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Eat, Drink, Sleep Music

Over a two-fisted burger, I find myself staring into the winsome face of jazz songstress Kat Edmonson. She’s calmly watching me eat, while companions Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett look on. Normally I’d offer them a bite—especially Willie, because you know he’s likely got the munchies—but not this time. Two-dimensional images hunger for little more than admiration.

The walls of Hopdoddy Burger Bar are covered with the portraits of beloved local musicians. They make good company, and like the signed actor headshots that adorn many an L.A. diner, they speak to our pervasive culture. Austin doesn’t just pride itself on music—from sunup to sundown music permeates every nook and cranny of our lives.

“We all embrace the idea that music is such a staple here,” says W Austin Hotel’s Living Room Greeter Lani Thomison, who helped create the Spin/Spun music night (Tuesdays at 9:30pm) at W Austin Hotel, where the Records Room features more than 8,000 selections on vinyl. “The first thing I do when I get in to work each day is check local show listings, because guests ask on a nightly basis where they can go see some bands. It’s part of the Austin experience,” she says.

Indeed, Austin businesses can’t help but use our greatest local export to create a distinct atmosphere, and in many cases, the actual decor. Here are some of our favorite spots where you can have your basic needs met (hot coffee, cold beer, comfy bed) without having to miss a single beat.

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Southern comfort fare and Texas troubadours are easy allies. That’s not lost on Lucy’s Fried Chicken, where the walls are covered in music paraphernalia, with Merle Haggard and the Fabulous Thunderbirds grinning from vintage LP covers, and iconic songwriters like Freddy Fender on the jukebox. And it’s not surprising, either, given Chef James Holmes’s fondness for Texas music.

“It’s like this. If Mario Batali came into Lucy’s, I’d walk up and bullshit with him,” says Holmes. “But when James McMurtry or Hayes Carll comes in? I love those guys so much that I choke up and get all nervous.”

Ten years ago, Holmes was teaching at the Texas Culinary Academy and living behind the house of Luke Bibby, now the owner of Luke’s Inside Out food trailer. When Bibby picked up gigs cooking for musicians, Holmes jumped at the chance. “I was like, ‘You’re cooking for Willie Nelson this weekend? I will work for free.’”

So began an organic mutual admiration society between Holmes and Texas artists, who regularly stop by Lucy’s south location post-show. It’s not unusual to spot Texas royalty like Ray Wylie Hubbard and Charlie Sexton hunched over a hot bucket of fried chicken, or even guys like Jack Black and Dave Grohl, who toured the kitchen last year during SXSW. Speaking of which, each year Lucy’s south hosts the “Fried Chicken Revival” during SXSW, a Wednesday-through-Sunday day party that starts at noon and hosts five musical acts a day. Mark your calendars: Alejandro Escovedo, Peter Buck from REM, and Mike Peters from The Alarm are on this year’s roster.

Where else in town can you have your Austin music and eat it too? Definitely food trailer Honky Tonk Hot Dogs, where dogs are named after Bob Cole (cheesy with macaroni), Dale Watson (a button-poppin’ chili dog), and Jesse Dayton (Southern and smothered in deep-fried bacon). Owner and country music singer Scott Angle even built a mini dance floor out front (appropriately covered with peanut shells) for two-steppin’ while he serenades the crowd. Not far away, Italophiles can pair their Chianti and house-made pasta with local singer-songwriters at Winflo Osteria in the hushed, candlelit “listening room” that’s tucked away downstairs. Look for Dan Dyer, Suzanna Choffel, and Sara Hickman there this month.

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In Austin, you can basically throw a longneck bottle and hit a killer bar jukebox. Casino El Camino, Horseshoe Lounge, and Longbranch Inn are the most publicly revered, but sometimes you’re in the mood to enjoy tunes in a more intimate setting.

“There’s a hidden door to get to our place, and once you push it, you’ll follow a red-lit tunnel,” says Kaitlyn Starbuck, the venue marketing coordinator of Vinyl, a just-opened living room–like bar and music lounge underneath Chicago House (6th Street and Trinity). “It’s a mix of a speakeasy and an underground London secret society, and our design relies wholeheartedly on vinyl,” she says.

Chicago House is a trip in itself. An 1800s building that was once a boardinghouse, its history-soaked walls are the perfect container for Vinyl, whose record collection reaches 13,000—even more than W Austin’s massive collection. There’s everything from Jay-Z to JFK’s inauguration speech in the stacks, and guests simply pluck records off the wall to play. Monday nights are devoted to “Motown on Mondays,” a dance party concept that started in San Francisco’s Madrone Art Bar five years ago and now reaches six different cities, from Hawaii to Berlin. Austin is the latest, and for it, Vinyl cranks up the Supremes, the Jackson 5, and contemporary remixes, with old dance videos projected on the wall.

But let’s say you had a little too much fun at Vinyl. You can detox at Juiceland’s Hyde Park location; or simply wake up with caffeine and cranked amps at Strange Brew Coffee. Last year the former installed Exploded Records, a funky little record shop adjacent to its juice counter, while the latter was voted “Best Acoustic Venue” in the 2013 Austin Music Awards. The stage-equipped 24-hour coffee shop regularly books the likes of Slaid Cleaves (catch him this month) and Jon Dee Graham.

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Austin is a fiercely local city, so it’s no surprise that its leading boutique hotels rely on music to create a sense of place, reflecting their owners’ tastes in lovingly framed concert posters and vintage record players or thoughtfully curated sound tracks. On the east side, guests of Heywood Hotel (rates from $179/night) collectively create a hotel-wide sound track, courtesy of an “Internet jukebox” with access in every room. That means you can sip your nightcap while chilling out with Johnny Cash or Shakey Graves (not literally, but you know—audibly). Hotel San José (rates from $150/night) and Hotel Saint Cecilia (rates from $295/night), both famously immersed in Austin music culture, weave the listening experience into guests’ hotel stay: every one of Hotel Saint Cecilia’s 14 rooms is equipped with a turntable, and the front desk offers a ’70s-inspired vinyl collection for checkout, with selections ranging from Marvin Gaye to Led Zeppelin. Hotel San José’s hallways double as a gallery for handsome poster art, and at the front desk, you can peruse the perfectly curated library of Texas film and music for room enjoyment.

Back at the W Austin, the amply stocked Records Room isn’t the only attraction for music geeks. The sultry Secret Bar is tricked out with a McIntosh MT5, i.e., the Ferrari of vinyl record players (it’s powered by a Swiss-made motor and very expensive magnets). Upstairs in the AWAY Spa, the treatment room’s black walls may appear to be uniquely textured wallpaper, with grooves and ridges that rise beneath your fingers. Look closely, though. Those walls? They’re actually covered in vinyl.

Up north in the Domain, the newly opened Lone Star Court is a blend of “rustique” (rustic chic) and throwback motor court, with live music in the Water Trough bar every Wednesday through Saturday. With its sliding barn doors and mesquite-laced fire pit, the hotel gives off a modern honky-tonk vibe, drawing from the days of rambling Texas musicians, who, as we all know, work up quite an appetite onstage. After the show, they (and you) can mosey on over to the Feed Store, the hotel’s very own food trailer stable with rotating local trucks.

When music has found its way out of the speakers and up onto the walls, you know you’re in an enthusiastic—okay, obsessed—city. But perhaps food, drink, and sleep aren’t one’s only survival needs after all. In Austin, we depend on music for nourishment too.


Photography by Bill Sallans

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