Kick Butt Coffee. 5775 Airport Blvd. 512-454-5425. 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Thurs.,  6 a.m.-2 a.m., Fri., 7 a.m.-2 a.m. Sat., 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.* Plenty of surface parking on site. Some of the music is live. Decaf, teas, chai. Some quiet spots in this big space.

We’ve always liked owner Thomas Gohring and his ambitions to create a singular community around coffee, booze, entertainment and, yes, martial arts. Gohring brings to the game a flair for showmanship, an element almost absent from any other coffee shop in town. He has expanded the size of his original location on Airport Boulevard while retracting his attempts to go global. A small stage, backed by his signature graphics, takes pride of place, but the long coffee bar attests to the original impulse to serve rigorously prepared espresso drinks along with food, beer and wine. As the ACC Highland project, as well as the Linc and other area redevelopments fire up, expect Kick Butt to thrive and retain its inimitable character. *The place opens and closes at odd times; we rounded up or down.



Fat Cats Organic Coffee & Desserts. 7020 Easy Wind Dr. #140. 512-296-2960. 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Tues., 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Wed.-Thurs., 9 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat., 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday. Shared surface parking. Decaff, teas, chai. Moderate music.

If you aren’t familiar with the moderately dense developments at North Lamar and Airport boulevards near the MetroRail Crestview Station, you might have a hard time locating Fat Cats. Here’s a clue: Turn west off North Lamar onto W. St. Johns Avenue, then left on the interior lane, Easy Wind Dr., and park just about anywhere. Then wander around the other local magnets, such as Vigalante Gastropub, Black Star Co-op and Fuzzy’s Taco Shop. The bright, narrow, deep coffee shop attracts an assorted crowd, including very focused laptoppers. The owners, however, have gone a long way to ensure the taste and quality of the fair trade coffee drinks and vegan desserts and, oh, the ice cream. It’s worth looking up and paying attention.


Brentwood Social House. 1601 W. Koenig Lane. 512-362-8656.  7 a.m.-6 pm. Monday-Sunday. Surface parking off Arroyo Seco. Decaf, teas, chai. Very quiet.

We were quite surprised to learn about this comforting and popular Brentwood spot from a source for a completely unrelated story. The smallish house on busy Koenig probably started in the 1930s when this was on the edge of town, then was renovated in the 1950s or ’60s to give it a whimsical modernist twist. The owners, Suzanne Daniels and Sarah Olano, have made it all their own with well chosen colors and decor, including a capacious dog-friendly patio out back. Olano specializes in English pastries as well as French-inspired food — all worth trying. Daniels, among other things, makes sure service at the bar and elsewhere is prompt, courteous and knowledgeable. This was sort of a coffee house desert for a while, so we welcome the Social House with open arms. (We’ll also add it to our Burnet Road list.)

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near Lavaca Street.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near South Congress Avenue.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near South First Street.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near South Lamar Boulevard.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near Burnet Road.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near North Lamar Boulevard.

MORE COFFEE SHOPS: Near Congress Avenue.

Best Texas books: Start with this J. Frank Dobie bio

We’ve revised this series on “Texas Titles.” Instead of blithely summarizing the most recent books published about our state, we are making the selections more carefully. Also, we’re adding some older titles that we think should be celebrated.

We hope to expand on each of these five selections in 2018 with interviews, profiles and feature stories. From now on, if they are worthy of this “Texas Titles” series, they and their authors are worthy of more substantial storytelling.

“J. Frank Dobie: A Liberated Mind.” Steven L. Davis. University of Texas Press.

What to say about “Mr. Texas”? I’ve dodged folklorist and author J. Frank Dobie, who remains to many people just a third of the “Philosopher’s Rock” statue at Barton Springs. Then I decided it was time to tackle all his books, kept in print by UT Press and now available in vintage-looking paperbacks. But first: Steven L. Davis’ necessary 2009 biography. The curator of the Southwestern Writers Collection at Texas State University explains it all — Dobie’s youth in the brush country of South Texas, his inherited racist leanings, his sporadic search for a true and original voice, his steady promotion of Texas folklore and folklorists, including Latino and African-American pioneers in the field, his emergence as the state’s leading literary light and a national celebrity — always in juxtaposition to the more polished expat Katherine Anne Porter — his profound political evolution expressed in his weekly newspaper columns, his tangles with Texas politicians and UT leaders, and his generous mentorships. Thanks to Davis, I’m now prepared to take on the man’s work, flaws and all.

