Austin TX is a city I now know well and LOVE – and during my latest trip, we split the trip between two different neighbourhoods. So here it is: Austin, Two Ways. South Congress vs Downtown – two different experiences, each wonderful in its own way.
South Congress is known for really embodying the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan. Lots of independent shops and restaurants and street art and street performers – it’s great fun. I’d probably say it’s comparable to Hayes Valley in San Francisco, or Soho in London. It has changed a lot in the past couple of years – it used to be only independent retailers and restaurants that you couldn’t find outside of ATX – but now there’s an Equinox gym, Lululemon and Soho House on the way… but these changes have also come with some other fabulous additions, so I can’t complain too much!
Bunkhouse Group owns multiple hotels in Austin, and Hotel Magdalena is their newest – and biggest. We know and love their hotel in Mexico, Hotel San Cristobal, and we never visit Austin without a drink in the patio bar of Hotel San Jose. Everything they do is just spot-on in terms of design, trends and unique touches.
Hotel Magdalena has a super cool lobby and shop, Summer House restaurant and bar (their Mezcal Old Fashioned cocktails were incredible), a pool and pool bar – and an exceptional location, just one block from South Congress itself – meaning you have all the buzz on your doorstep, without the street noise.
Photos by Nick Simonite
Our favourite coffee spot in SoCo, Mañana is part of the South Congress Hotel. They do great coffee – and pastries.
Maybe not quite as exceptional in terms of coffee, but Jo’s is iconic – and home to that “I love you so much” mural. Oh and it’s also owned by Bunkhouse!
Seventh Flag is a cute bungalow for coffee and snacks, right opposite Elizabeth Street Cafe (a favourite for brunch!).
You are truly spoilt for choice in SoCo! These are our favourites:
Brand new, Two Hands is an Aussie brunch, coffee and dinner place (there are several outposts in NYC already). The flat whites are impeccable, the avo toast is perfect, the burgers are fab – it’s a no-brainer.
Joann’s serves upmarket Mexican food, margaritas, etc, attached to the Austin Motel (yep, another Bunkhouse property, and home to the iconic “So close yet so far out” neon sign) – great for brunch or dinner, with cool diner-vibes.
Neighborhood Sushi is an aesthetically pleasing sushi spot, with a patio and a decent vegetarian nigiri selection too.
We had an incredible Thanksgiving lunch at Mattie’s, but it’s also fab for brunch or dinner. I love the traditional house with wraparound porch, surrounded by Texas Live Oak trees – and peacocks!
Every trip to Austin must include a dinner at a traditional, no-frills barbecue joint – and Black’s is one of the greats.
Old favourites that I’ve reviewed in the past:
- Cafe No Se (best for brunch)
- June’s All Day (lives up to its name – all day)
- Elizabeth Street Cafe (a short walk – great for brunch, lunch or dinner)
- Odd Duck (homey spot for family style small plates)
Having loved our past stay at San Francisco Proper, the new Proper in Austin was a must-visit – and it was just as impeccable, polished, and full of clashing prints as we’d hoped. On the ground floor is Goldie’s Bar (super cosy and plush) and The Peacock, a Meditteranean-style restaurant, with patio seating. There’s a fitness centre (large gym, steam rooms), spa treatment rooms, and a rooftop pool – complete with bar (La Piscina).
Our room was wonderfully appointed and just so plush. Aesop toiletries, so much marble in the bathroom, mood lighting, the works.
The Proper is just so damn beautiful and photogenic that I found myself snapping photos at every turn. It’s a stunner. I highly recommend, even if the neighborhood it’s in is not the most buzzing.
Houndstooth is my dad’s favourite spot. It’s super central, just down from the Capitol building, and serves espresso and filter to the highest standard.
I love this Intelligentsia outpost – it has such incredible tiling, and is a great spot for people watching, in amongst all the tech offices.
There are a couple of Merit locations in Austin, all beautifully appointed and serving up the good stuff.
Swedish Hill is a great breakfast / lunch spot with large selection of baked goods, plus Scandinavian-style lox plates and good coffee – and a cute little mercantile selling food, wine and kitchenware.
Lambert’s is a more formal barbecue restaurant setting owned by Liz Lambert who – you guessed it – owns Bunkhouse Hotels! Go for their Happy Hour for the reduced price bar menu.
La Condesa is a trendy, upmarket Mexican – and everyone knows Austin has good Mexican!
Comedor serves very upmarket, modern Mexican – with totally-not-Mexican dishes like bone marrow tacos!? A good one for special occasions.
Downtown has a lot of good bars that are worth calling out, most of them cool and unusual speakeasies.
Garage is an awesome mid-century modern bar located within a parking garage. Don’t be put off – the ambience and drinks are incredible.
There’s no signage for Here Nor There whatsoever – oh, and you have to make a booking via an app (see the website) – but once you find that graffitied wall, and enter the gate code that will be sent to you by text, you’ll enter an underground treasure trove. Photos are forbidden, but trust me when I say that the decor is incredible, the bar staff (most of whom are Irish!) are super friendly and experts in their craft, and the drinks are so unusual and impressive (think teacups, dry ice, etc)! Not cheap, but worth it.
Amongst the seedy bars of 6th Street, behind a totally unassuming door, is Midnight Cowboy – and it’s amazing. Drinks are mixed tableside and are innovative and delicious.
What doesn’t Better Half do?! Great brunch and dinner dining options, coffee and cocktails, in a cute single story spot.