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Austin nightlife: Crowds A through Z

Michael Barnes, Out & About

Staff Writer
Austin 360

‘First you go for the A Crowd," nightclub owner Michael Ault recently told the Economist magazine. "You spend all your money on DJs and celebrities to build the brand. Then the A Crowd moves on. So you go from the A Crowd to the B Crowd. Then you have to ask yourself: Do you want the C Crowd?"

Ault, who took his Pangaea club brand from Austin to Singapore, briefly shook up the local nightlife scene with his top-down theory.

Personally, I'm for Austin Crowds A through Z.

Recently, I joined Hopfields' beverage authority Carter Wilsford at the popular Indian food trailer G'Raj Mahal, where Austinites in shorts assembled under tents in the warm of dusk. My Goan dish packed punishing heat, but I was more fascinated by the ebb and flow of the crowd. Anyone who thinks Austin has lost its essential funkiness needs to spend more time at the city's more than 2,000 food trailers. Casual does not begin to describe the vibe.

We next met website designer Ian Carrico at Personal Wine's Red Room Lounge, located down a short flight of stairs on East Third Street next to Vince Young's Steakhouse. There, guests order from a short list of wines by the glass or they peruse scores of options stored along the east wall. On Wilsford's advice, the three of us shared a smooth, not-too-fruity Bordeaux as we watched small groups arranged gracefully around sofas and cocktail tables sipping select vintages.

Bar Ilegal, the bar-within-a-bar at Clive in the Rainey Street area, serves mescal in a 19th-century stone structure that I'd peg as a former barn. Bartender "John" made us an ambrosial mixture worthy of the ambitious and ongoing cocktail revival.

Like nightlife empire builder Bridget Dunlap's other clubs, Clive has outlasted its initial A Crowd buzz without losing what I'd call its Fair Factor. The fit and fair who circulated between the patio and the interior spaces could have doubled for the U.S. Olympic swimming and diving teams.

At each of our social stations this night, we ran into familiar faces. At Ilegal, I spent a little time with former music promoter Ihor Gowda, who is cheerfully reinventing his career. His next chapter might surprise you.

The scene changed measurably for our last stop, Chain Drive, which has been around Austin as long as I have. Here, the three of us reassembled on the bar's copious creekside patio, which attracts many men of the ursine persuasion. Friendly when greeted, these patrons generally ignored us as we relaxed into the wee hours, perhaps because shoes served as our only leather adornments.

It was not until much later that I recalled we had walked right past a performance on a small Chain Drive stage. One man was wrapping another in sheets of plastic. Key parts of his anatomy were undraped.

So Austin: We barely noticed.

Contact Michael Barnes at mbarnes@statesman.com or 445-3970. Read more about the Austin social scene on his Out and About blog, austin360.com/outandabout.