“Esther’s Follies: The Laughs, the Gossip, and the Story Behind Texas’ Most Celebrated Comedy Troupe.” Jesse Sublett. Esther’s Follies.

Musician and writer Jesse Sublett contributed to last year’s headliner book about recent Austin history and pop culture, “Armadillo World Headquarters,” paired with supreme storyteller and Armadillo sage Eddie Wilson. Well, Sublett does it again. “Esther’s Follies,” a project that Sublett took on alone, corrals an enormous amount of disparate material, including dozens of interviews, into one bright, shiny volume about the state’s top sketch comedy troupe. Instead of spinning out a conventional narrative, he develops key themes, such as political writing, magic shows or cabaret material, then captures the jagged, improvisational feel of the troupe through scattered but very cogent snippets. He’s especially good at drawing out the lineage of the troupe’s founders from University of Texas theater days through Liberty Lunch and, after 1977, four high-profile locations on East Sixth Street. He also airs some of the backstage drama, which is something of a Sublett speciality. This is the holiday book for any lover of authentic Austin culture.

“The Grande Dame of Austin: A History of the Driskill Hotel.” Monte Akers. Waterloo Press.

This book has been a long time coming. After all, the Driskill Hotel turned 100 in 1986. Its stories are woven finely into the fabric of our shared culture. Thank goodness for lawyer and prolific author Monte Akers and his publisher, Waterloo Press, which, it must be made transparent, published my first book, “Indelible Austin: Selected Histories,” and goes into production soon with my second, “Indelible Austin: More Selected Histories.” The Driskill is a richly entertaining spot and Akers is a richly entertaining writer. He deals with it all: The big shots, the bumpy ownership and management, the violence, the existential threats to this adored Austin institution. To my taste, he’s also very measured in his treatment of the hotel’s supposedly ghostly guests. We’ll be consulting this volume for decades.

“Dealing Death and Drugs: The Big Business of Dope in the U.S. and Mexico.” Beto O’Rourke and Susie Byrd. Cinco Puntos Press.

This slender book packs a powerful punch. Beto O’Rourke, now a U.S. senatorial candidate, served alongside Susie Byrd as an El Paso a city representative. In this book, published in 2011, they start with the cartel-driven carnage in Juarez, whose fate is woven closely into that of their city on the American side. After looking at usage patterns, product costs and human tragedy, they conclude that the U.S. drug wars have been a crashing failure, costing thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. They use statistics efficiently and effectively, but also share well-chosen anecdotes that illustrate their main argument: At the very least, end the prohibition on marijuana. Since 2011, more and more Americans across the political spectrum have agreed with them at the ballot box. The task will be harder in Texas, so this book should continue to circulate and persuade.

“Stein House.” Myra Hargrave McIlvain. iUniverse.

Long a Texas historian, McIlvain accomplishes one crucial task in this novel: She makes Indianola, the hurricane-smashed ghost town on Matagorda Bay, into a palpable place. She follows the progress of a German immigrant, Helga, and her four children, after the drowning death of her husband just before their departure from the Old World. Helga’s sister, Amelia, provides a safe haven in the bustling Texas port town, where Helga runs the boarding house of the title. One son turns entrepreneurial; one daughter dies young. Helga finds new love, welcomes to the world a grandchild and wrestles with race relations in her new home state. McIlvain, an energetic researcher, relates Indianola’s role for the Texan and Mexican interior from the 1850s to the 1870s, its status during the Civil War and its aftermath, and, of course, the great hurricane that wiped it away in 1875.





When Austin meant a golden future for movie star Dennis Quaid

Recently, we reported that movie star Dennis Quaid had put his Marina Club house up for sale. The Houston-raised actor is spending less and less time here in Austin. That compelled us to reach back into the archives to a brighter 2005, when Quaid and his then-new bride Kimberly Buffington sat down with this reporter at Hoover’s Cooking to talk about their golden lives here. It saddens an unreconstructed romantic to look back on sunnier times for the former couple, but it’s important to remember who they were to our city.
So here we go …

Dennis Quaid blazes into a room — and it’s not just because the sun follows him inside Hoover’s Cooking on Manor Road, basting his outdoorsman’s features and fueling his barely contained energy.Quaid also flushes royally with affection for his still-new wife, Kimberly Buffington, and for his still-new home, Austin.

“I’ve always loved Austin, ” Quaid says. “It has a sense of community you can’t get anywhere else.”

One minute, he’s signing a DVD for a young, delighted diner; next minute he’s doodling on the table’s paper covering. From time to time, he bursts with memories about his Texas childhood, but, like a compass returning to true north, his gaze returns to Buffington, the picture of blissful repose at his side.

