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Perspective | Dan Gentile

Editor, Thrillist Austin

He may dream of the Emo's of the past, but this documentarian of Austin says the current nightlife scene is more exciting now than ever.

Someone once asked me how you know you’re an Austinite, and I sarcastically replied that it’s when a place you loved is gone. Austin has evolved at such a remarkable rate that if you froze at the bottom of Barton Springs five years ago and woke up today, you might think you were still dreaming.

The nightlife fixture I miss the most is probably the original pre-Transmission Emo’s, where I saw the Impossibles during high school. Or the Whisky Bar, where I double-fisted dollar shots and began to appreciate dance music. Or the Peacock Lounge, the first bar I went to east of the highway.

Despite my nostalgia for these ghosts of Austin’s past, I feel lucky to live in our city as it comes of age. While I matured from a sheltered suburban teen to an adult who can still barely knot a tie, I've seen Austin make similar transformations. It’s developed from a training-wheels town into an internationally known destination, and naturally there have been some growing pains. The silver lining is that during the time that hypothetical old-school Austinite spent sleeping with the salamanders, hundreds of savings-on-their-sleeve entrepreneurs have been building our city’s future from their wildest dreams.

I'm privileged to write about many of these inspiring individuals for the city-guide websiteThrillist. Before I started with the company in 2009, I split my time between menial publishing jobs that mainly involved standing next to a printer and late-night DJ gigs at now-extinct venues like the Austin Moose Lodge and the Beauty Bar. Suddenly I was thrown into the editorial deep end and given the responsibility of writing and photographing stories about new local businesses five days a week.

Over the past four years I’ve published nearly 1,000 articles of quippy dude-prose about food trailer upstarts and bar barons, while sneaking in as much music coverage as my senior editors would allow. It’s a relentless job, but comes with enough perks that I deserve a slap anytime I complain about my daily deadlines. In a testament to the growth of both our city and my site, the two most popular stories I’ve ever written were published this June.

The first was a photo tour of Qui, the eponymous brick-and-mortar from the figurehead of Austin's burgeoning culinary scene. The flavors are adventurous, the space is stunning, and the aesthetic remains good-humored enough to feature a mural by the outer-space punk rocker Peelander-Yellow. Also, there’s the best ice cream sandwich you'll ever eat. And gourmet Cheese Whiz. No, really.

When I started at Thrillist, East Side King had just opened and Paul Qui was still a regular dude, not that dude who won Top Chef. If your palate or pocketbook considers a $150 steak on a menu in East Austin offensive, his $7 Poor Qui buns are the best late-night snack in town, and they’re only a block away, at the Liberty. Although his ambitions accelerated with the help of a national spotlight, he hasn’t lost sight of what the everyday Austinite is looking for on a night out.

The second most popular story featured Rio Rooftop, a glitzy bottle-service rooftop pool that replaced the West Sixth Street blues institution Momo’s. The main reason for the article’s popularity wasn’t the imported Vegas EDM DJs or the price of a bottle of Skyy Vodka—it was because of a ridiculous photo series in which a trio of their bikini-clad waitresses dunked my head in the three-foot pool, then sprayed champagne in my eyes. It stung so good!

In more ways than one, Rio had a big backsplash. Contrary to what the Yelp reviews will have you believe, it’s not a portal into the darkest depths of Los Angeles, but rather an eventual consequence of a city maturing. Musically my DJ crew Flying Turns would never be invited to play there, and I might scoff at the cheesy electro remixes, but in terms of my job at Thrillist I consider Rio as relevant to the identity of Austin's nightlife as Qui, even if it's more akin to the recently shuttered Qua. If you have a complaint I'd say that rather than directing it at a Rio bouncer, you should contact the former Momo’s owner, who just opened a bar in Greenwich Village.

The truth is that despite the collateral damage, Austin's nightlife is more exciting than ever. The Impossibles reunion shows at Mohawk retained the same intensity as at Emo's and that stupid support pole wasn't blocking the view. Places like Cheer Up Charlie’s and Kingdom don’t sell $1 whiskey, but their taste in DJs aims to attract crowds that don't mind bankrolling the impressive sound systems. And the Peacock Lounge has lived on, thanks to its designer’s input on everything from La Condesa to Midnight Cowboy.

In closing, I’d like to (perhaps insensitively) reappropriate a Cesar Chavez quote that graced the East Side stalwart Rabbit’s and now adorns the newly opened Whisler’s: We don’t need a perfect city; we need perfect participation. If you want Austin to stay Austin, go buy a beer at Nasty’s. If you're not patronizing those iconic Austin institutions that define our city’s sense of identity, they will be gone before you know it, and the most familiar thing that defrosted Springs swimmer will have to look forward to will be a few fresh seasons of Friday Night Lights.

Credits

Photography by LeAnn Mueller

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