Three places to get your groove back: Mean Eyed Cat, Donn's Depot and Threadgill's
Of course you love Austin. And of course you love live music. But South by Southwest can take its toll in headaches, hangovers, traffic accidents and fatigue. After weeks of staying up too late and sleeping too little, of pushing your way through crowds and waiting in lines, of endless texting and RSVPing, you need some downtime. You need a place to relax, a place to remember why you like living here, a place to have a drink in peace and maybe hear some local music. Here are three distinctively Austin bars where you can reclaim your space.
Mean Eyed Cat
1621 W. Fifth St. 472-6326, www.themeaneyedcat.com. Hours: 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays-Thursdays. 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays-Sundays.
The one musician whom everyone can agree on is Johnny Cash. Whether you're far right or far left, someone's grandmother or someone's grandkid, from the country or from the city, you can appreciate Johnny Cash. He was gritty, he was sincere, he was the world's most huggable outlaw. And thus it's fitting (albeit a bit oddly specific) that there would be a bar here in Austin centered entirely on the Man in Black.
The Mean Eyed Cat does not, however, serve whiskey, which would be appropriate, nor any other kind of hard liquor. Their wine selection isn't extensive (a list of seven or eight whites and as many reds mostly in the $7 range) but the bottled beer selection is decent, and Lone Star and Firemans #4 are on draft. The inside bar is tiny, but the chaotic, Christmas-lighted patio is perfect for smoking, drinking, hooting, hollering and reading - everything is stenciled with spray-painted words and Cash-isms. In colder months, they have heaters and blankets, and despite the new construction and condos, you still can manage to feel cozy. From the patio, you can watch people walking to yoga or maneuvering chopsticks at Sushi Zushi and pretend you're peeping into someone else's yuppie life while you're safe and snug on the wrong side of the tracks with old Johnny.
1600 W. Fifth St., 478-0336, www.donnar.home.texas.net. Hours: 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays-Fridays. 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays.
Donn's Depot is literally an old train car, not a depot per se. The inside has been done up to look like someone's dead Auntie's house, if someone's dead Auntie were a drinker with a railway obsession. Dusty chandeliers, flocked wallpaper, parquet floors and a smell that goes along with the carpet: Donn's is as faux-authentic as you can get. Or as a snarky friend once commented, 'Every time I go in there, I feel like I'm going to run into Garrison Keillor.'
The crowd at Donn's is classic too, older gents who can dance like the dickens and women who still get their hair done each week. Drinks at Donn's are cheapish. During happy hour, our Firemans #4 draft and a glass of wine came to a mere $6.50. The women's bathroom is one of the best in town - a genuine old caboose with red shag carpet and an aerie-like vantage point where you can look out over the entire bar. Live music abounds: Tuesdays and Fridays, Donn himself plays the grand piano, and the rollicking gets rolling.
301 W. Riverside Drive, 472-9304. 6416 N. Lamar Blvd., 451-5440. www.threadgills.com. Hours: 11 a.m. to about 10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sundays.
We all know about Threadgill's and the old Armadillo World Headquarters beer hall. Janis Joplin played there. Edgar Winter, too. And Jerry Lee Lewis and Captain Beefheart and Willie and Zappa and the rest. Threadgill's is probably Austin's most famous restaurant, but most of us Austinites tend to leave it to the tourists, which is a darn shame, since it's perfect for grabbing a drink and seeing a show without all the fuss and bother.
The epitome of laid-back, instead of happy hour, Threadgill's has Howdy Hour, when frozen margaritas are $3 and Lone Stars a mere dollar. The menu is Southern as all get-out, with enough vegetables on the menu to compensate for the chicken-fried steaks. Fried green tomatoes ($6.25) are crunchy and spicy, and coupled with the signature Janis Joplin cocktail (also $6.25) - Southern Comfort and Jack Daniels over ice - you'll feel like you've died and gone to honky-tonk heaven. Or at least passed out and gone to a neon-red rock 'n' roll purgatory.