If Quaid pitches his stories like a fastball, Buffington pauses before she speaks, averting her eyes before stating the facts plainly, but also playfully. He might be the actor, but she knows how to control time and attention, and is especially at ease on her lifelong turf — Austin.

If Quaid burns like the sun, Buffington shines like the moon — cool, pale, reflective.

Beyond ecstatic — and perhaps questionable — metaphors from reporters, the couple have announced their Austin presence in a big way. It can be heard from the house and land they’ve purchased on Lake Austin. It echoes in the events, such as the Texas Film Hall of Fame, that they are careful to attend, despite Quaid‘s heavy shooting schedule (he starred in four films last year).

And, of course, it makes the loudest sound at the Dennis Quaid Charity Weekend, which, during the next few days, combines celebrity and amateur golf tournaments, a fashion show, a gala dinner and an appearance at La Zona Rosa by Quaid‘s band, the Sharks.

So why Austin for this couple who could live anywhere?

Quaid, 51, asserts no longtime ties to the University of Texas, unlike fellow movie star Matthew McConaughey (Quaid attended the University of Houston for three years). Yet he can claim a deeper Austin connection than Sandra Bullock. Growing up the son of an electrician in Houston, he often visited Austin, skipping school to go camping or to attend parties.

“It had hills, ” he says. “Houston is so flat.”

Quaid‘s Austin ardor also connects back with Buffington, 33, who was born at Seton Hospital, grew up in Northwest Hills and West Lake Hills, and attended Hyde Park Baptist School. Her father was a builder involved in real estate, her mother a homemaker.

“It’s a great place to be from, ” Buffington says. “There’s always something going on. I was into all kinds of sports, but also made good grades. My brother (now a real estate attorney) made slightly better grades. I was always social and knew a ton of people in town.”

The story of their meeting has been told before, sweetly by Quaid on “The Daily Show, ” and by both of them elsewhere.

They tell the tale again on this afternoon at Hoover’s.

It was a Tuesday night — May 13, 2003. Quaid was in town filming “The Alamo” and met John Moore, the director of “The Flight of the Phoenix, ” at Truluck’s in the Warehouse district. Buffington had attended a party for the Junior League. They both ended up at Sullivan’s, where they were introduced by Brett Cullen, an actor and former University of Houston student.

“It was love at first sight, ” Quaid says. “Was it for you, too?” he asks a smiling Buffington.

“It’s love at first sight for everyone with Dennis, ” she says (a phrase she has used, effectively, in other interviews). “And we hit it off right away.”

After a few dates, they retired to Quaid‘s Montana ranch, just north of Yellowstone National Park. (“Yellowstone is my backyard, ” Quaid says.)

“I figured if I got her to Montana, I had her, ” Quaid says. “Not much place to run.”

The interview is interrupted by a discreet Hoover’s waiter. Quaid searches for his glasses to examine the menu.

“One of Kimberly’s duties is to read for me, ” he says with a touch of Jack Nicholson self-mockery that periodically creeps into his performances.

The pause — and Quaid‘s gentle treatment of the autograph-seeking boy — allows time for closer visual observation.

Their faces contrast strikingly. Buffington is all smoothness, her perfectly arranged blonde tresses framing a narrow face and gemlike eyes. Quaid, famously, has acquired creases that complement his still-roundish, still-boyish features. His smile, which eats up his face, has not lost any of its firepower.

On her finger sizzles the 3 1/2-carat canary diamond that Quaid selected from the Kimberly Mines while on location for “The Flight of the Phoenix” in Africa. It was later arranged by Austin’s Anthony Nak.

With orders of comfort food made, it’s back to the story.

“Well, she came up to Montana, but for three or four months, it was a long-distance thing, ” Quaid says. “That wasn’t good.”

What cemented their relationship was the monthslong “Phoenix” shoot in Africa.

“I asked Kimberly to come along and protect me from all the wild animals, ” Quaid jokes.

So the couple spent a few months together on a Namibia beach. They went on safari. They bonded over spectacular scenery and splendid isolation.

“Everything was perfect. If it hadn’t been for Africa, it would have been so much more difficult, ” Buffington says. “It showed us we were able to make the next move.”

That meant sharing a home in Los Angeles, where Buffington continues to work in the real estate industry (she had worked for a title company in Austin).

“There are some neat properties, ” she says. “And I find out about them first!”

After a surprise proposal in front of their L.A. home, the duo wed in June 2004 on top a hill at the Montana ranch, surrounded by just a few friends and family. And then settled into married life.

“We play house, ” Buffington says. “We don’t go to the Hollywood parties.”

Luckily, she also clicks with Jack, Quaid‘s 13-year-old son with ex-wife Meg Ryan.

“He’s an angel, ” she says.

But L.A. is not enough. For the future, Buffington found land they both can love on Lake Austin.

“You drive down through woods, then it opens up, ” Quaid says. “It’s a fantastic lot, and very close to town at the same time.”

They plan some big changes on the Lake Austin property. But when will they install themselves permanently on a lakeside porch?

“When Jack graduates from high school, ” Quaid says. “I’m trying to talk him into going to UT.”

They return to Austin every few months for holidays (last Thanksgiving), summer tubing, charity events, etc.

Sounds like paradise. Meanwhile, they devote their time to raising money for children’s causes through the Charity Weekend. Quaid launched the Weekend in 2002 after filming ‘The Rookie’ here.

What about that inevitable question for all newlyweds?

“Yeah, I want more kids, ” Quaid says.

“The sooner the better, ” Buffington says. “Before we get too old. Once we have kids, we are never going to be this wild and free again.”


Austin shouts to home seller: ‘Dennis Quaid, come back!’

Like the tow-headed kid, Little Joe, at the end of the 1953 Western, “Shane,” we’re shouting: “Dennis Quaid, come back!”

Quaid, who starred in a quizillion movies, once called Austin his primary home. He even married a hometown beauty, Kimberly Buffington, and took a mansion here to anchor their Austin life. They sponsored high-profile charity events — serenaded by Quaid’s side band — and the handsome couple could be reliably seen out and about. (His band played the Continental Club as recently as January.)

Actor Dennis Quaid stops to pose for a photo with a fan at the premier of ‘At Any Price’ at the Paramount Theater. Alberto Mart’nez/American-Statesman

Less like Matthew McConaughey and more like Sandra Bullock, Quaid is no longer much of an Austinite and so he is selling his Marina Club house next to the Austin Country Club with a view of the spectacular Pennybacker Bridge. 

A view from the Dennis Quaid home for sale at the Marina Club. Contributed

This is not the mansion purchased with Buffington that led to a legal tussle. After more than 10 years with her, Quaid is single again and says he spends a lot more time in Los Angeles than in Austin. So it’s time to unload his near-5,000-foot detached home that is part of a 36-condo development.

According to the Austin Business Journal, Quaid’s younger brother Buddy Quaid and Eric Copper, both with Austin Portfolio Real Estate, the luxury division of Keller Williams Realty, have the co-listing. The price is $3.5 million.

His brother, Buddy, and their aging mother live here. The Quaids, including actor brother Randy Quaid, grew up in Houston.

Quirky note: I spent two years in drama school with Dennis. By 1972, he was already a budding star, a magnetic presence on the stage in shows such as “Bus Stop,” “Mother Courage,” “Company” and more.

Recently, we republished a profile that we did on the Quaid ex-couple when they started to settle here.

Mark Updegrove returns to Austin and the LBJ legacy

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Mark Updegrove, who transformed the LBJ Presidential Library during eight years as its director, is returning to become president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation as of March 1, 2018.

Mark Updegrove

In a dizzying leadership shuffle, current Foundation Executive Director Amy Barbee will be promoted to its Vice-President. Foundation Chairman Larry Temple will continue on as chairman, but he will transfer the title of chief executive officer to Updegrove. Meanwhile, Foundation President Elizabeth Christian will transfer the title of president, becoming a vice-chairwoman of the Foundation, the same title held by former Texas Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes and former Ambassador to Sweden Lyndon Olson.

Got all that?

During his eight years at the Library, Updegrove directed an $11 million redesign of its core exhibits. He also oversaw two big symposiums, the Civil Rights Summit in 2014 and the Vietnam War Summit in 2016. Both events provoked examinations of Austin’s own history with civil rights and the Vietnam War.

Earlier this year, Updegrove, an author and former media executive, accepted the position as CEO of the newly minted National Medal of Honor Museum planned for Charleston Harbor in Mount Pleasant, S.C. He has resigned that position, al though he will continue to serve through January

Yet he and his wife, former Texas Monthly publisher Amy Banner Updegrove, had put down deep roots in Austin. He also encountered a recent health scare.

“I could not be more excited to be back in the world of LBJ,” Updegrove says. “After resolving a case of early stage prostate cancer, I look forward to leading the 50th anniversary events recognizing LBJ’s momentous last full year in office, 1968.”